Wednesday, January 23, 2008

SPANISH,RUSSIAN, CHINESE : HOW TO LEARN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE E

     People who knew me as a child find it amazing that I have attended 12 universities and colleges.  And that I have earned 5 post graduate degrees : 2 master degrees and 3 doctorates.  I have a Master of Arts, and a Master of Divinity.  And I earned a Ph.D. in General Education, a Th.D. in religion, and Doctor of Divinity. 
     That is amazing because as a child I was a very poor student.  I failed the 4th grade and had to repeat it (  it was learned later that I could not see, I needed eye glasses badly).  My mother was so distressed that she had me tested to see what was wrong.  They told her that (1) I needed glasses, and (2) I was above normal intelligence, I just wasn't motivated to study.  I was just goofing off .   I was lazy when it came to studying.   I just barely passed the 12th grade and graduated.   
     So how did this dismal picture change so radically.  Well, first at the age of 19 I got saved and my whole motivation was radically changed.  Now I wanted to accomplish something with my life.  So I now went to Bob Jones University to study to be a missionary.  That required studying foreign languages.  I had a terrible time with the first test in Greek.  And when I went to Costa Rica to study Spanish for the first time I thought I never would make it.   I wish someone would have told me some of the things I am now going to tell you.  
     Most American are afraid of studying a foreign language.  Why ?   Because they do not understand this mystery we call "languages".    Most American think  that they have to memorize the dictionary of  that language.  And that is completely wrong.   
     There are 2 basic kinds of skills. There are cognitive skills and practice skills.   Cognitive skills are brain learning things like : math, chemistry, and physics.   These are things you learn in your head.   Then there are "practice skills".  These are things you have to physically practice in order to learn them.  Ridding a bicycle is a practice skill.   You can memorize all the books ever written about bicycles and you will never be able to ride one until you physically practice.  It is not a cognitive skill , it is a practice skill.   There are a lot of book written about playing the piano but until you physically  practice  you will never be able to play the piano.  
    Most Americans think that learning a language is something you memorize in you head.
That concept in completely wrong. No Americans learned English as a baby that way.   As a baby you heard sound related to physical actions and then you physically practiced what you heard.  And in about 2 years you started to be able to talk.   
      While we were in language school in Costa Rica,  my wife always did the written parts of Spanish better.  Bu I speak better Spanish than she does.  Why ?  because I was always out talking to people and physically practicing .  
     It takes about 12 months of living in a culture,  that requires you to physically practice a particular language ,  in order to learn to speak that language.   
     I personally recommend the language school in Costa Rica for Spanish.  If you go there and stay the whole 12 months you will learn Spanish.  It also requires time.   The first 3 months I said,"  I just can,t remember these words.  After 6 months I said, "I just can't remember these words" .   "If I don't do any better the last 6 months that I did the first 6 months  than I am wasting my time and money."  ( And right here many make the big mistake of quitting).   But it takes 12  months of training your ears to physically hear the sounds.  And 12 months of teaching your mouth to physically reproduce those sounds, in order to learn that language." )   It takes a certain amount of time to get it.  It took several years as a baby to learn English.  Always remember that it is a practice skill.  I am sure this will help you. 

2 comments:

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

Getting sounds right is differently difficult depending on:

a) how different the sound system is from ones own (Russian, English and Chinese would be three of the most out of the way, possibly topped by French and Portuguese);

b) how different it is from ones own (thus Portuguese nasal vowels pose less problems to French, Russian schwa-like vowels pretonic syllables pose less problems to English, Spanish ach-laut (jota, don't say hotter!) is less difficult to Germans, et c - and the inverse: Hebrew Shin was impossible for Greeks and Romans, unless they were Semites, Latin for Josh is Josue;

c) how many different sound systems you know already.

And believe me, there are some things - not Chinese or Lithuanian or Swedish tones, but some - that can be learned very quickly by book knowledge. IPA is a help, was to me when learning English over books - and when I got into an English speaking class, I mispronounced one word, fierce as if I had misread it like firess.

Hans-Georg Lundahl said...

One reason for a Liturgy in Latin is of course that Latin is phonetically easy. Tolkien regarded it as a very normal language (compared to more exhilarating Welsh, Finnish, Spanish, Old Greek, Gothic, which we know he relished).

It is easier than Esperanto to pronounce, since it lacks the v/w distinction ("quam" can be pronounced "cwum" or "cfum", video like "viddeyoh" or "widdeyaw"), nor any shin even in medieval that cannot be pronounced otherwise ("scit" is older "skit", med. either "shit" or "sit" caeruleus is older "kye-rooh-ley-oos", then "chay-roo-ley-oos" or "tsayrooleyoos" or "sayrooleyoos" depending on country - like when Greeks pronounce Englishmen named John like Dzon).