We often hear that the little things in life are the things that bring us most joy. I can definitely confirm this for many of the life events I have lived through so far, my child’s first words being one.
As a parent, when you first hear those words, you react. That reaction has an effect and it encourages the child to say more of the same to get more reactions. This is a common theme in life for many things we do.
As language learners we have an advantage over babies learning their first language(s) because we already have language patterns and can guess more easily how to construct thoughts and ideas. We also have the ability to read, write and ask very specific questions too. These all play to our advantage as students of a foreign language. We learn grammar and vocabulary, listen to the target language and then try to put words together ourselves. When we get a positive reaction for our efforts, we are elated and that drives us forward.
Just two weeks ago, I was fortunate to be in Sofia (a city I love to visit). Whenever I go to Bulgaria, I like to only use Bulgarian. I like the sound of the language. It has quite dramatic intonation, which appeals to my ear and it is very familiar to me because of my linguistic background in The Balkans. Usually I go there and no one passes any comment on my Bulgarian. This time, I was with my wife and daughter and I was speaking Macedonian and English too; so very much the foreigner. I think that speaking Bulgarian to the locals came as a bigger shock to them. Everyone had such a lovely reaction to me using the local, it was really encouraging.
Sometimes I forget about those feelings in a foreign language as it doesn’t quite feel the same with languages I have been speaking for years and years. In fact, I would be sad if the level wasn’t up to scratch. Bulgarian, however, is a language I only started speaking last year. I experience something similar now in Turkish too after two months of study. I am at a level, where I can communicate and hold a nice little conversation in the language. The reactions I get are very rewarding.
Keeping it real
I am very big on keeping things securely anchored to the ground. Sometimes we get a negative reaction from people, and they need to be evaluated for their motivation and then any validity they may have. More often though, people will complement you on your language, sometimes even if you only say the most basic things, with a heavy accent and lots of mistakes. I know when I first started learning Czech and could barely say a thing, people kept telling how wonderfully well I spoke the language. Of coruse, they were just being nice and their kind words, even if OTT, were encouraging. Retaining perspective over our abilities helps us to feel better about our progress.
Keeping our feet on the ground and our eyes on our language goals is key to a being a happy, satisfied and motivated learner.
What has your experience been? I’d like to read what sort of reactions most stick out to you.