The purpose of this post is to tell a story; a personal real life experience of how someone learned a language. This is a story that deserves to be told and is 100% of what you need if you want to learn a foreign language.
- How did I learn a language? – Introduction
- How did I learn a language and why?
- What prevents people from learning a foreign language?
- What idea can help others learn a language?
At this point I recommend you jump right into the interview above. The rest of this post below is just my rants about language learning; which I have a passion for, but might not be as interesting. So go to the second part above called ‘how to learn a language and why’.
My rants about this language interview
Why is it good? It is specific, instructional and authentic and not written by a linguist, but by a man on the street.
It is not written in some broad abstract ivory tower way; rather, it a very concrete interview with someone who learned a language to the fluency level. It asks the three most relevant questions for language learners.
This person started studying his language with no knowledge of his target language as a adult. The result is this:
- He now communicates perfectly, almost as a native speaker, in fact, native speakers have told me they hear absolutely no mistakes, with the exception of sometimes a very light but nice American accent.
Note: When I am in a club with him and the music is playing, people do not hear an accent.
His own modesty would prevent him from saying he is at this level so I would rather convey what native speakers have told me.
I think this will be of a great value to readers, because probability the most frequent question I get is ‘how do I learn any language?’.
Most people feel intimidated and feel that languages are either acquired as a child though a bilingual education or learned by the gifted.
This is not true. Please read on.
For ease of reading I have divided this narrative into three additional parts. Each part answers a question.
An interview with a language learner
I chose the interview format as it is the most interesting and readable.
The language he learned was Polish. It is one of the hardest languages to learn for an English native speaker. This is because of the grammar and pronunciation which is foreign to Western European languages. However, I think it is the best language to hear a story about because it is so challenging. It is not something relatively easy like Spanish or Italian.
I felt it better to have someone else tell their story, rather than my own experience with language learning here. This is because I might lose some of my objectivity and show partiality towards my method of how to learn a language.
How to learn a language feedback
If you have any comments or feedback or personal experiences with you or someone you know who has studied a foreign language with success, please let me know. I think it is a story worth being read, for any one who wants to know how to learn any language.
Read part two of this series here and find out: why and how I learned a language.
One thought on “How I learned a language”
When I graduated from middle school at 16 (I wasn’t behind, it’s that late in Poland) I had been learning English for 6 years. I knew my English probably wasn’t as good as my grades, but I was quite content about it. Then I went to the USA for an exchange program and as soon as my foot touched American ground I found out my English was actually worse than horrible.
I had to switch planes twice to get to my destination. First one went smooth, the other one not so great. The airline sold more tickets than number of seats available – someone had to stay, and for some reason (which I think was my extremely poor English) they picked me. I was just a scared 16 year old girl who didn’t know a single person on the continent, and had no clue how to argue in English (although I think I told the lady behind the desk that I hated her-if that counts). So I had to wait 4 hours for the next flight. They told me it was because the plane was too heavy (yeah, right) and apparently my 90 pounds would have caused a crash.
The host family talked to me a lot but we had a really hard time understanding each other. I didn’t even know what the word “mad” means and my pronunciation was beyond horrible. I soon started school, where everyone asked a lot of questions that I had trouble answering due to my poor English. Some of them still make me laugh, like “can you get arrested for going to church in your country?”.
Since I rarely had any homework, after school besides talking to people I watched a lot of Disney Channel and Spongebob and read things like teen cosmo, as they didn’t use too sophisticated language. I was always making notes and highlighting things. After about 6 weeks I understood almost everything people were saying to me, still had some trouble talking, but it was getting better each day. I tried to talk as much as possible. Surprisingly, I learned a lot from other exchange students as they generally used greater word and tense variety than native speakers. By Christmas, which was about 4 months after my arrival in the US I was not only speaking fluently, but also thinking in English. School took care of the written English too, I had a very good English teacher and to this day I remember some of the tips she gave me.
All of a sudden I found myself making a lot of mistakes and pauses when speaking Polish on the phone. It went back to normal within a few days after returning home, but then English started getting worse again, especially the accent. I guess you can’t have it all. It will vanish away from your head if not practiced. After a long break it feels almost like learning how to speak all over again.
My point is – if you want to learn a language the fastest and most effective way to do it is to visit the country that speaks it, a language school or course just won’t do it.