Kids vs Adults Learning a Foreign Language

I’’m not one who believes that people are limited by age. Too often I hear the common and very negative phrase “am I too old to learn a foreign language?”. What holds many back are our own minds. Fear, Doubt, Apprehension, Laziness and Preconceived notions about how something is or should be based on nothing but emotions and not facts.  I think that language learning is the same way.

I often get asked by adult students if it is too late for them to learn a foreign language. My response is always that anyone can learn a foreign language. You may learn faster or slower than the next person but if you work hard you will learn the language.

Adults are not at a disadvantage to children in our ability to learn. Except that Adults have this intellectual and emotional baggage that tells them that they can’ not do something or that it is too difficult and not worth trying. Although, children can learn new things very quickly it definitely is not a walk in the park for kids. Children just do it without self doubt and realizing how hard it is just because it is part of the process of growing up.  They do get frustrated though and have a hard time expressing themselves just like adults do when learning language.

Do you have kids, grand-children, or have friends with kids.  They often get upset and frustrated because they cannot express their feelings or wants.  They know exactly what they want but are unable to find the words or have fluency to express the words even though they know them. This process is natural when learning our own native language but adults feel like they shouldn’t have to experience this process.  Adult learners actually have advantages that children don’t have when learning and can learn as fast or faster if given proper instruction, sincere effort, and interaction with native speakers.

Lets examine some of the pros and cons of learning a foreign language as an Adult versus as a Child.

Kids

Pros

  • Children learning multiple languages share neural pathways instead of creating new pathways for a foreign language.

  • Accent and pronunciation are often native like.

  • They learn observation and social interaction.

Cons

  • If not maintained children can completely forget a learned foreign language. There are many stories of adults who spoke a foreign language fluently with their parents or grandparents when growing up but have completely forgot the language in adulthood.

  • They cannot learn complex grammar concepts through textbooks or instruction.  This often takes place much later during their formal education.

  • In order to become fluent they needs years of reinforcement. Although, they may be conversationally fluent 5-6 they are still developing and learning for years.

Adults

Pros

  • Can memorize and retain large volumes of vocabulary in short periods of time.

  • Can learn grammar concepts with basic instruction.

  • Are able to use reason to apply grammar concepts and build sentences.

Cons

  • Develop new neural pathways for foreign languages. This means that the language fluency is not as natural and fluency not as high as children.  However, this has been proven to be overcome through intense study.  The research shows intense study and immersion create overlapping neural pathways which allow for more natural language fluency.

  • Often do not have the time to dedicate to learning a foreign language.  Adults have professional and personal responsibilities where children are learning languages full time without those same responsibilities.

  • Adults need more formal instruction in order to learn a foreign language.

I’ do not believe that it is any easier for young children to learn a foreign language but it does seem that the end result is a more fluid and natural speaker of the 2nd language. Adults can achieve the same results but it takes time and hard work. Work that children just see as part of life and happens “naturally” for them in through their daily activities.

For adults it is a task that must be added to our other daily activities and requires time, lots of time. The emotional frustration is what stops most adult learners from becoming fluent or even conversational in a foreign language.  Adults are completely aware of how hard a task is and are not used to having to push ourselves this hard to learn new concepts.

The reason that adults think children learn languages more easily is because they do not remember how hard it was.. Do you remember being three or four years old and language being hard for you to grasp? Of course not. However, adults remember and agonize over every failure.  Adults build up language learning too much in our minds as something hard and give up once they confirm our suspicions or  the reverse and adults think it will be easy and then get discouraged when they don’t speak fluently in 30 days.

It takes kids 7-8 years before they speak their native language extremely well. Even then they will be learning it for another 8-10 years depending on their education. Adults learning a foreign language think it is hard because they are more conscious of the effort they are exerting in order to gain this new skill and knowledge. Additionally, adults have become accustomed to learning new things quickly with their increased intelligence and experience.

Summary

Learning a foreign language can have a humbling effect but should take less time to learn as an adult than it does as a child.  Think that it is easier for children to learn a foreign language than adults. NO! Adults are just more aware of all of the hard work it takes to learn a language. Enjoy the process, be committed for the long haul, and always look for learning opportunities and you will become successful in learning a second or third foreign language.

