It’s all about opportunities…
Let’s face it – speaking a foreign language is a showy thing. You can go and hear people recite or teach things and watch them perform. But these are all specific situations in life. You need be there at the right time to witness it. Languages are different. They cross all boundaries because everyone uses language. Therefore if you speak another language (even a bit), it is obvious to anyone listening.
When people hear you speaking in another language, the language-related questions soon follow. The first question is usually, “how many languages do you speak?” followed by, “how do you do it?”. Then there is the chat about how the other person would like to learn a language, and if you have any pearls of wisdom to share.
To me language learning is all about opportunities and knowing how to use them.
First of all, why are you learning a language? If your answer is, “it sounds cool” (and yes people have said that to me before), then better wait for more inspiration!
More solid reasons for learning a language include:
- Relationships – friends, family or romance
- Work or living situation
- Studying for a goal
To my mind all three reasons can be very good motivators to drive you to learn a language. The last one is often the hardest unless you are in a formal educational setting, like a university or college. I once met a very driven Italian law student, who picked up German and Spanish, in addition to Italian English and French, just because he felt they would be useful to him in his future career. These sorts of driven people are as rare as hen’s teeth.
I’m not in the business of patronising people with unrealistic views of a language learning utopia. I know what the problems are in sticking with a language. It is not always pleasurable to sit and study languages day after day, especially if it is not your main focus in life. But, like anything in life, it does come down to the old cliché, “no pain, no gain”.
OK, so now what can you do?
First of all the best piece of advice is also the one most given…short regular study is definitely better than long hours cramming with huge gaps in between. People often say this, but don’t explain why.
So, why is cramming bad?
Languages are for using and not for spitting out chunks of information in an exam. There are occasions where this will work for languages too of course. But if your ultimate goal is to speak a language, it needs to sit in your long-term memory. Hence, short regular blasts of information help to reinforce patterns in the language. It’s a bit like the songs on the radio, if you hear them often enough, you start singing along!
In the coming posts I will build on the idea of seizing opportunities. I will give you concrete examples of how to bring into practice useful tips and techniques that apply to your own situation.
If you want me to address something particular to you, simply outline your situation and language learning needs in the comments section below.