SOCIAL MEDIA

23 May 2014

How to Learn a Language

With our China move growing ever closer, Angel has immersed himself in studying the basics of Mandarin Chinese. I balance explaining the wondrous mystery that is the pronunciation of pinyin to Angel with some serious work on expanding my vocabulary in hopes of not being too stumped when I'm surrounded by native speakers.

Here is a list of tried and true ways to learn a language:

1. Be born into a family that speaks the language at home.
This is by far the easiest method. That's how I learned English, and how Angel learned Spanish.

2. Marry A native speaker.
Not to stereotype or anything, but a LOT of Spanish majors at my college were dating native Spanish speakers. No, I did not marry Angel for his language.

3. Live in a country where the language is spoken.
And once you get there, don't make friends with any ex-pats. You'll be forced to learn the language or starve to death trying.

4. Rosetta Stone/Other Computer Games
I find Rosetta Stone and other language-teaching computer games fun when I already have education in the language being taught. I'm not sure from experience how great they are when used on their own and with no other grammar resources. I like to use them for a little for practice.

5. Watch movies in the language.
I have friends who swear they learned Cantonese from watching Cantonese films. I have to believe there were a couple other factors at play, but seriously, watching films in the language you're trying to learn is a great opportunity to get "real life" listening experience. Your teacher and the educational tapes you listen to probably speak fairly slow--listening to fast-paced dialogue in movies can help.

6. Take college classes.
I learn well in a classroom setting. I recommend college-level classes because they are demanding, and therefore can teach you quite a bit in a relatively short amount of time. I studied Mandarin, Japanese, and Spanish at my college--and while I don't think that classes alone are enough, they offer a solid foundation for grammar and vocabulary that you can go out and practice in the real world.

7. Read a book.
It might not be the most relaxing book you've ever read. You may need to read it with a dictionary in one hand and a book in the other, but seeing the grammar patterns that you've seen used in textbooks used in real life is amazing. I have Spanish, Mandarin, and Bahasa Bibles (it's a little easier to play guessing games when you have a handle on what the text says in your own language).

8. Check out your local library
If you don't have money to devote to your language-learning cause, try searching your library catalog for language learning resources! We've found that sometimes the language resource books at the library are so little used that you can keep renewing and renewing them for as long as you'd like!

One language learning program that's new to me is Living Language. Angel borrowed a copy of the complete edition from our library. While the explanations might not be sufficiently thorough if you were starting out on a language with no experience and no one who spoke the language to explain subtleties, I like that the program includes audio cds, online flashcards and games using vocab from each lesson, and a special book explaining each stroke used in Chinese characters, along with workbooks. It's been very helpful to Angel and I've even been browsing the "advanced" workbook and picking up some new vocabulary and working through some of the language exercises in spots where I'm rusty.

What are your best strategies when it comes to studying languages?

23 comments :

  1. I like the "being born into a family that speaks the language" method the most, it's worked remarkably well in my experience ;) But otherwise I definitely need to learn in a classroom setting with some pressure put on me - self-study doesn't work for me at all, unless it's watching a movie in the language :)

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  2. I used to fluently speak French in high school, and after not using it for a few years, I 'lost' it. Since then, I've tried learning Spanish and it's as if nothing sticks in my memory for new languages. Thanks for the tips... hoping they will renew my ability to learn new languages!

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  3. Haha I like the first one. I'd say these are really good points. College courses would probably more helpful since you HAVE to try, unlike programs like Rosetta Stone which will probably collect virtual dust in my computer, lol. Being born into a family that speaks the language only works if they immerse children at a young age and constantly. For me, English is my second language, since my parents and relatives only spoke to me in Tagalog (Philippines). I can understand fluently and can speak a little now. My brothers learned English first, and people speak to them in English so they can't speak and can barely understand the language.

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  4. i brush up on my spanish with rosetta stone whenever we go to mexico. it really is like a game, and i don't realize that i'm actually learning until i turn it off.