 

Sources: 

White matter structure changes as adults learn a second language.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22571459

Second Language Acquisition and brain plasticity.
http://neurowiki2012.wikispaces.com/Second+Language+Acquisition

How to Faire la bise

Faire la Bise

What does Faire la bise mean?  It simply means to give a kiss.  In France it refers to the cultural practice of cheek kissing as a greeting or goodbye.

Alright if you are travelling to France you are bound to see people giving each other kisses on the cheek and possible you will be giving and receiving them as well.  In French it’s called “faire la bise”.  When you greet someone you know or are meeting someone new for the first time you will “faire la bise typically exchange kisses on the cheek”.  This sounds rather simple but it’s rather complex and even the French don’’t always know how many times the other will kiss them on the cheek. So don’’t feel embarrassed if you get it wrong.  Let’’s cover the basics.

Faire la bise 101

Who

Men: Men faire la bise with women they are friends, acquaintances, or close male family members like your father or brother.  There are exceptions for this like when having reunion with very close friends or emotional situations like a marriage or funeral. However, even if male friends who are close will not usually faire la bise / kiss cheeks.

Women:  Women faire la bise with male and female friends, acquaintances, and family. They will even exchange bises with those whom they vousvoient. Using vous does not always imply a formal relationship.

Kids and Teenagers: Adults will often faire la bise with kids and youth that they are close with but not acquaintances anyone they are just meeting.  Typically, they will shake their hand.  Between youth it is common for both sexes to faire la bise even teenage boys. Not all boys do this but it is common.

Boys: It is more common for teenage boys to kiss cheeks than men.  Typical it is just one kiss and is similar to a bro hug in the US and Canada.  Young men will clasp hands, side hug, and kiss on one side of the cheek. Laura Lawless of About.com’s French section has coined the term “Bro Bise” which I think is great.

Notes:

1. If a woman does not feel comfortable kissing cheeks with a man she can politely offer her hand for a handshake.

2. If you are in a group of people and a new person arrives it is normal for everyone to stop and greet the new person.  The new person will faire la bise and or shake hands with every person.  This will happen even in business meetings. It is impolite not to acknowledge everyone. As a customer your interaction with an employee will even get interrupted by kisses and short conversation by co workers arriving or leaving.

3.  With point number two above you should also consider this for men.  Even if they do not faire la bise with everyone they will shake hands with everyone.

4. In formal situations where you would vousvoient (use Vous to address someone formally) it is still okay to kiss cheeks.  It is sometimes just as a sign of respect and not one of distance.

When:

It is common to exchange kisses or handshakes upon arriving, leaving, and when congratulating or thanking someone.

How:

When you faire la bise you do not actually kiss the other persons cheek but simply touch cheeks lightly and kiss the air.  It is usually done very fast.  Depending on the region you are in determines the # of times you will touch cheeks.  The most common is 2 times but can reach as many as 5.  See the image below that shows how many kisses one should expect by region.  Results will vary by person as there are no hard rules.

kissing-map1

 

Cultural Notes: Although for non Europeans it may seem odd to be kissing cheeks with another person’s spouse or significant other but it is a perfectly normal and harmless greeting in France and other European countries.  However, make sure you don’’t linger too long or it may taken the wrong way.

The best thing you can do is just watch what the others are doing and go along.  You’ will catch on quickly and don’’t feel bad if you mess it up. When in doubt let Les Francais lead.

Phone conversations: The bises is so prevalent in French culture that phone conversations are often ended with “Bisous” or “Kiss” to say goodbye.

Texting: “Bise” and “Bisous” are both used to say goodbye when texting or sms.

Europe: It is also common practice among most Eastern and Western European countries. Practices vary but the general rules will be similar.  Especially in Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, and Romania.

Let me know your experiences.

Choosing The Perfect Foreign Language Teacher

Foreign Language Teacher

First of all there are many different dimensions to language learning and depending on your goals for learning a foreign language you will want to look for different qualities in your teacher. I will cover the general characteristics that all language teachers should exude and the skills they should have depending on your needs and goals.

