If the number of promotions and discount offers by language learning companies around year end is any indication - 2013 should indeed be a banner year for learning a foreign language.
While nobody knows how many such offers have been accepted world wide, we can safely assume that there are indeed many who have made learning a new foreign language their New Year's goal.
There is no lack of research and literature that analyze and describe the challenges of achieving our goals. I recently came across a post from 2008 on zenhabits.net. Here are some suggestions how this blog can be applied to language learning:
- Start small. Many language programs overwhelm a learner with too many options and choices. We, at Gamesforlanguage.com, add 15-20 words with each lesson. The phrases of each lesson are part of an ongoing travel story. Learning these words and phrases should take about 20 minutes. If you get into a daily habit of committing those 20 minutes, you'll have made a great start. You can always add more time later.
- One goal. Focus on one achievable and realistic goal. No, you will not speak a new foreign language fluently in a year - unless you are willing and able to commit considerable time and energy. Learning a new foreign language as an adult requires discipline and sustained effort. Completing the course you have purchased, subscribed to, or enrolled in may be your one realistically achievable goal.
- Examine your motivation. Write down the reasons you want to learn a new foreign language. Maybe you plan to travel to a foreign country, you have a friend, spouse or relatives you want to communicate with, or your education or business interests motivate you.
- You have to really, really want it. The above reasons have to be strong enough for you to commit the energy and time needed to make real progress. If you can stay excited about your choice long enough to reap some benfits, e.g. reading an article or a book, watching a foreign movie or video, chatting with a friend, etc., your feeling of succes and accomplishment will then carry you along. But if you have just been “seduced” to learning a new language by an unrealistic promise such as “Speak a language in 10 days,” or other slick marketing ads, think again. You have to stay excited about your goal and continuously fuel your enthusiasm.
- Commit publicly. Today there are many ways to do that. Many online language programs let you post your progress scores on your Facebook page. If you are into blogging, you can report your experience and progress. You can tell your friends. And, especially if you have friends that speak the language you are learning, let them know.
- Get excited. See also 4. above. The more you learn, the more opportunities will open up for you, whether reading on-line blogs or articles, watching foreign movies or videos, linking up with online chat rooms, or preparing for your trip. You need to find your way of visualizing the benefits of achieving your goal.
- Build anticipation. You may want to start today: Buy that CD course you saw in the mall, enroll in the Adult Ed course your local college promotes, or subscribe to an online course you saw advertised. But hold it! First do some homework: What is your learning style? Are you a visual or an aural person? Where and when can you commit the time? Before work? After hours? At home? In a class setting? At work?, e.g. during a lunch break? What is your budget? Think it through, take some time and make your choice deliberate.
- Print it out, post it up. (Right from the blog): “Print out your goal in big words. Make your goal just a few words long, like a mantra (Exercise 15 mins. Daily.), and post it up on your wall or refrigerator. Post it at home and at work. Put it on your computer desktop. You want to have big reminders about your goal to keep your focus and to keep your excitement going. A picture of your goal also helps,” e.g. a picture of you friend, spouse or relative, or of the foreign country you want to visit, etc.
Even if you have followed all the above tips and have carefully set your goal, you'll need to find ways to keep going when your enthusiasm starts to wane. In several of our future blogs, we'll apply the "20 ways to sustain motivation when you are struggling" to learning a foreign language.
"Disruption" by Jean-Marie Dru was published in 1996 and is therefore not a new concept. In educational circles, however, it's a new trend and Kirsten Winkler illuminates it well in her blog: Disrupt Education! It's no surprise that language learners are also being impacted by - and by in large are benefiting from - the ever snowballing movement for "disruptive innovation in education." It's affecting even those of us who are no longer in school or college. In order to engage with other cultures, to travel, to live or work abroad, many people are eagerly learning a second or third language. Until a few years ago, our options were mostly limited to slugging through a textbook on our own, attending Continuing Education evening classes, hiring a private tutor, or buying expensive language learning CDs and DVDs. Now with the Internet as a disruptive force, our choices have mushroomed.
INNOVATIVE WAYS TO START OUT
It means, that we can put the large cookie-cutter style language programs aside and have fun with an array of fresh products created by innovative language learning companies. Anyone learning a new language has to make a start. One way is to learn a series of relevant words or phrases that will be useful forever. And if you want to stick with it, you have to find a way to really engage.
LEARNING BY LABELING
One starting point is to learn the words for items that surround you in daily life. You can do this, for example, with an iPhone app from lingibli.com. With the app, you can label things around your home and office (or on the go, when you're traveling), scan the labels and hear the translation. At this time, lingibli.com offers 21 languages, including English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Turkish, Japanese, and others.
