Posts Tagged ‘ Language

Language learning tips

Excellent post by Murray James Morrison, a great alto sax player and student of life on tips for creating an environment of immersion when learning a language:

“We tend to learn languages like sissies learn to swim. We dip a toe in the water. Then the heel of our left foot. We walk to the other side of the pool, and do the same thing again. The water is too cold, we think. We summon up all our courage to get waist deep. We wade in the shallow end of the pool for an hour.

“It should be obvious: This is not swimming. It is athletic cowardice. Learning language this way is dumb and slow. Don’t be a language sissy. Here are three things you can do to start swimming today…”

http://www.murrayjames.net/short/20100216.html

Some other things to add from my own experience:

  • Create social situations in which you feel the need to express yourself in a target language, the way you would if you were in a foreign country.  If I always speak to the men in the corner bodega in Spanish, I can simulate an environment in which it is socially unacceptable to speak anything but Spanish and it forces my mind not to rely on my English as a crutch.
  • Translate from one target language to another. I’ve found that this works best with 2 languages at very different stages of comprehension. If you are learning new words in Arabic that look foreign to you, quiz yourself on them not per your native language, but via another language with which you are already comfortable with many of the same terms. This will reinforce both sets of vocabulary at the same time, and create associations in your head between the concepts and various terms– like networking together several computers, you’ll be able to access all of the data more smoothly.
  • I have found the above tip to especially efficacious when studying two similar languages. In Sorrento, I found a Spanish grammar manual written in Italian– a holy grail for someone studying both. Each example illustrating different points of usage and grammar was of course written in both Spanish and Italian, immediately making clear the distinctions in vocabulary and form. By quizzing myself on those exercises, I quickly gained a facility not only for putting Spanish and Italian in different “compartments” in my mind, but also for converting a lexical item from one language to the other, effectively expanding my vocabulary in both.
  • The above cross-lingual method is also good for retaining languages that are on the back burner. If you studied French in school but don’t have much time or will now to devote active study to it and another language, your mind will still have much of that vocabulary tucked in there somewhere. By studying your other target language as compared to French, you’ll be in much better shape when you decide to cram for that trip to Paris.
  • Pronounce everything clearly out loud. Language learning clearly relies on a great deal of repetition, but what if you could get a 3 for 1 deal every time you saw or heard a word?  There are 3 main ways in which we operate in a language: hearing, speaking, and reading. Every time you hear a word or phrase (and it’s expedient to do so), repeat it.  Your mind will 1) hear the term, 2) speak the term (thus getting the feel of it in your mouth) and 3) hear the term again, as spoken from your mouth. This habit will exercise your aural memory for comprehending when others speak and your muscle memory for having the words in your mouth when you need them. Of course it is also helpful to envision the meaning or subject when you say the words, strengthening the associations between concepts and language in your mind.

  • Likewise, read out loud whenever you can. This works the same as above– 1) seeing the word, 2) speaking the word, 3) hearing the word. BAM. In addition, even when reading texts that are slightly above your comprehension level, you will start to internalize the natural flow of a given language and you will learn to infer the meaning of words you don’t know by their context.

I’m in the process of preparing reviews for some of the many language-learning methods I have tried (and sometimes failed at!) so stay tuned here and to www.twitter.com/Subdiversity.