There are 7 qualities that all language teachers should have. Depending on your goals and needs some may be more or less important but generally these are the 7 principal attributes you should look for in a teacher of any kind.

1. Goals

It is important to know your own goals before choosing a teacher or joining a class.  If you do not know your goals you cannot compare the strengths or weaknesses of a program or your teacher in relation to what you want to achieve. Do you want to prepare for a trip and learn basic survival phrases, become fluent, or if you just want to read and write in the language.  These objectives determine the type of teacher and length of the course you need to follow.

2. Knowledge

The teacher does not have to be an expert in the language but does need to have a significant understanding of the core concepts and ideas needed to help you progress and learn the language yourself. In order for someone to elevate you to a higher place they themselves must be in a higher place. Expect that your teacher be able to explain concepts simply and to be able to organize the concepts they teach in order of priority.  If they are scattered or allow lessons to wander your progress will be slow.

3. Experience

Knowledge is essential however if the teacher has no practical experience that knowledge is useless. It’s like a basketball coach who has read all the books but has never played the game. The coach will never be able to make a successful basketball team. The same is for languages. If your teacher cannot say that they have spent a significant amount of time living, speaking, or working with the people that speak the language there is no way they will have the cultural insight to teach you any real life language skills.  However, if your pursuit is solely academic this may not be a large issue and I will discuss why later.

4. Communication

You need to be able to relate and feel comfortable with your teacher socially. Languages are a social experience and if your teacher is shy, distant, or not invested then it will make your lessons very tedious and ineffective. You teacher needs to be constantly asking you questions, encouraging, and conversational. Most important is your teachers ability to explain language concepts and grammar.

5. Enthusiasm

Who wants a boring teacher? Nobody wants to learn a foreign language to be boring. If you teacher is not positive, friendly, and interested in the language and you as a student then they will most likely not give you 100% and will not require 100% from you.  That doesn’t mean you teacher needs to have a big personality.  It just needs they need to be excited by the language and enjoy teaching.

6. Vision

The most important aspect is that the teacher understands your goals and needs. In order for any teacher to build lessons that will achieve your goals they must understand your reasons for learning the language. If a teacher tells you that you have to learn a certain way because that’ is the way it is and is not interested in focusing on your interests then you should consider whether or not you are receiving effective language lessons. However sometimes teachers will need to tell you that it is not time to learn a certain subject or to tell you that a question will be answered at a later time because it is not time.

Saying that we will come back to a subject at a later time is different than completely ignoring your goals. You should feel comfortable asking your teacher what their plan of action is and how they plan to help you achieve your goals in the language.

Pretend that your teacher is a guide and has been to your destination many times.  They know the map and the best ways to get to your goal.  If they are taking you to a destination that is not yours that are not a skilled guide.  A great guide also knows when to push you, when to let you have fun, and when to rest.  Seeing the map or the big picture and how to get there is one of the most important skills.

7. Fluency

At Le tutor we only hire fluent teachers.  That may not always be necessary but we believe that in order to achieve fluency you must have a teacher who is fluent so that you can practice speaking and listening.  However, for someone who is wanting to learn to read and write a teacher is can’t speak the language may be more than sufficient.  Or a student who is just starting out and wants to just build a foundation in vocabulary or someone who is just wanting to learn survival phrases. As you progress you may outgrow your teacher’s abilities and what they are able to teach you. You will know when it is time to seek out more challenging options.

This is not an exhaustive list of everything a foreign language teacher should do or know.  Your teacher should always be willing to give you a free trial class before you commit to any lessons.  During your trial if you think about these 7 skills while you meet with your teacher it will help you to choose the best teacher to fit for your personality and your language goals.

Great Resources To Learn Spanish Online – Websites, Apps, Worksheets, Podcasts, Youtube Channels…etc

Websites

BBC – Learn Spanish

1

The official BBC website has a great section in its website called Languages, where they’ve published some of the best resources to learn a language online.  Among other languages that are listed there, the Spanish language page is very rich in content with free online lessons and guides on Spanish vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/

StudySpanish.com

2

One of the biggest websites on the internet for learning Spanish, with over a thousand of pages available for free to anyone interested to learn conversational Spanish.  Even though they’ve provided so much content for free on their website, they also have their own language courses that you can take.

