Monday, February 27, 2012

Why and How I Started Learning (Foreign) Languages


This blog post is a response to Brad Patterson's Blog Challenge - How and Why You Learned a Foreign Language. I've enjoyed reading the posts that have come out on the topic so far, so I thought I would join!

As a child, I was fascinated by secret codes. I used to create messages in code for my sister to decipher, and any time I could get my little hands on a kids' book about spies and codes, I would read it at least 100 times, front to back.

Language as a secret code??
I grew up in various ethnically-diverse areas of San Diego, California, and many of my friends spoke languages other than English at home with their parents. Additionally, my parents, who both learned Spanish as a foreign language, would also speak to each other in Spanish if there was something they didn't want my sister and me to understand. I came to see these foreign languages as secret codes for English, and thus, my fascination began.

I began formally learning Spanish in high school, but--surprisingly--I ABSOLUTELY HATED it. In fact, I hated it so much, that I decided that I would take American Sign Language courses at the community college to get around my high school foreign language requirement. Spanish just seemed so...pointless. I couldn't understand why I needed to put so much effort into something that was so unnecessary. I mean, everyone speaks English, right?

The next summer, I went to Panama for three weeks to teach English, and an amazing thing happened: I saw (and heard) people speaking Spanish – there were actually communicating in it and it was the only language they knew! They weren't just using it for convenience. It was also then that I realized that a foreign language is not just a code for your native language. No, to speak a foreign language, you have to change the way you think about things. All of a sudden, hunger becomes something you have instead of something you are, and something you like now is something that pleases you.

So that's the story behind the why....now to start on the how. Since I had stopped taking Spanish courses at my high school, I was a year behind the students who had decided to continue. I studied really hard all summer, and my teacher let me join the advanced course, where I had to work really had all year again to catch up. I read everything I could find in Spanish, and I spent time talking to my friends' parents to practice. When I got to the University, I continued my courses, but I also began having Spanish Game Nights with friends and listening exclusively to Spanish music. I wrote emails in Spanish, changed all the settings on my computer, on Facebook, and on my cell phone, and I watched as many movies as I could either dubbed in Spanish or with Spanish subtitles. I surrounded myself with others who had a similar interest in Spanish, and together we practiced. It was a lifestyle. 

All the work paid off, and the experience of learning inspired in me the desire to study other languages and also to study the science of language in general. Now, I'm living in Germany and learning German, but I admit—I'm not nearly as inspired as I was about Spanish. However, the process of learning a language in the foreign language context (as I did, learning Spanish in the US) is completely different than learning a language in the second language context (I even wrote a post about it), and I am constantly trying new strategies to increase my learning prospects. 

I'd love to hear more whys and hows of language learning for you, too!!

7 comments:

  1. Secret language... I can totally identify with this. My partner says the same thing about growing up in an environment where all of her French family spoke English when they didn't want her (the lil' one) to understand.

    Now she and I speak in Chinese in front of them and all get a big laugh out of it. Nice to hear how your trip to Panama really opened up the world of language learning for you and I think many students would feel this way if they caught a bit more of the authentic experience... can be tough to establish an innovative and fun way of learning in the classroom.

    Thanks for taking up the challenge and nice to catch your blog. Now subscribed. Cheers, Brad

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    1. Thanks, Brad! The authentic experience is probably one of the biggest motivators (at least for me) in language learning...but it is quite difficult to create that atmosphere in the second-language setting!

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    2. I agree... very difficult, especially if the student population is mononational. That's what we always have to be on our toes and thinking of ways to get them to feel the authentic potential of an artificial classroom environment. Cheers!

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  2. Hey-hey! I believe that multilingual environment encourage people learn foreign languages more any methods for learning foreign language cannot do better! You had original and out-of-ordinary experience!

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  3. Hiya!

    So glad to have found your blog. I too am interested in learning a foreign language and am about to start Italian here in the states. I know from high school and college that a foreign language is hard, but I want to do it. I hope as you experienced it will change the way I think. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Hello, I came across your posting and thought you might be interested in a resource I found that is completely free and teaches many different languages. It is www.lingohut.com if you have a minute check it out. My favorite part of this site is that my main language is Dutch and they have outstanding lessons for me. I speak 4 languages and I am looking to speak a few more. I enjoyed your article and glad I found you.

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  5. Nice Article.... Really foreign language is important for communication (specially English). thank you post this article I very enjoyed your article......

    Learn Foreign Languages

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