Parlez-vous français? ¿Hablas español? Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Você fala português?
I feel like my brain hasn’t exercised in a while. In other words, I don’t think I’ve learned any NEW information since college. While teaching is an incredibly hard task — kudos to all you wonderful career teachers who love what you do and are good at what you do! — the information I was teaching (Algebra I and II), I already learned quite well when I was in middle school and high school.
Q: When was the last time I actually absorbed any new information? A: Probably my junior year of college.
Even though I went to a great public university and completed a challenging honors program, I only did a lot of work and learned a lot of new information in two of four years. (Freshmen intro classes were easier, IMHO, than Episcopal’s honors and AP classes, and senior year of college, I studied abroad, ie, played around in Pair-reeee and traveled Europe, then returned to Austin and took two capstone classes to graduate. I finished my last college class when I turned 22. So three years later, I’m thinking: “Goodness gracious, I’m about to turn 25, and I haven’t really learned anything new!” Well, maybe a few life skills like budgeting and saving money?) Needless to say, I’m bored and restless. I’m itching to do something new, learn something new, go somewhere new…?
I’ve been MIA for two months, busy thinking about and doing things that will help me further my future goals and plans.
I’ve narrowed down my thoughts to THREE BIG GOALS (OMG, TFA lingo…) to accomplish when I’m 25.
GOAL #1: Learn French and Tagalog; Become Fluent in Spanish.
RESULT #1: Know how to speak fluently (more or less) and read / write in FOUR languages (English, Spanish, French, and Tagalog) in ONE YEAR / by the time I’m 26.
- The more languages I know in a global society, the more opportunities I will have.
- My brain gets a mental workout; I can stretch and grow my brain.
- I cannot be labeled another ‘dumb’ American for knowing only one language.
- What else could I be doing weaving through traffic? Listening to Drake’s “Motto” for the billionth time??!
- I can spend more time with my mom when she teaches me Tagalog.
- I can converse with my friends all over the world in their native language(s).
French: Here’s what I wrote to my friend when he asked what I thought about this blog article:
So I finally skimmed through this article, and I have to say that right now, I am in STAUNCH disagreement with this approach to language acquisition because it is very much like how language is taught in school - rote memorization through conjugation lists and vocabulary drills etc.
I took Spanish for five years (8th grade through HS all four years up to IV AP), and I know A LOT of grammar and vocabulary, and I am finally building fluency. I’ve been to Spain and I can hold a long conversation with anyone on the street. Native Spanish speakers have told me that they have no doubt I’d be fluent if I were to spend one month in any Spanish-speaking country. “Fluency” took me FIVE years, and honestly, I think I have a knack for learning languages. (I wish I could say that same about physics, finance, and accounting!) Imagine how hard it must be for someone who struggles to learn languages like I struggle(d) in physics etc. … terrible!
A couple of weeks ago, I checked out Pimsleur’s French: The Plus Course from the Houston Public Library, which is an ALL AUDIO course. At first I was quite skeptical - there is no way I am going to learn a language by listening (and not reading or writing or learning vocabulary through flashcards…). Lo and behold, I’ve listened to two short lessons (30 min each) in the last 12 days (1-2x/day), and I already know how to say complicated things in French like, “I’m going to meet the female writer. Her name is Marin Pesac. I saw her in New York not long ago. Have you read her book? It’s fascinating, no? I read her book two times.” OR “What are you going to do this afternoon? How did the meeting go?” OR “I’m very thirsty. Would you like to drink a coffee? Would you like some milk? Sit down, I beg of you.” OR “I’ve been living in New York for eight years. I work for Books International in publishing, and BI already has acquired the author’s rights. We’d like to translate and publish the novel into English.”
How long would that take the average person to say learning the way we think is “normal” (ie the way languages are taught in school)??? If you want to get back into French, or learn another language, I highly encourage that you watch this commercial. I’m a believer! I sat in French class for one hour a week for 3.5 months while I studied abroad in Paris, and I’ve learned more in 12 days than I did there.
This famous linguist, and creator of the program, Pimsleur, strongly believes that rapid language acquisition is obtained by listening to a language in context (and interacting with the program / people by speaking). I’m checking out ALL of his French audio discs from the library (they’re on hold) then learning the spelling and grammar later (which I know will be easy for me). Wouldn’t you say the hardest thing about learning a language is to speak it? He thinks that learning to read and write while simultaneously speaking inhibits the brain to absorb the language. Watch the video. It’s amazing.
I’ve already learned Spanish the ‘textbook’ way, and while I would say I’m proficient with the language, it also took me FIVE years to reach this level. Granted, I had other classes, and I never practiced a lot until now… still, I thought to myself, “There must be a better way to learn another language.”
I tried to learn French the textbook way, too, while in Paris, but not much took root in my brain. (I spoke in English every day because the classes were in English, and my study abroad friends were Portuguese and Norwegian, and to communicate, we obviously spoke English.) French more so than Spanish is all about pronunciation - words in Spanish are pronounced the way they are written, which is not the case with French. Trying to learn French by reading words that do not sound how they are written would be tres confusing! (Tres meaning very, not three! :P)
Here’s what I do: I listen to each French lesson 1-2x (more like 2x) a day while I’m commuting to my tutoring appointments because I spend about TWO hours in traffic every day. I listen to the French lesson once on the way there, and once on the way back. With the remaining time, I turn on Spanish radio…
Spanish: I’ve noticed that ever since I’ve been listening to Spanish more, I can understand when Spanish-speakers speak even very rapidly, like in radio commercials about groceries and cars. Last week, I arrived early to my second tutoree appointment, and I met one of his relatives. She’s Mexican and speaks perfect Spanish (no slang!), and she said my Spanish was really good! We talked for 30+ minutes in Spanish, and I understood everything she said, and she understood me!
Additionally, I asked my Mexican friend if he wouldn’t mind practicing speaking with me every day for 30 minutes to an hour. He agreed, and I think it has helped A LOT. I feel a lot more confident when speaking. The key to fluency is practicing EVERY DAY. We talk organically about our days and basketball, then take a word that comes up in conversation and go over all the different ways you can use it. I’m also reading and writing in Spanish for maybe an hour in total per day as well.
Tagalog: It’s such a shame that I don’t already know this language, since my mom speaks, reads, and writes her language fluently. If I’m going to be in Houston for at least another year saving money for graduate school or starting my own business, I think I should pick up yet another language. As described above, (rapid) language acquisition is about listening and speaking, in other words, full immersion, rather than verb conjugation and extensive vocabulary lists.
Eventually, I’d also like to learn German, Portuguese, and possibly another Asian language like Chinese (most useful) or Japanese (very pretty and similar to Spanish from what I’ve heard - no pun intended!).
The Bottom Line—
Wouldn’t it be cool to know and speak seven languages fluently by the time I’m 35? TEN YEARS! It’s totally doable!
I highly encourage you to buy a $10 program or check out the language program from the public library (it’s free!). If you have any interest in learning another language or traveling to other countries, no matter what age you are, YOU CAN DO IT! And you should do it NOW! What are you waiting for? Get going…
PS — I will blog about my other TWO goals soon…!