Link: http://www.studyspanish.com

About.com Spanish Language

3

Everyone has probably come across the About.com website once or twice in their lifetimes, and their inner pages many times more. Why? Because they’ve published so much content on basically every topic out there, it’s really hard to miss it when looking for an answer.

Their Spanish language articles are written by expert language teachers who have gathered everything you need to know about learning the Spanish language. Besides learning Spanish, you can also learn about their culture, holidays, and Spanish speaking places for you to travel to.

Link: http://spanish.about.com/

Duolingo.com

4

If you’re young and want a really cool interactive way of learning to speak Spanish, then you must check Duolingo. It’s completely free, and the best part is that as you progress by taking the lessons listed there, each time you help to translate documents and other websites. Duolingo has over 12 million active users as of now, and has mobile applications for iOS and Android as well.

Link: http://www.duolingo.com

123TeachMe

5

123 Teach Me offers lots of online resources to learn Spanish, including online games to make learning the language fun and many daily updated pages such: word of the day, phrase of the day, verb of the day…etc. They also have a pretty interesting Verb Conjugator and Spanish Sentence Maker to help you improve your language fluency.

Link: http://www.123teachme.com/

Qué Onda Spanish

6

Qué Onda Spanish offer dynamic lessons for learning languages, including the Spanish languages among 7 other language that they have lessons for. Beginner and Advanced levels are available, as well as lessons to help you with travel, business, or medical situations. Some lessons are free, the rest of the lessons can be access by obtaining the “Pangea Passport”, which is their one-time membership fee.

Link: http://www.queondaspanish.com/

Digital Dialetics – Spanish Language

7

Digital Dialetics offers beginner and intermediate games to help you learn Spanish. They’ve got interactive ways to teach you phrases & greetings, numbers, vocabulary, food, clothing, animals, and more. Their Spanish verb page is definitely a very valuable resource if you want to learn Spanish well.

Link: http://www.digitaldialects.com/Spanish.htm

LiveMocha

8

Livemocha has a large number of Mexican Spanish lessons available for free to all the people who register at their website. The lessons are created by the community of native teacher and speakers who are more than happy to share their advice and help you learn a new language. There are more than 16 million people in the Livemocha community.

Link: http://livemocha.com/pages/languages/spanish/

Vocabulix

9

Vocabulix is the best way to learn new verbs in Spanish, easily and simply.  With over 90 predefined lessons, you won’t have a problem getting started right away. You can even create your very own lessons and share them with your friends later on.

Link: http://www.vocabulix.com/

SpaniCity – Learn Spanish

10

Another free resource that has lots of valuable content on the Spanish language. They’ve got audio lessons to teach you the basics such as the alphabet, numbers, popular words, and some Spanish verbs, as well as grammar, vocabulary, and Spanish phrases lessons. While you’re at it, why not learn some songs in Spanish as well. They’ve translated many, to help you become fluent in Spanish fast.

Link: http://www.spanicity.com/

Mobile Apps

Duolingo

11

Platform: iOS/Android

Price: Free

We’ve already listed the main Duolingo website and mentioned why it’s such a great resource when it comes to learning Spanish, but having a mobile application is actually the best way to keep up with your progress. You’ll get awards for successfully completing a lesson, which motivates you to continue learning, and of course, it allows you to share your progress with your friends and family.

Learn Spanish with Babbel

12

Platform: iOS/Android

Price: Free

One of the biggest websites on the internet that offers interactive language lessons on several languages, Babbel also has apps to make the whole process of learning a new language easier. They’ve got beginner and intermediate courses on Spanish. Babbel is supported by the European Regional Development Fund.

Learn Spanish Phrasebook

13

Platform: iOS/Android

Price: Free

This app is a real gem! If you’re traveling to a Spanish speaking country, this mobile app is a must-have. They’ve gathered hundreds of phrases to help you out in in any situation that you might be in. From simple conversation phrases to phrases about eating out, shopping, or getting directions. To have access to the complete phrasebook, you need to upgrade you app to the pro version.

