It’s all about opportunities…

June 16, 2011 by 9 Comments

LanguagesLet’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.

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This post was written by Richard

9 Comments

  • I started learning a language because “it sounded cool”, other goals came afterwards. But yeah, I know I wouldn’t be studying anymore without those new goals.
    I’m so glad you’ve decided to create this blog. Two years ago I was very inspirated by your 16 language video on YouTube, I really look up to you.
    – Mikael

    • Bekir says:

      Randy P Depends on the country and whehter you only stick to hotels and tourist traps. If you actually like to travel, get off the beaten trail, go to small shops and out of the way places and restaurants not haunted by American tour buses, then you’re going to find a lot of people who don’t speak English. Even if they learned English in school, they may be a little shy about using it.Something I’ve found that’s quite fun is when the common language between you and the other person is not their native language and not English. French is fairly common as a second language for Europeans.

  • Ryan says:

    I would love for you to expound on using programs like Skype and other internet resources like chat rooms. Some have said that these experiences can replace the need to go abroad. Your thoughts?

  • Mae says:

    Hi Richard,
    in fact, I started learning a language because it “sounded cool” – Português do Brasil! 😀
    Actually, it’s just the second language I started learning because I wanted to, and not because I needed to.
    I love your Blog! May I link it to my site?
    Looking forward to reading more interesting stuff. Some day I hope I will be able to speak more than 15 languages too… I’m on my way 😉
    All the best,
    – Mae

  • Ron says:

    Hi Richard, just saw your blog and I like it a lot. Bravo! See you in an hour.

  • landhum says:

    Hola Richard, este es Cesare M. Me gusta su blog, y su información sobre el aprendizaje de idiomas. Eres mi héroe. Gracias. 🙂

    • Cleide says:

      moofu49 To be so ardent in leinarng languages, it is truly the mark of an educated mind. I wish I had the time and patience to learn multiple languages.Such people who tell you that are probably jealous that you can learn it better than them. The only obstacle in leinarng to speak them is finding places where they speak it regularly. As with any acquired skill, it takes time to hone and perfect.

  • Andre says:

    Hi Richard, I think this is a great site! I just wanted to ask if you have any tips for learning Portuguese (European). I am very conversational but not yet fluent and my girlfriend who is Portuguese has been patiently teaching me over the last year. The many Portuguese people I have conversed with were very impressed with my accent and ability but I just wondered if you could share some knowledge/tips regarding this language, or recommend any good books or software. This is the first foreign language I am trying to master, although I was never really interested in languages through my relationship I am now very committed to learn and am enjoying it.

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