Learning a new language is seen as a hard undertaking. Not because the language itself is hard, or because we’re not smart enough to connect the dots.
To set a few things straight about language learning, or any kind of learning. There is NO MAGIC METHOD. You can try any method and you’ll find both useful and awful aspects. What you find useful depends on what you’re goal is with the language you’re practicing.
For example, you might want to improve your writing, so it would make no sense to allocate the majority of your learning time to speaking.
Another thing. There is NO FAST TRACK in language learning. Consistent practice is essential to picking up a new verbal toolbox and that takes time. Here’s a short piece I wrote about how to learn a language and manage your time without dieing of boredom.
If you’ve learned theory all your life, like most schooled people post-technological revolution, you can begin to practice the art of practice through language.
Is there such thing as a shit language resource. There’s plenty of learning material, language teachers, and native speakers to hang out with and practice with. If a resource does seem shit, you can learn how NOT TO use the language and that’s a step in the right direction.
Two of many reasons we struggle to learn a language are because:
- We have a fundamental misunderstanding of what a language and its function is.
- We use language learning resources ineffectively — we’re basically chopping wood with a kitchen knife.
Hold on. What does it even mean to learn a language?! To order a coffee in 27 tongues, or to sit in a Parisian cafe and whisper ‘C’est mon croissant!’ to anyone who sits too close to you? No.
To learn a language is to be able to comprehend and express your experience of the world you’re in and understand when someone does the same.
To think, read, write, listen, speak, to interact with someone through one of these mediums.
Our weak linguistic ability is the result of poor education. If you’re reading this and recognize what I’m talking about, it’s within your power to read on, soak up some sense, and learn any language you want.
In fact, you already know all this, but have probably forgotten it and locked it away somewhere inside, because you’re attention has been sucked up by a bunch of other things.
What Is Language? The First Question To Answer Before Learning One
Language is like a toolbox. A spellbook of the human mind. It’s a toolbox to comprehend and express what you experience and to try and comprehend what others experience. Language is made of symbols like letters, words, and combinations of those, which are then associated with images we see in the natural world around us, and the images we see within ourselves (call it the ‘imagination’).
Language allows you to work together with others as social animals and it also allows you to think and realize you had enough of everyone and become the lonely old goat of the mountain.
The important takeaway is that language is a set of symbols and rules. It’s purpose is to comprehend what’s going on in and around us. The rules are there to systematically arrange the letters and words into even more complex symbols! Pictures painted with words. For example, Latin-derived languages like French, Italian, and Spanish have very similar rules, and so once you learn one, the other is relatively easy to pick up.
Now, why is it important to keep this in mind? Because many language apps, language courses, and language teachers do not follow the principles of language’s nature. This doesn’t mean that the material is bad, though it’s your job to learn how to choose the right language learning material and method based on where you are with your learning journey.
You can learn dozens of categories of words, you can learn grammar, and you can learn the correct way to say things that are usually expected of you to know in a given language, but that is far from really expressing yourself.
Learning a language is an opportunity for self-discovery, to figure out who and what you are. It’s an opportunity to ask yourself and reflect on what makes sense in and around you by:
- Taking in through the language (reading and listening)
- Expressing out through the language (speaking and writing)
When we see language learning for what it is, we can see why so many of us are put off by learning a language. Perhaps we don’t want to risk expressing what we truly think about something, or we’re disturbed by the simple act of having to think!
And there we have it — the key to learning a language and finding the right resources to do so, is to think. Naturally, grammar and rules are important to learn and practice, but it’s also just as important to build your language toolbox with multi-purpose words.
Imagine that you have a backpack and you’re going on the road where you’ll encounter forests, beaches, flatland, and arid islands. That’s a diverse set of environments with many possible challenges. You only have so much space in your backback, so you need to choose tools (words) that have more than one function and allow you to adapt to as many situations and you can possibly imagine.
We can go on an on… In fact, you can go on and on. I continuously write about my experiences with different resources and learning methods — check out these articles to learn from my mistakes and progress with your learning.
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