Spanish Touch Trainer

14

Platform: iOS/Android

Price: Free

Just like the previous app, the Spanish Touch Trainer is a must-have. Learn how to construct proper sentences in Spanish and expand your vocabulary with this interactive app. Even though it feels like you’re playing a game on your smartphone, this app actually helps you learn Spanish really well.

Learn Spanish – Bravolol

15

Platform: iOS/Android

Price: Free

The Bravolol Parrot will teach you over 800 Spanish phrases and vocabularies. You’ll listen the parrot saying a phrase, and then you’ll record it yourself so that you can compare your skills and learn faster. Everything is categorized in specific scenarios that you might find yourself into. There’s no need for internet connection when using the app, and you can save your favorite phrases and words for faster access later on.

Podcasts

Coffee Break Spanish

16

A great resource to learn conversational Spanish. The courses are practical, theme based and are perfect to help beginner Spanish students develop an ear for the language. They offer free audio lessons and if you want to pay for more comprehensive lessons you can purchase packages that include lessons, word lists, exercises and additional audio for each lesson.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/coffee-break-spanish/id201598403?mt=2

Learn Spanish – Survival Guide

17

This is a good introductory audio guide to Spanish. The teacher, David Spencer, speaks slowly, clearly and repeats his words frequently so that beginner students can follow the lessons. The topics are geared a survival Spanish situation that a tourist would experience. Hence the name. There are 36 lessons and it is recommended for the absolute beginner student.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/learn-spanish-survival-guide/id170271930?mt=2

Learn to Speak Spanish with Discover Spanish

18

Discover Spanish podcast is a supplement to their more complete lessons that include, printable pdf lessons, online games, grammar guides and vocabulary sheets. There are 36 podcasts and they are very well produced. Most are designed for beginner students.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/learn-to-speak-spanish-discover/id264318446?mt=2

Learn Spanish | SpanishPod101.com

19

Spanish Pod 101 exposes students to teachers from different Spanish speaking countries like Peru, Argentina, Spain, and Mexico. They offer 36 free audio lessons and a free 7 day trial. If you would like to continue with their program they offer a premium account.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/learn-spanish-spanishpod101.com/id270572701?mt=2

Insta Spanish Lessons

20

Reviewers give this podcast great ratings and is very polished. It is designed for a high beginner to intermediate Spanish student and only has 11 lessons. What it is lacking in content it makes up for in quality. Definitely, give it a listen.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/insta-spanish-lessons/id115018357?mt=2

Spanish A+ – Finally Learn Spanish with Bilingual Podcasts

21

Finally Learn Spanish podcasts are taught by native teachers and focus more on intermediate level students. They give a explanation of simple grammar principles and survival situations that one would need to get around in common daily activities.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/spanish-a+-finally-learn-spanish/id209618884?mt=2

Rolling R’s: Spanish Lesson Videos

22

This program is actually a series of video lessons that are hosted on itunes. They are all free and your teacher Izzy builds lessons so that you can see the progression and can learn how to build sentences instead of just memorizing phrases.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/rolling-rs-spanish-lesson/id116078400?mt=2

Language Worksheets

Printable Spanish Worksheets & Handouts

23

Spanish4Teachers provides great worksheets for teachers and students. They are basic worksheets but provide simple but effective exercises. Lessons are divided into clear sections so that you can easily find the theme you are looking for. They also include links to other websites that have additional lesson plans available.

Link: http://www.spanish4teachers.org/SpanishWorksheets.html

Worksheets for Kids and Children Learning Spanish

24

RockaLingua is a great website with very well illustrated lessons. Lessons are accented by soft rock songs that repeat the vocabulary in video and audio formats. Although, they seem to be designed for kids they would be great for beginner Adult students as well. The site does require a login to download the free lessons and there are additional lessons available to download for $35 for individuals and $75 for a teacher license.

Link: http://www.rockalingua.com/worksheets

BBC Languages – Spanish Worksheets

25

Straight forward no nonsense Spanish lessons for beginner students. However, there is a lot more content on the site to supplement these worksheets. Also, they are free and printable so that you can take notes and travel with them.

