The Olive Way E-Newsletter
Secrets of Mastering a Foreign Language
After our last issue came out, several readers asked how to master a foreign language and whether there were any shortcuts. These are questions every language learner naturally wants answers to. I would be very happy if the following summary of my experience could be of any value to you.
You may know that English is not my native language, but may not know that I had a history of teaching English as a foreign / second language. I first taught the language in Singapore, then in China, and then in Canada, as credit courses at both secondary and tertiary institutions, and as part of my cross-cultural training seminars in the corporate world. You may wonder how I managed to do so. The “secrets” are:
No. 1 Interest
If you don’t like a language, don’t put yourself through the misery of learning it for some wrong reasons as this is just a waste of your time and life! Find a language that you will enjoy learning. You may ask: “How do I know whether I am interested in a language without learning it?” Well, that’s easy. Get some audio materials from the library, spend sometime listening to the language spoken and see whether you like the sound of it. If the language sounds good to you, then it’s more likely that you want to pick it up.
Another way to tell whether you feel like learning a language is to see whether you are curious about the culture and have any desire to learn more about it. If you are and you do, then chances are you are also curious about the language as language and culture are inseparable.
No. 2 Environment
The best way to learn a language is to be totally immersed in that language speaking environment. It is a good idea to live and study in the country where the language is spoken, but it’s not always feasible. So what do you do if you have to stay where you are? My experience has been making use of all available resources: movies, tapes, CDs, TV and radio. You don’t necessarily have to listen attentively all the time. You don’t even have to understand what’s being said. The idea is to keep away other noises, create an atmosphere as if you were living in that language speaking environment, get comfortable with the language, get the flow of the language and get the feel of the language. By and by, you will catch a word or two, then a sentence, two sentences, and before you know it, you may be able to figure out the gist of a story.
Another way of creating a language learning environment for yourself is to practise with anyone who speaks the language: a native speaker, your teacher, your fellow learner, and yourself if you don’t have anyone to speak to. Set aside a day in a week when you only speak the language and keep it up. Reward yourself for sticking to your commitment and discipline yourself for breaking it. When I was in the university, my class and my dormitory each had a rule: one day in a week, everyone must speak only English, or risked a fine or other forms of punishment such as speaking English for an additional day.
No. 3 Music
Music helps to reduce the stress and tension during language learning. It offers a fun way to acquire a language. It helps to develop one’s linguistic and cultural awareness. For example, based on the lyrics, one can learn to differentiate between spoken and written languages. Folk songs in different English speaking countries were a great way for me to pick up varieties of the language and its respective cultures. Furthermore, our brain processes language much the same way it does music: by pitch, rhythm and symmetrical phrasing.* Have a love for and develop an ear for music, you will speak the language better than those who don’t.
No. 4 Reading aloud
Practise reading out your language texts loud for at least 30 minutes each day and recite, if not all, the good pieces. The sentences you read out loud and recite again and again will eventually come out so naturally.
Language learning is both fun and hard work. I believe that you have to be interested in a language before you can learn it well. You also need to create every opportunity for yourself to learn it. Practising reading aloud and appreciating music will get you a step closer toward mastering a foreign language. If I can be certified to teach English in English speaking countries, you can teach Chinese in China, French in France, German in Germany, Japanese in Japan and so on. To get there, remember and practise what I have just shared with you.
* Adaptation by Bob Lake from the Journal of the Imagination for Language Learning, volume VII.
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© 2009 Jacqueline Wu & Olive Kan Global. All rights reserved.
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