NEWS BASED LEARNING
Another approach is to practice with content that is time- and place relevant - such as daily news articles that interest you. For example, Voxy.com is a platform that uses daily news to create short lessons that you can access from mobile devices any time during the day. At the moment Voxy only offers English for Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese speakers, but more languages are in the works.
Because it provides easy access to native speakers, this approach has gained popularity quickly. Ideally, with such a program you can pace yourself, learn from live feed-back, and start creating social contacts in your new language. For example, besides providing free language-learning, Duolingo.com is also a crowd-sourced text translation platform where members can vote on which translations are best. At the moment Duolingo offers 5 languages: English, Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese.
Skype and Apple's video chat app called "FaceTime" provide the tools to have live, face to face conversations with foreign friends and language exchange partners. Various companies provide language services using these technologies, but you can also set up conversations on your own!
Go for it!
Not everybody will feel comfortable with these new approaches. And for others, these programs are great additions to more traditional learning materials. Users of Internet-based language programs seem to be mostly a younger crowd (which includes the thirty-somethings). Is that because they have grown up using computers for learning and like trying out things on the Internet? Whatever the reason, new approaches can take the “chore” out of language learning. That’s a good thing. So go for it: Try one way of learning, or try them all. You can’t lose.
I've been learning Spanish for about eight months now. After a few lessons with Rosetta Stone (see my blog #3) and the initial 6-week boost with our Spanish 1 course, progress now is slow but steady. Learning a new language means building new skills, gradually. During the weeks before election, one or the other candidate spoke or had ads in Spanish, e.g. President Obama in this You Tube clip. I could understand most of these, no problem! I feel that I'm ready to add Social Media to my tools for improving my Spanish further.
30 Minutes a Day
Life is busy, but most days I do manage to squeeze in about 30 minutes of Spanish - 10 minutes here, 5 minutes there. My learning "schedule" is scattered throughout the day. Generally, it consists of:
- Reading a few pages of my Spanish ebook (at the moment, Zafón’s La sombre del viento) );
- Playing a couple of Vocabulary Games with sound;
- Reading Spanish newspaper articles online;
- Watching a Spanish soap for 10-15 minutes in the evening
- Doing a couple of grammar exercises from an old fashioned book with my husband over coffee. We chuckle over some of the weird and useless sentences that come up - such as: ¿Cómo come Juan? (How does Juan eat?) and ¿Dónde beben los animales? (Where do the animals drink?)
Social Media for Learning Spanish
It's easy to add Spanish to your Twitter(left) or Facebook feeds. And, you can read the posts when you have a spare moment or whenever you feel like it. Choices are endless, but they'll all grow your grasp of Spanish and the culture of Spain and Latin American countries. You'll begin to better understand how opinions are formulated, how regional humor is expressed, how discussions are carried on, etc.
12 Social Media Terms in Spanish
So, if you are ready to participate in Spanish on Social Media, here's a start with some basic social media terms:
Compartir - Share
Conectar - Connect
Comentarios - Comments
Enviar - Send
Escribir - Write
Recuérdame - Remember me
Seguir - Follow
Twittear - Tweet
Usuario registrado - Registered user
Lo más visto en ... - The most seen on ...
Lo más debatido ahora - Most talked about now
Lo que hacen tus amigos - What your friends are doing
Once you have mastered some of the basics of a new language, using your Social Media News Feeds is also a great way to foster your motivation. News Feeds let you connect to the topics that interest you and expand your vocabulary in just those areas. Research has shown that learning new words and phrases in context will help you retain and use them more easily.
When starting a new language, one of the hardest things to learn is to understand a native speaker. It's definitely much easier to read a foreign language than to understand a stream of it when it’s spoken quickly. When I started learning Italian, TV programs sounded like gibberish. But now, I’m pretty good at understanding Italian speakers and Italian TV and films. Just as with building any skill, it helped me to break down the learning process. You can do it in these three steps.
1. Listen repeatedly to a short audio or video
Listen to a short audio of which you understand or can guess about 50%. Listen to this same audio segment several times in the next several days.This will make your brain familiar with the "music” of the language, its melody and rhythm. Pay attention to where stress goes on words and which words are stressed in a sentence. You’ll quickly learn to distinguish individual types of sentences (statements, questions, negative responses, short emphatic answers, etc.). You'll be surprised how repetition increases your understanding of what is being said.Also, from day to day, your brain continues to processing the sounds that you are learning. After some time, you may find that you'll be able to identify individual words within the stream of sounds that is whooshing by. That's a huge step and a very exciting one.
To get the idea, here are the MP3 audios of Scene 2 from our four languages, French, Spanish, Italian, and German. Pick a language that you understand somewhat. Then listen to the corresponding scene in a language you don’t know at all. It’ll give you a taste of audio learning.