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/talk/worksheets/

The Spanish Forum – Beginning Spanish Worksheets

26

Comprehensive grammar lessons worksheets for high beginner and intermediate students. Lessons are focused on verb tenses, using accents properly and irregular verbs. Verbs are the most important grammar element in any Latin language. Be sure to spend sufficient time studying them. Each lesson includes a link to a supplemental video lesson.

Link: http://www.thespanishforum.com/spanish-grammar-exercises

Youtube Channels

The Spanish Blog

28

Your teacher, Laura, is a native Spanish teacher from Spain. She has over 500 video lessons on YouTube and covers themes from beginner to high intermediate students. Her video lessons are a little bland but offer a good amount of informative free content.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/user/thespanishblog

Butterfly Spanish

31

Ana has very well organized and easy to follow lessons. Although, I wish there were more video lessons the ones that have been posted are quality lessons. Lessons do not try and cover too much at once and are explained in a simple way that makes the new concept easy to understand.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/user/ButterflySpanishola

Spanish With Rocio

30

Rocio’s lessons use lots of pictures and provide Spanish and English translations of the sentences she is teaching. Rocio speaks clearly and slowly so that you can improve your listening comprehension. This is a good channel to build your vocabulary and work on your listening skills.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/user/SpanishWithRocio

Essential Books for Studying a New Language

Most people who are studying foreign languages will have a whole library of books about their language of interest. However, there a few that you just can’t do without. I show books for different languages but you can find the books I show in almost any language easily with the exception of my extremely small French only dictionary.

List of Books:

1. 501 verb books:
When I was learning French I chose the 6 most common conjugations and learned the different verb types. Er, Ir, Oir….. I started by writing them hundreds of times each until I could recite them without thinking. Then I progressed to reciting them by memory. Next I created sentences and used all of the conjugations for each pronoun in each tense until is was second nature.

2. Standard Dictionary: Although there are lots of dictionaries out there very few do it well. Look for a dictionary with precise, up to date and adequate definitions. It also helps if they have examples of how the word is used contextually or idiomatically.

3. Theme Based Dictionaries:
I personally really like Mastering “Language” Vocabulary by Barron’s but I’m sure there are others that are very good. The books gives you a lot of vocabulary words that are important in certain subjects but you may have not have thought of because they are more idiomatic or technical words that are uncommon.

4. Uber Tiny Pocket Dictionary: I found this dictionary while living in France and fell in love. I literally carried it with me everywhere I went for 1.5 years. At anytime I wanted to find out what a word meant that someone said in a conversation or while reading I instantly looked it up. This dictionary is French only so I only started using it after I was conversational. However, it is the most important book in my collection because it makes language learning convenient and immediate. Often times you’ll think of a word and then forget it because by the time you get home and can look it up you’ve completely forgot.

I hope this helps you get started learning your desired foreign language or improves your current studies.

Learning Two Languages at Once Good or Bad?

Two Languages at once...

Two Languages at once…

A question that we often get asked is “Can I learn two languages at the same time?” and is “How hard is it to learn two languages at once?”. This is a tough question and there is not a definitive answer.  The decision is a personal one and depends on different factors including; Reason, Available time, Access to proper instruction, Motivation, Past experience. Lets explore the different options.

Reason for Learning Multiple Languages Simultaneously

Professional: If your employer or business demands necessitate learning more than one language at once you may not have a choice.  In this case you will have to read our advice below and overcome the challenges you will encounter in order to be successful.

Personal Interest: Many students who are interested in learning a foreign language have a genuine interest in languages, foreign culture, and travel.  This often creates internal conflicts about which language they should learn first. Or attempts to learn two languages at once. This reason will require further analysis which we’ll look at in the topics below.

Travel: Taking a trip and visiting many countries can great fun but always create logistical obstacles. Language being an obvious issue depending on the countries you are visiting.  This is an easier problem to solve as you can rely on cheat sheets and memorizing survival phrases in the language in order to get by in the countries you will visit.

