Language Learning Tips

On December 15 I wrote about the importance of language training before heading into work overseas.  Now I want to offer a few tips to help you learn a foreign language.  Employers, feel free to pass these on to personnel going abroad, but not in lieu of language training.

1 – Get over fear.  People often fear looking stupid, sounding stupid, or saying the wrong things.  Decide now to get over that.  It is unavoidable, so why struggle to avoid it?  The embarrassment will be over much sooner if you’ll plunge in, making all the mistakes necessary to learn quickly.

2 – Make the right sounds from the start.  If the locals growl, you should growl.  If they hiss, you should, too.  If they trill, trill!  There’s nothing sadder than the foreigner who masters the words of the language but still sounds foreign.

3 – Learn poems and songs.  They’ll put correct grammar patterns into your memory better than anything else.

4 – Mimic natives.  If they say, “Watcha wanna do?”, don’t insist on “What do you want to do?”  Learn correct grammar, but speak with the people.

5 – Learn the learning questions.  Learn to ask, “How do you say (blank)?” and “What does (blank) mean?”, and then use them to the point of annoyance.

6 – Remember that you don’t know enough yet. Once you become conversant, don’t rest.  Read the local literature.  Watch local programs and videos.  Become educated about the language and culture.

One warning: don’t mimic the local accent so well that you only learn regionalisms.  Imagine the person who come the U.S. and learns English in the South Bronx, or in Atlanta, or in Duluth., or in Wichita Falls  They would carry a regional accent forever after.  Instead, tend toward the TV accent.

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