Thursday, 8 July 2010

My truths about language learning

Natalie over at Birdbrain had a very interesting post about language learning, so inspired by her, I decided to write my own comments about this fascinating topic.
  • Wanting it is not enough. It’s easy to say that you want to know a foreign language, but without motivation and a lot of hard work, you will never learn one. The most effective way is to move to a country where the target language is spoken and either study or work in an environment where you have to use the language all the time. However, this is not always possible, and in those cases you need to be creative in order to find a way to use the target language. You will also need a valid reason for wanting to learn a language: this reason is always personal, and it could be pretty much anything, but if you don’t have one, you will quickly run out of motivation.

  • The more languages you know, the easier it will get. I am lucky enough to be bilingual, and luckier still because my mother tongues are in no way related to each other. This has taught me a lot of useful lessons that I have been able to apply to my own language leaning experience. When you know several languages, you will see similarities between languages which might make it easier for you to learn new ones. For instance: one of my mother tongues is Swedish, because of this, I also understand Norwegian, Danish and Dutch. German is also quite easy to learn since a lot of the vocabulary is similar. My other mother tongue, Finnish, is a Finno-Ugric language, which means that my brain is used to another type of grammatical structures than the ones used in Indo-European languages.

  • Maintenance is the key. Once you know a language, you have to use it. And you have to use it a lot. This requires dedication, especially when you’re not surrounded by native speakers, but it isn’t impossible, just use your imagination: you can watch films, read newspapers, listen to the radio, read books, find language exchange partners online, etc.  

  • Be humble. You will never know any language perfectly (no, not even your own mother tongue), and you can always improve. As long as you keep this in mind, you will keep learning. The worst you can do is believe that by reaching a certain level, you can stop making an effort.

  • Think in the target language. Form sentences in your head, play word games. Once you start thinking in the target language, you will be able to communicate more efficiently. It’s also possible that you have developed an "ear" for the target language: you start hearing whether the things you say are grammatically correct or not. People often ask me which language I’m thinking in, and the answer is quite simple. I think in the language I’m speaking at that very moment. Translating every single word from language1 to language2 just takes too long :)

  • What works for you? What works for me (brainwashing myself) might not work for you. You have to find out what learning methods suit you, and stick to those.

  • Have fun. You are more likely to succeed if you enjoy what you are doing.

1 comment:

Natalie said...

I'm glad to see I inspired this post :) I enjoyed reading what you had to say because you already speak multiple languages, so it makes for an interesting point of view.