I really love languages.
Vague, I know. But I end up saying it to myself and to other people a lot. I just really like languages. My own language, languages I’m learning, languages that I’m not, dead languages, languages that hardly anyone speaks anymore. I just…*clenches fist*.
While I know I’m not the only one (obviously), I still often feel like the only person who wants to at least try another language. Usually, people just find it to hard. Ok, I get that. Language is woven into every single part of your life and so, to understand a whole other language is to understand a whole other life, a society, a history and culture. But, usually, the rejection of other languages comes from ignorance and the desire for there to only be one language; English.
Yeah, we won’t get into that.
I wanted to talk a bit about my language learning experiences and how you, if you’re interested, can get into the wonderful world of language and how it’s not as hard as you think!
First, take it out of your mind that you have to be ‘gifted’ or have to be talented from a young age at language learning. Yes, there are going to be people who find it easier than you because they were brought up in a bilingual household or moved to another country and was forced to learn the language etc. If you want to learn, are ready to learn, and love the language you’re going to learn then you too can do it!
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? Maybe you’re packing up and moving to a whole new country (lucky you)? Maybe there is a new part of the family who you want to get to know but they don’t know English? 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 and having the most progress I’ve ever had with a language is Norwegian (Bokmal). The reasons why are actually quite simple, and I hope you can implement them into your language learning too!
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 you’ll never use. Multiple times I’ve had to translate ‘The dog is in the house’ or ‘I read while I cut oranges’ while I haven’t grasped how to ask for directions or introduce myself yet. If you’re going to use a language learning app, I’d recommend Memrise which was recommended to me by my travel buddy Anna whose Swedish is already coming along very well with the help of this app. Now, I know there’s a Duolingo app for your phone, but I always found it worked better on desktop which, to be honest, isn’t ideal. Memrise not only teaches you relevant things, it tests you over and over so that the translation comes naturally. You can use it anywhere too (hence the purpose of apps), 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 little 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 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 with matching it with language apps and standard language learning, I’ve started to understand bits here and there without subtitles (it’s honestly a magical feeling when that happens). I’ve listened to popular radio channels too just to hear speed. I know that dialect changes depending on where you are in Norway which is normal in most languages (English in Newcastle and English in Somerset aren’t the same, for example), but I believe in Norway it’s even more so, and so I’m trying to just conquer the dialects in Oslo and the dialects used predominantly in the media. Music is great too; trying to decipher what the lyrics are is actually 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 hear 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 girl to do?
(If you don’t have a pet, skip this paragraph)
I talk to my dog, Barney, a lot. I didn’t realise how much I did until I said “Er du en godt gutte?” 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. Maybe not the education system, but learning that through a language is a whole new world, culture, and people, living on the same polluted spec of a planet that we live on.
Let me know what languages you’re learning and how you do it if I’ve missed anything!