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  5. Great advice! I like Duolingo. It's a lot of fun, and they are working on adding more languages.

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  6. Love this post, considering Isaiah and I finally decided we're going to learn Hebrew. We're going to try Rosetta Stone, along with some other methods (I like the idea of getting a dictionary and trying to read a book!) and we'll see how it goes. We decided if we really enjoy it, after Hebrew we might learn Spanish for practicality's sake, or maybe French. Who knows, maybe by the time I die I'll be fluent in 20 languages. ;)

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  7. These are great tips! I learned some Spanish in high school and college, but can only say things like "hello" and "how are you?" I should probably use your tips to brush up on my skills:)

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  8. I have a friend who lived in Taiwan and learned most of her Mandarin by watching American movies she already knew in Mandarin with the subtitles on.

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  9. Thanks for posting this! I have two goals/projects for this summer, 1) Improve my photography skills, and 2) Start learning Spanish. Currently, I speak English...that's it. :( I took French in high school, but I didn't stick with it. I'm excited to start learning, and I am sure the tips in this post will help!

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  10. Ha. Be born into a family. Mark that one off the list! I'm glad you spoke on Rosetta Stone... I've wondered about that course!

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  11. welllll, let's just say i took two years of spanish and i can only say a f e w basic words and MAYBE count to twenty. ha! :)

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  12. I will learn French or die trying! I'd love an immersion approach, but for now use my old college books, worksheets and an online program called Duolingo almost everyday.

    As far as being born into a different language speaking house- that didn't really work out for me! Both my parents speak Korean but neither my sis or I do. :/

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  13. Interesting view on Rosetta Stone. I've never tried it but was always curious. I studied Spanish for 4 years and want to pick it up again and was wondering if they would be helpful. Maybe it would be since I'm already familiar with certain "rules" and whatnot!

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  14. All great! I find anything immersive tends to work wonders!

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  15. I love learning languages. My kid speaks our national language as her first language, but I always wanted her to learn our native language as well and I wanted her to excel in English language at the same time. In school she learns Chinese. I am afraid if she use too many language at one time she will gets confused.

    herweightlossdiary.blogspot.com

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  16. I was a huge fan of Rosetta Stone....but I think it's because the military let us use the courses for free. I didn't know any Germans and certainly didn't want to watch any German movies.....mainly because I was butt hurt I wasn't learning French.

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  17. I've lived in Italy for about 3 years on and off and still am horrible with Italian! Going to try and implement some of your tips! Also going to add "stop being lazy" haha (I think that's my main prob)

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  18. Good luck with the language study! I'm really bad with languages, I know a handful of phrases in a few languages but that's it. I learnt French at school, but was never very talented. I find I can pick up more of what I hear or read than if I had tried to speak a sentence on my own, so it's passable but really poor!

    Mandarin is very tricky to learn - I was supposed to go on a work trip to China last year and my colleagues were teaching me mandarin in preparation. Again, I only know a few phrases, but I loved that they would all help correct my pronunciation and teach me new words :)

    Away From The Blue

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  19. I think the best way would be to immerse yourself in the country. Live there, speak there.

    www.momfever.com

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  20. Hehe, yes being hungry is a very food motivator to learn to speak! We were hungry for the first few weeks and food Chinese was the first Chinese we could speak :)

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  21. Very good strategies - practice does make perfect but it's hard to if you have no one to practice with. I was learning Russian and forgot most of it due to not having anyone to practice with. Maybe in the future i'll take it up again :) I find classes are helpful indeed! Hope you're having a great weekend Rachel! -Iva

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  22. i've heard good things about living languages, but rosetta stone does not work for me.. what's working so far is a combination of programs... planning on a write-up soon! :-)

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  23. i'm so bad when it comes to foreign languages...even though my parents speak a filipino dialect. they spoke english to us (unfortunately), so i can understand their dialect, but i can't speak it. i only took two years of french in high school...not enough to pick up the language.

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