Yesterday, as I was poking around one of the Forums at Fluent in 3 Months I came across a post in the topic of Time Management in Language Learning.
A forum member asked about goal setting. One answer to her question especially caught my eye because it expresses a familiar feeling: "Yes I have [set a goal] but I rarely keep to it. I do not know why, but when I set a goal, I do everything to not reach it. ... I feel compelled and I rebel."
A lot of language learners can probably empathize with such a statement. Rebellion of that sort may have to do with personality, with former school experience, with family dynamics, with the enormity of the project, etc. In any case, it means you have to deal with your own feelings of resistance to something you actually want to do.
Based on experience, here's my best advice for overcoming this kind of inner hurdle: Approach your language learning from an activity that you truly enjoy. It is bound to fuel your enthusiasm.
If you're a great reader, dabble with texts and their translations. Google’s Language Immersion for Chrome or a program like LingQ work well for that. Just think, the better you get, the greater access you will have to anything written in your new language.
Watching Videos and TV
If you like to watch moving images (I don't want to say "if you're a TV addict"), find online news videos, or follow a soap in your new language. You'll learn a lot of vocabulary by guessing from the context of the story, gestures, facial expressions, sound of voice, and such. In addition, becoming familiar with a few basic grammar items will help a lot (such as pronouns, question words, etc.). I've posted a couple of links to soaps and videos, as examples, on our Facebook site.
Listening to Music
If you are crazy about music, download songs, listen, sing along, google the words and memorize them. There's plenty of evidence that this is a fun and effective way to learn a language. A blog on the Everyday Language Learner is full of wonderful tips.
If you like playing games, you're in luck. You'll find a host of language apps and sites online that include games. Obviously, I'm hooked on games, and there are plenty of sites that I like, including our own GamesForLanguage. Here are a couple of others to try out: Digital Dialects, Mindsnacks, and don't forget the Nintendo DS language games.
If writing is what you love, then start by writing out words, phrases, and short sentences. Duolingo, a free crowdsourced language learning and translation website, has you writing right from the beginning. Community style programs, such as Busuu or Mango Languages include writing exercises and offer a chat feature with which you can communicate with native speakers.
If you love to talk, tell stories, and are not shy about speaking up in a foreign language, get yourself into a situation where you can be your chatty self. Finding a language-exchange partner who's on your proficiency level is the best way. Meet with or skype with each other, and do this often. Here are two online resources: Conversation Exchange (a site we successfully used in Barcelona) and My Language Exchange.
Textbooks and Grammar
Should I add this category? I for one really like to figure out how a language works. It’s not a bad idea to have a way to check some grammar points, be it in a textbook or on an online grammar site.
Just remember, progress with language learning is not linear. It's more like a zig-zag, a back and forth. Some things you won't get for a while, others you'll master immediately. Still, whatever you put in will get you a step ahead - be it a stint of learning vocabulary, practicing pronunciation, watching a news video, reading headlines, or scrolling through a foreign language Twitter feed. Even a few minutes count. If you approach your language learning in a way that you personally enjoy, chances are your you'll maintain your enthusiasm at a high level.
Are you learning a new language? Soon you may be eager to begin watching videos or TV programs, with no translation provided. The goal of this type of immersion is to start processing language like native speakers do. It’s a fun and challenging way to learn. Your mind goes into full gear and you're pushing yourself way out of your linguistic comfort zone.
To make your immersion learning productive, you’ll want to become familiar with some of the essential elements of your new language. The following 10 basic grammar items are crucial for beginning to understand spoken language on TV. Using audio and written examples for each, I practiced these before starting to watch a Spanish telenovela.
10 Basic Grammar Items
1. Subject pronouns. (Are they always used or mostly dropped?)
2. Regular verb endings for first, second, and third person.
3. Definite and indefinite articles. (Are they used or not used?)
4. The 5 most common question words.
5. The 5 most common prepositions. (eg. the equivalents for: in, on, to, with, from)
6. The different vowel sounds in the new language.
7. The consonants whose sounds don't exist in English.
8. The common words that express negation.
9. The sentence melody of statements. (Practice to imitate the melody.)
10. The sentence melody of questions. (Practice these too.)
As your listening skills advance, you may want to add other steps. In the meantime, these 10 grammar steps will help you make the jump from sound as “gibberish” to sound as “words that have meaning.”
Recent innovations in technology have shown that language learning is becoming more and more popular. The other day I stumbled across a delightful "language learning" YouTube video. There are hundreds maybe thousands of such videos on the Internet and they get lots of visitors. This one, called language learning evolution (part 1), was made by a 22 year old student from Taiwan, who describes how he has learned several languages. The video runs about 13 minutes and was posted a year ago. Essentially, his message is: "go slowly, language learning takes time" and "speak, speak, speak." (He doesn't mention specific courses or methods.) Just this one video has gotten over 2000 views and numerous comments. It's personal, fun to listen to, inspiring, and yes, it's cool! I hope it indicates a trend in language learning!
My OWN Language Learning Experience...
When I was a teenager, my family had emigrated twice and I had attended school in each of the countries. I spoke three languages fluently. Was that cool? No way! I had an accent, a kind of European mix that kids noticed and sometimes made fun of. On top of it, I was totally clueless about the secret (social) rules of my new home country, Canada.
The whole dating scene was a mystery to me (at age 13 “everyone” went to weekly dances in church basements and community centers). I may have been able to speak English pretty well, but I was not fluent in the kind of social small talk that teenagers on this side of the ocean engaged in. Did I hide that I could speak other languages? For sure! I didn't want to be different. I had two personas, and my social one did NOT include being trilingual.
When friends came to my place, I tried to keep my parents linguistically in line. But they did slip up from time to time and lapsed into German, the language they spoke with each other. That embarrassed me a lot. To top it off, my mother did not have the vocabulary for scolding me in English. So she usually reprimanded me in her native language, Dutch. My friends already knew and would tease me: "Now she's getting mad, she's speaking Dutch! What did you do?"
Are Language Learning Attitudes Changing?
It wasn't just my peers who thought it was uncool to speak in another language. Riding the bus, my mom and I would speak Dutch with each other. On occasion, someone would turn to her and say: "You are now in Canada. Why don't you speak English!" I imagine that one could hear a similar comment today, in any country - even though the Internet allows easy access to foreign cultures, social networks, and a large array of language programs - all across language barriers.
As children and adolescents grow into adults, they may discover that speaking another language not only is “cool” but also opens doors professionally. A second language is an asset for studying, working abroad, or traveling. To the extent that Generation Y (also called the Net Generation) can take advantage of the language learning offerings of the web, they may even get a head start in overcoming the language attitudes of former generations.
What do you think, can the web help change language learning attitudes?
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