With so much free time kicking about, everyone's on the hunt for new things to do. If you've made too many banana breads or you've just finished a Netflix series, maybe learning a language could be next on your to-do list?
This month I'll be delving into my experience of learning languages, and why I've been persistent with it despite my lack of fluency.
Coming up this month: tips for language learning and some helpful resources
Why learn a language?
I think we can all agree that speaking multiple languages is pretty cool. I've always admired people who can switch between two languages instantly, not only giving themselves more holiday options, but also more opportunities for human connections.
I think it's safe to say the majority of people who speak multiple languages today most likely grew up in a bilingual household, where one or both parents introduce a language separate to what their child learns at school. It's a great environment, as it encourages children to learn words in context as they grow up. Whilst you can know a language as a child then forget it in adulthood, the chances are you're probably going to be interacting with family members throughout your life who speak this language, continuing your exposure and practice. There's also an incentive to keep learning, as it could be a vital communication link between you and said family members.
For those of us who don't come from bilingual households, the journey of language learning can be utterly infuriating. Most secondary (and even primary) schools will teach kids one or two European languages, with German, French and Spanish being the most common choices in the UK. It can give you a basic level of understanding, but I think we can all attest that we're not exactly fluent by the time we leave school. I could probably count the amount of Spanish words I know on one hand!
With the rise of online language tutors and learning sites like Duolingo and Babble, more and more of us are taking language acquisition into our own hands. But is it as easy as it looks, and more importantly - what's the point?
Develop your world view
When I took my first French class back in GCSE's, I doubt developing my understanding of cultural differences was particularly high on my to-do list. But the fact is you can't learn a language without picking up a bit of cultural knowledge along the way.
Take English for example. You probably wouldn't walk into a job interview going 'you alright, mate!' but being that friendly at a market stall might haggle you a better deal. If you're visiting the country whilst learning their language, you'll pick up social norms like this pretty quickly, if after a few mishaps. But even just watching television from another country can give you some insight into their lives.
Whether it's the news channel or reality TV, watching media from another region gives you a new perspective on how societies operate. You start to pick up on the little differences: how people greet each other, their mealtime habits, rules of politeness. It's super interesting to look into, but it's also incredibly helpful if you want to fit in a little better on your next holiday.
It's okay if you're not fluent
If you've ever tried a language learning course or app, you were probably lured in with the promise that you'll be speaking fluently within a few weeks. Unfortunately, language learning is a little more complicated than that! Putting the cultural elements aside, a language is a complex beast of grammar rules, vocabulary and pronunciations.
It makes a daunting task, especially when you first start out not understanding a single word other than 'bonjour', 'oui' and 'non'. The fact is, it's going to take a while, and you won't be fluent overnight - but that's absolutely fine! Learning anything takes a long time, and everyone will go at a different pace. If your expectations are to be fluent after using Duolingo for six weeks then you're going to set yourself up for disappointment. Setting goals like learning a certain amount of words, or translating a video over the course of a week is much more achievable, and will give you enough success to be motivated to continue.
That's not to say that apps aren't useful though. I've been using the Duolingo app for around 500 days now to learn French, and whilst I'm nowhere near fluent, it's done a good job of reminding me that I have a language I'm meant to be practising every day. Sometimes doing a Duo lesson is the start of my practice for that day, and sometimes it's the only thing I'll do. The fact is I now have a record of my language learning journey, allowing me to reflect on where I should get to next.
Keep going, even if it's embarrassing
I'm probably sounding pretty confident in my French ability in this newsletter, but don't be fooled! I've been to France a couple of times and every time without fail I'll have an embarrassing experience that makes me want to immediately eject myself from the country and give up learning French forever.
I have to keep telling myself that despite how it may seem to any French speaking person, I have made lots of progress over my 500 days of learning. I can understand spoken French pretty well, enough to at least get the gist of what someone is saying to me. I can watch French scripted TV and understand about 70% of it, which considering my starting point of 0% is pretty good! I still struggle with French news and books, and my speaking ability is next to none, but I will continue to persist knowing that I'm getting a little better every day. As long as you're enjoying the process, that's all that matters. And hey, who knows when your skills might come in handy, however basic they are?
Some links to help you out
After years of sitting through mind-numbing grammar classes at school, I discovered my one criteria for learning something and sticking with it: it's got to be fun. With that in mind, I shifted my language tactics to focus on videos, television and podcasts.
Of course, I didn't understand much when I first started. It's all about finding the right transcript for your level of learning, or finding something with English subtitles. You might not feel like you're learning anything at first, but it's all about repetition. If you watch lots of content from one writer, they tend to use the same phrases and words over and over. Memorise these and your understanding starts to develop, slowly but surely.
I've collated a list of great shows and YouTube channels over the years, so I thought I'd share some of them with you. They're going to be mainly French focused, but hopefully it will give you an idea of what to search for if you're learning something different. The easiest thing to do when researching is to search Google/YouTube/Netflix in your target language. For example, 'les meilleurs livres français 2019' or 'vloggers français'. That way, you'll get content from speakers of the languages.
Some stuff I’ve been enjoying this month
See you next month!
- Georgina :)
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