Conan O’Brien once told a joke about a 94-year-old great-great grandmother that had become the oldest person in the world to earn a Masters degree. He said “She plans to continue her education. Everyone is excited for the 94 year old, except her student loan officer.” Seriously, you are never too old to learn something new…even a new language.
Learning a foreign language will make you feel like a kid again. It’s something new that will expand your horizons. You’ll be able to communicate with people you never could before, understand things you couldn’t, keep your brain active, and you may have a desire to travel to new places to test out your abilities.
In Europe many people speak three languages. Here in the U.S (and Minnesota)…not so much. It’s a shame. Maybe us Minnesotans would speak more languages if, for example, they spoke a different language in Wisconsin. Possibly, we’d like to speak with those people that are so nearby…unless they support the wrong football team. What if they spoke another language in Iowa? Well, most Minnesotans try not to talk with them either. So I guess that’s not a reason to learn another language. Moving on…
An ad for the language learning system called Rosetta Stone starts like this “What’s the fastest way to learn a language? ACT LIKE A BABY.” They identify three characteristics that make language-learning a success for kids that we can emulate as adults. (1) Learning starts in a immersion environment free from translation and explanations of grammar. (2) Learning accelerates through constant feedback. (3) Learning happens through play. They conclude with “A slow smile sneaks across the learner’s face after just a few screens. It’s a smile of recognition, as though the brain suddenly recalls what is was like to learn language as a child, athough it realizes, ‘Aha! I’ve done this before.'”
TIPS FOR LEARNING
Here are a few tips for learning a foreign language.
Don’t be Afraid to Try
My young daughter Arianna told me “We have to crap for Brielle.” “What?” I asked. Again she said, “We have to crap for Brielle.” I tried for clarification “Honey, What word are you saying?” “Crap for Brielle!” Then she applauded!…and I understood. Sometimes we know the words but still don’t communicate clearly. Kids are not afraid to try.
I’ve had my issues with learning French. One time I was the only American at the dinner table with a French family. At the time I knew enough French to get myself in trouble. I had my own rules for French. For example, I found that long English words are often the same in French but thay are pronounced differently. For example, “helicopter” is pronounced “hel-A-kop-tare” in French. Also, words that end in “ive” in English often end in “if” in French. For example, “massive” is “massif” in French. One older gentleman at the table was a baker and he was trying to explain something to me about the bread…that it was natural or something. So I said to him “C’est du pain, sans preservatif.”…thinking I was saying “It’s bread without any preservatives”. The entire table broke into laughter. What I really said in French was “It’s bread without condoms.” True, but not exactly what I had in mind.
Another time I had learned the words “par se que” (because) and “mai” (but) in the same day. After eating a huge dinner, I was offered more food. I thought that if I ate another bite I would explode like the man in Monty Python, so I said “C’est tres bon parse que c’est trop.” or “It’s very good BECAUSE it is too much.” I got them mixed up. Oops.
I could have let these incidents stop me from trying. Kids are much more patient in this regard because they make mistakes all the time. Learning is often a process of making mistakes and then changing what we know. In fact, making the mistake helps you remember to not make it again…or so we hope.
Talk With Kids
Not only is it easier to learn a foreign language like a child learns, but learning a foreign language is easier if you talk WITH children that speak that language natively. So you can put yourself in a situation where kids speak another language and might with you. For most Americans this might occur on a mission trip, or while volunteering in an immersion school. Here’s why it could help:
1. Kids speak slower and with simpler words and phrases.
2. It is not as intimidating to try speaking to kids as it is adults.
3. Kids are not afraid to continue speaking to you even when you don’t have a clue what they are saying.
4. Kids may not understand English and therefore you are forced to speak it for any understanding.
I remember one time I was talking to a kid in French to see how he would respond. He didn’t have a clue what I was saying. After listening and nodding in agreement for a few minutes, he said he needed to go… “I’ll talk to you later!”
Get Some Rest
Learning another language can be tiring. In fact, researchers have found that sleep boosts your ability to learn language. So…if someone ever catches you taking a nap just say “I’m trying to learn a foreign language!” Personally, I’d say adequate sleep boosts your ability to do anything well. You when you need a rest and get frustrated, take one…and pick up where you left off later. Repetition and trying lots of different ways to achieve the end is key.
While traveling alone in the Czech Republic, I had a strong desire to be understood. I would ask in Czech “Mluvíte anglicky?” (“Do you speak English?”) The common answer was “no”. The other person would ask in German (their second language) “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” I’d reply “No” and then ask “Parlez vous Francais?” (as French is my second language). They would laugh at me as if to say “Yeah right, I’m going to speak French.” When I got tired of trying to understand Czech or German menus and saying “Nerozumím” (“I don’t understand”), I’d hit an Italian restaurant. Spaghetti and pizza are recognizable in any language…and it provided me a well deserved rest.
LANGUAGE LEARNING RESOURCES
There are many resources available for learning a language. Try any and all of them for greater success.
Lots of language resources come from England…and so learning from them can be complex. Once I was trying to learn Czech from a CD. The English made no sense. It went like this: “And now for some general queries. You’re in a large hypermarket and you want to know where the trolleys are.” What? I needed to translate the British English into English. “And now for some general questions. You’re in a large grocery store and want to know where the carts are.”
Listen to internet radio in your foreign language on Pandora.
French in 10 Minutes a Day Great book with stickers you can place on things in your house.
Phrase books can be helpful but I’ve found phrase books sometimes send you in the wrong direction. For example, one French phrase book must have been designed for wealthy travelers. It teaches you things like “Can you have my shirts cleaned and pressed?” I need phrases like “Could you remove the rat from the bathroom?” In another case, the book said I should call the waiter “Garçon!”. That didn’t work for me when I called over the distinguished waiter who was 30 years my elder by calling him literally “Boy!”.
French Language Map – Summary guide with phrases.
DVDs and Other Media
Turn on the alternate language track to watch your favorite movie in French or Spanish.
YouTube has some excellent resources including lots of kids videos of nursery rhymes and songs.
Muzzy – Great for young kids…a cartoon immersion series from the BBC. If you purchase this online, you actually get all 5 languages! (French, Italian, Spanish, German, and English)
Rosetta Stone – A great immersion system for learning a foreign language.
Mango Languages – Found at many libraries.
BBC Languages – Online help.
French in Action – The “French in Action” series is one of the best ways I’ve found to learn French language and culture. The characters in this series are very true to French life. It is an immersion course…so all you hear is French (no English) just like if you were in France. By associating movies clips, a story, and pictures to the words you see and hear, it helps you to learn visually so that you are more likely to remember the words and phrases.
There are many different packages including workbooks, textbooks, DVDs (52 episodes), etc. available from Annenberg Media that funded production of the series.
The complete French in Action DVD set is $450 through the Annenberg site, but you may be able to get it used on eBay for cheaper. You can also access the videos via the Annenberg website for free. Warning: You may find complete DVD sets available at highly reduced prices through http://completeseries.tv/french.htm or http://www.dvdhunters.com. DO NOT order from these companies! They are illegal bootleg copies of poor quality and it is impossible to reach their customer service via e-mail, chat, or phone so you are not even guaranteed the product will arrive.
Take a beginning class at a local community/cultural center or college. For example, our local Alliance Française offers classes in French.
Some Online French Help from About.com