The Joys Of Learning A Language (And How You Can Do It Too)
I really love languages.
Vague, I know. But I end up saying it to myself and others a lot. I just really like languages; my own language, languages I’m learning, languages I’m not, I just…*clenches fist*.
While I know I’m not the only one, I often feel like the only person who wants to learn (and sometimes just hear!) another language. OK, language learning can be difficult. Language is woven into every aspect of life, and so to understand a whole other language is to understand a whole other life, a society, a history and culture.
I wanted to talk a bit about my language learning journey and how you can get into it too.
First, take it out of your mind that you have to be gifted or exposed to new languages at a young age. Yes, there are going to be people who find it easier; they were brought up in a bilingual household, or forced to learn a new language in a new country. All you need is the readiness and the enthusiasm, and you’re already on your way to success.
Next, choose your language!
There are so many reasons why someone embarks on this journey. Maybe your job needs a multi-lingual person? Maybe you’ve got plans to travel to multiple places and want to at least try when speaking to locals? Or you’re packing up and moving to a whole new country (lucky you!)? Maybe there is a new part of the family you want to get to know better? Or, like me, you’re a bit of a language nerd. Most of the time you won’t have a reason, and that means the pick of the litter. What language appeals to you the most? The easiest? The most challenging?
While I’m always trying to learn French and Spanish for practical reasons, the language I’m focusing on is Norwegian Bokmål. Here are some of the ways you can implement language learning techniques into your life.
Rookie mistake? Using Duolingo.
I hear you all shouting “WHAT?” at me while you have Duolingo open and ready. For many it is a treasure trove of language tips and tricks. But for me it’s just trying to remember weirdly worded sentences that I’ll never use. Multiple times I’ve had to translate the dog is in the house or I read while I cut oranges, even though I haven’t grasped how to even introduce myself yet.
If you’re going to use a language learning app, I’d recommend Memrise. Memrise not only teaches you relevant phrases, it tests you over and over so that the translation comes naturally. You can use it anywhere too, meaning if you’ve got a few spare minutes on the bus or in the dentist waiting room, you can brush up on your vocab. There’s also an option to watch videos of actual native speakers saying phrases normally, so you can get used to the speed and pronunciation of the sentences you’re learning.
Consuming the entertainment of another culture is also a fantastic and vital way to learn a language.
The easiest way to learn a language is to surround yourself with it, and if literally moving to that country isn’t an option, the best way is to surround yourself is to watch, listen, and read the language. For Norwegian, I’ve been soaking up the culture through television and music. Watching SKAM has opened me up to slang and the particular dialect of Oslo which I can match with the phrases I’ve learnt from Memrise. Plus, the magic feeling of understanding what’s going on without subtitles is very addictive! I also listen to popular radio channels just to hear speed, and music is great too. Trying to decipher what the singers are saying is just as fun as singing along (and getting it royally wrong). Hearing the language constantly makes my accent and pronunciation more confident, and so I urge you to look for films in the language you’re learning, shows, youtubers from that country, podcasts, anything where you can listen and take it all in.
Learning a language by yourself begins to suck when you have no one to practice on. My dad, a language lover too, has no problems having small chats with me in French and Spanish, but completely shuts down when I talk in Norwegian. So what’s a language lover to do?
I talk to my dog, Barney, a lot. I didn’t realise how much I did until I asked “Er du en god gutt?” and he wagged his tail happily because yes, he is a good boy. I know dogs don’t respond to actual language; I know my dog doesn’t understand Norwegian, but to have someone actually reply to me in their own way that isn’t blank stares is actually really useful. So now, I just chat with him, make sure he’s good and happy, ask him if he wants a treat, and I try to make sure to do it all in Norwegian. So, if you chat to your pet (which I know you all do), see how comfortable you feel talking to them in the language you’re learning until you’re having full blown conversations about politics and the economy with them. Me and Barney haven’t got there yet, but I know he’s interested.
I never realised how much language learning had always been a large factor in why I love education in general, learning that through a language is a whole new world, culture, and people that differs from your own life. Language really shapes the way we learn and communicate.
Let me know what languages you’re learning and any tips you find useful!