2. Watch or listen to an ongoing story
Watch a TV series in your new language. Or, if one in your language is not available, look for an un-dubbed film that you can watch in short increments. The ongoing story will provide you with related vocabulary and lots of repetition. The context of the story itself will offer plenty of clues so that you can guess the meaning of what is going on.
3. Learn by immersion with a variety of materials
Now you’re ready to tackle all kinds of different audio and video material in your new language. TV programs in the language you’re learning, films, news audios and videos, a radio station. learning, etc. Increasingly, context clues will help. A great way to get into immersion is a site like yabla.com. Also a good post to check out is Learn a Language by Listening to the Radio. Also, in an earlier blog, I list 10 essential grammar items to become familiar with. They’ll help you get a good start with immersion learning.
Language learning is not a linear process
You may want to go back to any of the previous steps from time to time. Learning to understand a new language is not a linear process, it's more like a fun zig-zag, filled with new discoveries all the time. Of course, if you can interact with native speakers, you'll want to do that right from the start. They'll make your language learning personal, add direct experience of the language, and give your valuable feedback.
Have fun! And yes, these “language exercises” for your brain have all kinds of good benefits. And as said by Rita Mae Brown: "Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going."
A recent NPR article by Stephen M. Walt, professor of international relations at Harvard University, caught my attention: Foreign Policy: 10 Things Future Wonks Should Know. The article meant to address the "things" our future Secretaries of State or for that matter, the students and future international policy wonks should learn. (The 1938 photo from the article shows undergraduates from Oxford University as they walk to lectures, well equipped with books.)
While I certainly cannot argue with any of his ten points, I wish he had listed “Foreign Language” as #2 or even #1 (instead of #3) for all the excellent reasons he mentions:
“... I know that everyone is learning English these days, but learning at least one foreign language provides a window into another culture that you can't get any other way, and also provides a sense of mastery and insight that is hard to achieve otherwise.” It seems clear to me that among the many other “things” a foreign policy expert should know, foreign language and history should be on top.
Considering the interconnections of our lives with the rest of the world, Prof. Walt's reasoning does not only apply to foreign policy wonks, but indeed to many industries, businesses, and people. He also speaks to “a sense of mastery that is hard to achieve otherwise,” a point that is rarely mentioned when enumerating the benefits of knowing a foreign language.
The current presidential election campaign in the US also makes me again painfully aware of the fact that knowing another language (than English) does not give any candidate an advantage with the voting public.
You may all remember that John Kerry downplayed his knowledge of French in 2004, and Mitt Romney is currently doing the same. President Obama is now staying away from that topic as well, as he got blasted in 2008 when regretting: “I don't speak a foreign language. It's embarrassing ... It's embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup, right?" (CBS News 7/11/2008)
But for those who endeavor to learn another language both the “window into another culture” and the “sense of mastery” provide ample rewards.
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.
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?
Recently, I came across a report by Inc.com, entitled: “5 Innovative Language-Learning Tools.” I had learned five languages either through immersion, or with traditional methods (grammar-translation, audio-lingual) and materials (textbooks, classroom, CDs). For a critique of traditional methods, see David Nunan’s article: “From The Traditional to the Contemporary …” Now I was curious to see what new technologies were available for my next language learning project: Spanish. Here are some of the innovative features listed in the Inc.com report for five language programs:
For Pronunciation Practice:
- audio clips
- speech recognition technology
- function to record your own voice and play back to compare
For Vocabulary Acquisition and Practice:
- flashcards, vocabulary games
- feature to build your own vocabulary lists
- community page for sharing word lists
- review manager (for managing vocabulary practice)
For Improving Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing Skills:
- online audio, tv, radio programs, interactive video
- spoken and written exercises
- visual text
- chat feature
For Social Interaction:
- spoken and written exercises which can be submitted for peer review
- a community platform to find language partners
- crowdsourced content
Language Learning with Social Interaction Online
For me, communicating with others is the goal of my language learning. If that is also true for you, then from day one, you’ll want to focus on learning the language of communication. It means that the vocabulary you practice should relate to your interests, and the topics you cover should be ones you enjoy conversing about. David Nunan calls this: “learning real language for use in the real world.”
To that end, the features mentioned in the Inc.com report that provide social interaction seem the most interesting and most innovative to me. (Voice recognition systems to help with pronunciation hold great promise, but the ones I have tried were more frustrating than helpful.) Engaging online with native speakers anywhere in the world is a great way to practice. But you have to push yourself to take a few risks. Yes, it's stressful to speak in a foreign language in a real situation. But just think: Your language partner is in the same situation as you...
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- The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 2: Games Summary
- Zorro: 1 (big) Thing to Learn Spanish
- The GamesforLanguage Program - Part 1: Approach & Methods
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