The Inner Game of Language Learning

Traveling around the world for profit or pleasure has become commonplace in our modern world and it is most likely that you will tackle learning at least one foreign language in your lifetime. Your needs for communicating may range from ordering a meal while on holiday to managing all aspects of life after emigrating to another country. As well as the obvious advantages of understanding and being understood, there are also the possible hidden benefits of improving your own first language and gaining a unique insight into a different culture. Learning a foreign language has also been identified as one of the best ways to keep Alzheimer’s at bay and exercises the brain and keeps it healthy, no matter what your age. Here are some tips that have helped me speak English better than my mother tongue, cope with holiday lingo in France and start all over with Portuguese in preparation of my retirement in the sun.

How do you learn best?
Knowing and applying all your learning preferences can make all the difference between having fun and succeeding or finding it a chore and giving up. If you’re not sure how you learn best, I’d encourage you to experiment around until you find what feels best and fits in with your lifestyle.

Do you prefer learning by reading, hearing or writing? Do you like studying with others or by yourself? What about structured lessons versus post-it notes on the wall? Maybe you don’t want to bother with theory at all and just get going with talking with people. Do you or don’t you like using technology? Is ‘grammar’ a loaded word or can you, as do I, devour a good grammar book like other people a spy novel?

Finding the time

Fitting yet another thing into our crowded lives can certainly be a challenge, so maybe setting a small amount of time aside every day works best for you. Ten minutes a day is better than waiting for that three hour slot that never arrives. Signing up and paying for evening classes is also a good motivator to keep going. Being a very busy person, I always look for ‘idle’ time. I usually listen to an audio lesson while driving or doing housework and yes, I keep a phrase book next to my ‘throne’. Things really come to life though when I combine socializing with my foreign friends and bravely practice my new sentences.

How good is good enough?

Most people, including myself, only learn what they really need or what they’re passionate about. Since there really is no end to mastering a language, only you can decide how far you want to take it. The answer will most likely depend on a few factors. Do you need this new skill only occasionally or on a daily basis? Are you preparing for a future that is immediate or still a long way off? Do you actually need to talk to others a lot or not?

You will also find that your personality and values determine your decision. Do you enjoy striving for excellence? Is being ‘correct’ important to you? Are you ambitious and enjoy a good challenge? Last but not least, do you actually enjoy having conversations or are you more of an introvert?

If you have never attempted to speak another language, here’s one last tip: try not to take yourself too seriously. By talking like a toddler, you will be instantly stripped of your eloquence and any obvious signs of intelligence.You will make mistakes and you will be laughed at and it’s so much more fun, when you can join in the laughter and don’t mind making a fool of yourself. As always I wish you ‘einen guten Tag’,’ bon jour’,’ bom dia’ and a good day!