Learning a new language as an adult is a difficult and sometimes embarrassing endeavor. Under the wrong circumstances, an innocent inquiry about the location of a restaurant restroom could equate to an insult of the owner’s wife.
Teachers and linguists have spent countless years developing several approaches to teaching second languages: The grammatical-translation approach in which the instructor conducts the class in the students’ native tongue and each term is learned through literal translation from original language to English; the direct approach using real-world, applicable dialogue; the audio-lingual approach in which the instructor focuses on mimicry and grammar is learned inductively; and the list goes on.
Still, most adults struggle with language learning. Why is this? One theory is because learning languages is treated as an academic subject, when in reality a language cannot be learned through memorization and understanding of rules. It has to be spoken. The learner must connect with the language individually. So for those interested in learning a foreign language outside of the classroom walls, here are some tips and tricks to help.
Listen to it
Before jumping in and expecting a miracle akin to Babel Fish, you should listen to the language you’re trying to learn. Listen to native speakers, audio books, operas, pop music, tele-novellas — anything that will offer you a general feel for the language. Are the r’s hard or do they roll? Are the e’s generally long or short?
Each language has unique patterns and emphases, and the more you listen, the more familiar it will feel, and the easier it will become to properly speak it.
Sure, reading and writing a language is imperative, but the learning comes from feeling the words form on your lips, hearing the syllables out loud. Saying the words out loud helps you recognize these verbal cues. Before you can move on to understanding how to form sentences and conjugate verbs, you have to speak the words, even if you’re just talking to yourself.
Conversational scenarios can help you recall words you’ve memorized as well as offer real-world application. If you are going to insult someone’s wife, it’s better if that wife is in an imaginary setting. Plus, learning anything is more fun when you have company.
An effective classroom technique of ESL teachers is to utilize puzzles and games to help make the learning process more enjoyable. Games such as Pictionary, Memory and crossword puzzles all break the monotony of simple flash games and can even liven things up with a little friendly competition between you and your partner.
Learn the Culture
Since learning a foreign language is partly memorizing vocabulary and partly understanding the feel of it, the best way to gain a solid grasp on both is to learn about the culture.
Research the history of the language’s country of origin. What is the linguistic etymology of the words — Latin? Greek? What foods are common in the culture? What are the natives’ values and morals? Investigating what makes the country unique allows you to personalize and identify with the culture. As this occurs, learning the language starts to feel less of a chore and more of a privilege.
So if you missed your chance to learn a second language as a toddler when learning languages comes most naturally, you are not entirely out of bilingual luck. A few tips and tricks can help you learn more easily and prevent you from slinging insults at the innocent natives.