To talk with my neighbor is a simple way to show hospitality. As our world becomes smaller, our neighborhoods are becoming larger. Who are your neighbors — those you live near, work with, do business with, encounter in your travel, or meet socially? As they in many cases are working to learn our language, I suggest we care enough to learn theirs as well.
Myths & Realities
Probably the most discouraging and destructive myth believed (at least subconsciously) by many language students is that learning a language is hard and that only certain people have the gift to do so. Consider this,
almost everyone learns to understand and speak at least one language! The reality is: Language learning does take time and practice; it’s not a matter of some people just “getting it.”
Questions to consider
Before you begin, consider: What are your goals, both short and long term? Why would you like to learn this language? How will you be using the language? What level of fluency are you seeking? (For a standard way to measure and express that level, check out the “Common European Framework.”) Different goals will call for different approaches. For example, your language learning strategy might be very different depending on whether you are seeking conversational fluency, reading academic articles, taking university classes, or getting a job as a translator.
At the risk of oversimplification, I want to offer a four step process for basic language acquisition:
Step 1: Sounds
The toughest part of learning some new languages may simply be the sounds – that is, if they are significantly different from one’s primary language. Simply learning the sounds of the letters or other characters is a great place to begin. It’s also helpful to spend time simply listening to the spoken language, letting those new sounds soak into your consciousness.
Step 2: Vocabulary
Once you have learned the basic sounds of the language (When you see a word spelled, you usually know how to pronounce it; and, when you hear a word spoken, you usually know how to spell it.), it’s time to learn simple phrases and build a working vocabulary.
Step 3: Structure
Learning the basic structure of the language – grammar and syntax – is a third major step in language acquisition. Contrary to most language learning courses, it’s usually more helpful to develop a basic conversational vocabulary and learn to form some simple sentences by rote before beginning the study of grammar. Think of how your learned your primary language.
Step 4: Practice
Beyond step three, you will simply need ongoing, regular practice. The more intense your language study is, the faster you will learn. That’s why immersion programs are so popular and effective. Of course, they are not always practical given the circumstances of your life. Short of traveling to immerse yourself in the language and culture, consider other ways you can immerse yourself to a degree in your chosen language. For example, consider reading books, magazines, news articles, or articles on the internet. Watch videos, movies, or TV shows. Listen to radio through the internet. Engage in conversation with a native speaker through websites such as italki.com.
I look forward to hearing from you. Please share your comments and questions below.