Sunday, October 30, 2005

Six Quick Tricks for Learning a Language

Six Quick Tricks for Learning a Language

By Larry M. Lynch

Do you think that you can’t learn a new language? Think again. Our brains maintain the capacity to soak up new knowledge of all types far into our advanced years. No matter what your background or past learning experience, you CAN learn to speak another language using these six quick techniques.

There are a multitude of reasons for wanting to speak the lingua franca of another people; travel, business, education, personal pleasure, even family or friends. Indeed it’s no small feat to habla español, parlez francaise, or sprechenze Deutcsh, but the prestige, financial gains, personal satisfaction and envy that can accompany this easily nurtured skill can be most rewarding.

But, “Can I really develop good communicative skills in a new tongue?” you may well ask. Yes, you can if you’ll use these 10 quick tricks for heightening your language – learning experience and incorporating your new language into your everyday life.

1. Take a short course: A number of language courses are immediately available in most areas at a local community college or university. Courses in the continuing education department tend to be more consumer-oriented, less academic and more focused on the prospective needs of students like you. The internet likewise abounds with foreign language course offerings. You can learn Swedish, Norwegian, Danish or Finnish via multimedia at http://www.caselearning.com/ . The Definitive Worldwide Guide to Learning the Thai Language and Studying Thai Culture is online at: http://study-thai.com/ if you’re up for the exotic.

2. Mimicking: “Mom, he’s mocking me!” Have you ever heard this complaint when one sibling repeated everything the other said? One imitating word – for – word the speech, sounds even actions of the other? It’s called mimicking and it’s so effective you’ll be using this technique to get talking in record time yourself. The procedure is simple, you repeat exactly, word-for-word, everything your model says. That model can be a newscaster, character on a soap opera, documentary narrator or the voice coming from your tape player or radio. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect. Just start by trying to get your tongue around the words. You’ll acquire speed and ease with practice. You may feel silly at first, but persevere. You’ll get there sooner than you think.

3. Reading Aloud: One of the most effective language-learning tricks is to use the counsel found in The Bible itself at Joshua 1: 8, “…and you must in an undertone read in it day and night, …” and again at Psalms 1:2 stating, “… And in his law he reads in an undertone day and night.” Read passages in the target language aloud to yourself. This powerful technique not only develops speaking and pronunciation skills, but contributes to listening comprehension, vocabulary and grammar too.
Almost any reading material in your target language will do as long as it’s interesting and fairly short. You wouldn’t start an English language learner off by reading “War and Peace” now would you?

4. Watch TV: If you have cable, is there a station broadcast in the language you’re interested in? Many metro areas carry programming in Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. Even Chinese and Hindi are available in some regions. Check with your cable supplier or programming guides to see what’s listed. Programs to watch are the news, soap operas and documentaries. Have a VCR? Tape a couple of programs and play them over and over to accustom yourself to the flow of the language. Many VCR models have slow-motion and stop-action features allowing you to slow down the program to aid your understanding.

5. Listen to Music: In Japan, English students karaoke the Beatles. In Latin America, students mimic Bruce Springsteen. In Africa, the Backstreet Boys rule the airwaves. Lip-syncing popular songs is all the rage for English language learners, so why don’t you turn the tables and use it to your advantage. Check at music shops and bookstores for song CDs and tapes. Ask around for recommendations on where recordings in your target language might be available. Ethnic restaurants and shops are another good source for music or referrals. Lyrics to literally thousands of songs are available online. Songs are frequently available online in many major languages. Check the local library. The internet will yield hordes of song titles and stations worldwide in dozens of languages. A good online source for starters is http://www.live365.com/ which has live global feeds 24 hours a day in multiple languages.

6. Read: Stop at the library for a grammar book and some reading material. The grammar book will be an infrequent guide through those rough spots when the target language grammar differs substantially from English. But don’t overburden yourself with grammar and rules. A copious variety of entertaining magazines exists in most major languages and unless you’re learning Cochimi or Kukapa, you should be able to find something. A newspaper, general interest magazine, the bible, brochures, even comics can help you along. Short articles are best at first. Although you can wade through one or more of those in a matter of minutes, your personal satisfaction at doing so will be boundless. Try http://www.amazon.com/ for hard-to-find titles.

You can’t pick your family; but you can pick your friends and you can pick conversations with native speakers of your target language. In the supermarket, in the mall, in the park, a restaurant or a convenience store – almost anywhere you happen to meet or run into a native speaker of your new lingua franca, don’t just stay there mum – say something. People are generally flattered that you’re trying to meet them on their own terms or in their own language and are usually more than happy to chat. Surely, you can say “Buenos Tardes” to someone passing down the aisle in the supermarket. It’s also great practice for breaking the ice when you finally light out for foreign soil.

These quick tricks in conjunction with a short language course will make your language-learning efforts less painless, more interesting, more pleasurable and much easier. Try to do something each and every day. Just think how green with envy your friends are all going to be - and start packing your bags.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is also writer and photographer specializing in business, travel, food and education-related writing in South America. His work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape From America, Mexico News and Brazil magazines in print and online. He travels researching articles throughout Latin America and teaches English at a university in Cali, Colombia. To get original, exclusive articles and content for your newsletter, blog or website, contact him at: lynchlarrym@gmail.com.

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