If you will be in a specific country longer than the others you should consider making that language your focus.  Another option is if you are visiting a country that overlaps the other languages and will help you to survive in the others then you should make that language your focus.  For example: If you are visiting Spain, France and Italy where latin languages are spoken.  I would recommend learning Spanish.  French is the most dissimilar of the three and Italian and Spanish are similar enough that you can get by if you speak one of the languages to a speaker of the other language.

Why You Should Only Learn One Language at a Time

If it is possible for you to focus on one language you will make progress more quickly and will be able to learn the language more effectively.  It is natural to want or sometimes have to multitask but if you can avoid it and single out one task you will complete it much more quickly.  The same applies to learning any language.  There are additional advantages to learning one language at a time.

1. Synergy: Once you learn one language and achieve an intermediate level of fluency or higher it does become easier to learn other languages. The reason is that you’ve learned through trial and error how you learn best.  Also, there are basic principles that overlap and are true to most languages.

This will help you to more efficiently organize your study efforts.  Also, you will be able to quickly recognize which parts of the languages are essential and which parts are not necessary until you reach higher levels.  Thus, streamlining the learning process for any new language you add to your repertoire.

2. Language Families: If you are interested in languages that share common roots or similar traits you will have a head start on your third language.  Some examples are Latin based languages like: Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian. If you learn Spanish you will have a huge head start on and of the other Latin languages.  They share very similar grammar principles, many cognates or shared words, and verb conjugation methods. Having no experience in one of them you can quickly get to an intermediate level in a third language by taking advantage of the head start you have.

Or if you are learning a Slavic language like Russian.  It would help you to progress similarly in languages from Eastern Europe that in the same family.  In addition, Russian is understood and spoken in many of those languages already and will help you survive if you are travelling.

A more abstract example of cross over is Japanese and Mandarin.  Although the language area very different and there is less cross over you can still gain skills that will help you to speed up the process of learning the next language. Both use Chinese characters in their written language.  They can be very intimidating for non natives.  By learning the characters in one you will have trained your brain to quickly recognize and distinguish the characters.  This is a huge part of learning a new language that does not share the same writing system.

3. Time: Although, you may feel like you are making more quickly by learning two languages at once you aren’t.  By spending time switching back and forth between projects, trying to remember where you left off, and forgetting or mixing up vocabulary with the other language you are postponing your progress.

Summary

You could be focusing on one language and then take all of the lessons that you’ve learned from teaching yourself a second language and apply it to a third language.  In the end you would learn both languages in less time and more effectively than if you had studied them simultaneously.

However, there are exceptions. If you already speak a second or third language, are an extremely motivated and organized student who has the resources and time, or are required and do not have a choice to learn two languages at once.

If you already speak two languages you’ve gained enough experience know your learning style, needs and abilities. This isn’t for everyone but would significantly increase your odds of success in learning your third and fourth languages. If you fall into the last two categories continue to read below and I’ll outline the process for learning two languages at once.

 

Choosing Which Language to Learn First

Okay so you’ve decided to only study one language at a time.  How do you choose?

1. Do you have an external motivation?

Does your job require that you learn a language or are you travelling abroad? The best choice is which language will give you the most return on investment.  Will you spend more time in one of the countries or is one of the languages more prevalent worlwide?  If you are spending more time in one country then choose that language.  Or if one of the languages is a lingua franca like French or Russian for the region or world it is more likely to be spoken by more people in the other countries.

If you business will get more business from one language or is launching in a new market you will need to use similar logic when deciding.  Most importantly is which language do you have the most customers in or will you be spending most of your time interacting with? If they are equal then look for a marketing focus by management in one of the languages.

2. Personal Interest

If you don’t have external motivators and just have a personal desire to learn languages then I always recommend students learn the language of the culture they enjoy the most. The reason is because you if you enjoy what you are doing you will be more motivated to continue.

You will also want to consider your access to resources in the language.  Some languages that do not have a large number native speakers often have limited materials, teachers, and practice opportunities.

However, your personal interest in the language should guide your decision.  Even if there are some issues finding resources your desire to learn will help you to make the best of the materials you do find. Limited resources is not typically an issue for most languages these days if you have access to the internet.

Wrap up

It isn’t impossible or unreasonable to learn two languages at once? No, of course not.  However, for the average person learning one foreign language can be a challenging process.  It is not wise to bite off more than you can chew only to get discouraged and quit learning both languages.  Instead of focusing and succeeding at one language and then approaching a third.  There are always exceptions and reasons why one may need or want to learn two languages at once.  It is very possible to learn more than one language at once but you have to be very disciplined or have a great amount of free time or both. In the next article we will outline How to Learn Two Languages at Once.

The Three Worst Foreign Language Learning Mistakes

Language Learning Mistakes

There are lots of mistakes that new and experienced language learners make but there are three that stand out.  Those who are consistently successful and become strong speakers of whatever language they learn have learned to overcome these three bad habits.

FEAR

There are too many self conscious and overly concerned language learners who don’t want to try speaking until they are confident that they will say it perfectly.  THIS IS RIDICULOUS!  Learning a foreign language is like being an infant again.  When you were an infant you didn’t say anything correctly but everyone got the idea of what you were saying and didn’t make fun of you.  In fact they cheered and were excited at the simple fact that you were trying.

You have to practice and make mistakes otherwise you will never gain experience.  Experience is the key to being a successful language speaker.  Experience takes two ingredients.  Repetition and Time.  I think we are all capable of doing those things and thus we are all capable of becoming successful language learners.  So get out there and just say it.  Sure you might sound funny, who cares, but each time it will get better.

INSTANT SUCCESS

In the world of instant gratification in which we have come to forget the basic virtues of patience and hard work.  Also, due to some language products and their commercialization there is the common misunderstanding that language learning is easy or instant.  Of course there are those rare people who naturally take to languages like fish in water but those people exist in any activity (Sports, Academics, Business).  Most likely you and I are not one of them.  So don’t get discouraged and give up when you are not a native level Spanish speaker in 2 months.  Depending on our aptitude, previous experience, EFFORTS, opportunities to travel or be immersed, and the instruction we receive it can take years or a life time to become truly fluent.

Just because becoming truly fluent could take years or a lifetime doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the fruits of learning a foreign language now.  You can communicate conversational without being native, make new friends, travel, and enjoy the arts and literature from that language.  So don’t be impatient and enjoy the process of learning a new language not just the goal.

HARD WORK

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts but hard work is the backbone of learning a new foreign language.  If you are learning Spanish and you depend solely on your teachers instruction to advance your skills you will not get you very far.  Teachers are guides but you have to do the walking.  So make sure you are willing to put in the TIME and EFFORT needed to truly learn a foreign language.

Why Language Software Sucks

Language Software Sucks

Now that I have your attention let me explain what I mean. There are many programs and gimmicks out there that claim to have the magic answer to languages. Unfortunately it doesn’’t exist, at least not yet. So let me list a few reasons why Language Software and Programs are horrible.

1. Blind Memorization: Most programs have you memorizing tons of vocabulary without teaching you how to use it. It’s like giving you oil paints without teaching you the art of painting. Yes, you need vocabulary but computers are not yet able to create real life speaking situations that a human teacher can. You have to speak with natives in order to learn how and when to use certain words

2. Predictable: All of these programs are predictable and give you the same questions and answers every time. If you try to speak with someone and they don’t ask or answer the way you have memorized you are up a creek. Humans are not predictable therefore you need to learn languages in a manner that will prepare you for spontaneous situations. Practicing and building your comfort level, confidence, and intuitive understanding will you gain the agility of a native speaker.

3. Out Dated: These programs take years to develop and after being on the market for a couple of years they are no longer relevant to today’s vocabulary and subjects. To overcome this you must read current materials in the language, like newspapers, and speak to natives.

4. You Don’t Advance: You do learn new words and concepts but your ability to use them in an actual conversation does not change. You do increase the depth of your knowledge but not your skill. This can only be done by seeking out opportunities to use your new found understanding.

After making my point I would like to say that if you have realistic expectations of your language software it can be helpful, but it will only teach you the basics. These programs are good at what they do, but are not the answer to learning to speak a language fluently. Language learning is a life long commitment that will take a combination of different learning tools and efforts to achieve your goals.