Staying Resourceful in Language Learning

Posted on 26. Aug, 2015 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Resourcefulness

Do any of the following sound like they might have come out of your mouth at one time or another?

“I know drilling grammar is important, but it’s just not fun…and life’s too short.”

“I can read street signs and menus, and understand when spoken to, but I can’t speak it. I just can’t find the words to put a sentence together.”

“I’d really like to learn this language, but it’s so time-intensive, and time is the one thing I simply do not have.”

“I’ve plateaued. For me to improve from this point, I’d have to go live in a country where it’s spoken natively. How in the world am I supposed to do that?”

Every single one of those fabulous excuses has come out of my mouth before, and they’ll probably cross my lips again. That’s how I know they’re so fabulous. They’ve successfully allowed me to spend my time and energy on what really matters: binge-watching the latest TV series (to get it out of the way, of course!). Sometimes language learning is hard work, and that’s a bummer, so why bother?

Well, the other day I came across the comic above, and it made me realize that there’s another way. We can be resourceful.

Humans are extremely resourceful creatures. We’ve learned to survive in nearly every corner of the globe, from blazing deserts to freezing tundras, and–who knows–may soon be colonizing other planets. That requires extraordinary resourcefulness. When we undergo a large, destabilizing change in our lives, we’re usually able to re-stabilize in a matter of months. We’re smart, we’re fast learners, and we can use our environment to better purpose our needs. And you don’t have to be a super-genius to have those abilities–you were born with them, baby. And the best part is, they’re not just for survival. You can choose to make use of them in your everyday life. You can use your own resourcefulness to learn languages.

The key is remembering what resourcefulness is: recognizing a challenge, seeing it from a new angle and devising unique means to meet that challenge.

Let’s apply it to the four fabulous excuses above.

You know you need to drill grammar to get better. You can’t just absorb the knowledge by living in the same room as your grammar book, you actually have to do the work. Step one, recognize the challenge: it’s soulless, tedious work. Step two, see it from a new angle: it wouldn’t be tedious if it were fun, right? Step three, devise the means to meet it: make a board game out of the declension tables or a card game out of verb conjugations. Play with friends or share it online. Or, reward yourself for time studying with a piece of chocolate every time you get something right. Make it different kinds of chocolate for different answers, so you’ll be using your tongue to help you remember.

Just how resourceful you can be is up to you, of course. You’re only limited by your problem-solving abilities, which if you’re human, are already pretty impressive. Let’s keep going.

The challenge: despite the fact that you can read signs and understand what people are saying to you, you “can’t find the words” to put a sentence together yourself. See it from a new angle: sounds like you do have the words, you just don’t have the nerve. You haven’t talked the walk. You probably haven’t even tried that hard! Do you realize how long it takes children to learn to speak? First they have to make the mistakes, you know. That’s the only way. Devise the means to deal with it: make a weekly chart with checkpoints to mark your progress. Start small, like “order in a restaurant,” or if you’re past that, “introduce myself to a stranger.” Maybe have a system to reward yourself at the end of the week if you passed one of these checkpoints every day. Or, team up with a friend also learning the language and go out together. Challenge each other to go further in a conversation with a local, and whoever can top it buys the other a round of drinks.

Games and rewards are certainly one way to be resourceful, but I’ll bet you can think of others. If you’re reading this, you’re already quite resourceful, did you know that? Let’s continue.

Challenge: ain’t got no time nohow to learn that there new language. New angle: really? No time whatsoever? Or just no will to make it work? Means: wear a colored bracelet twice a week to remind yourself to spend every free second on your new language. Use language software or apps or plain old flash cards on the subway, buy yourself a kid’s book in that language, and find a local restaurant from that culture that you can start to frequent. On the days you’re not wearing the bracelet, you don’t have to worry about it. Or, sit down and actually calculate out your week, and see how much time you spend doing stupid things. There’s nothing wrong with that…it just means you choose to spend your time differently. Would you like to change it?

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. Resourcefulness helps you dig up the willpower to find a way to accomplish your goals. Don’t let them just sit there empty; identify the challenge, look at it from a new angle, and devise the means to meet the challenge. Let’s move on to the final one.

Actually…why don’t you tell me some resourceful ways to deal with quote #4? What are some creative ways to manage plateauing in a learned language? Leave your thoughts in the comments. We’re just spitballing here, people. No wrong answers, just inspiration!

How U.S. Libraries Survive—and Thrive—in the Changing Linguistic Landscape (Part 1)

Posted on 24. Aug, 2015 by in Language Learning, Trends

All 119,000+ libraries in the United States (whether public, academic, or government) share a common goal: to serve their community. As the linguistic landscape of the U.S. shifts, libraries must adapt to better serve their diverse members.

How exactly can libraries respond to meet the needs of recent immigrants, resettled refugees, and non-English speakers in their communities? We asked ourselves the same question and looked to our library customers for inspiration. In the coming weeks we’ll share examples of how our libraries have successfully engaged and encouraged English language learners in their communities, as well as promoted learning of other languages spoken in their communities by native English speakers.

Today, we’ll look at citizenship programs. For many immigrants, the end goal is obtaining U.S. citizenship. But that path can be long, expensive, and complicated. Hopefuls must submit an application, pay a fee, pass an interview (with questions many American citizens can’t answer), and demonstrate English reading and writing abilities. Immigrants often seek legal advice and English tutoring, neither of which comes cheap.

Patrons of the Mark Twain Branch of the Hartford Public Library

“Mark Twain Branch” by Helder Mira is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

That’s why Hartford Public Library changed the game. Since 2000, the library’s The American Place (TAP) program welcomed immigrants to the community and offered resources to smooth their transition. However, library staff had to refer participants seeking legal advice to local non-profits. That changed in September 2013, when Hartford Public Library became the first public library accredited by the United States Department of Justice Bureau of Immigrant Appeals. That’s a fancy way of saying that the library’s accredited staff can now provide immigrants with legal advice and assist with paperwork on their path to citizenship.

An estimated 300 immigrants visit Hartford Public Library each month seeking online access and assistance navigating the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services’ (USCIS) portal. That number is expected to keeping growing, as are the library’s services. Hartford combines its BIA services with free ESL courses at various branches, online English learning materials (including Transparent Language Online), and on-site citizenship classes offered in both English and Spanish.

While BIA accreditation isn’t possible or practical for every library, there are alternatives. Many libraries offer Citizenship Corners, where citizenship seekers can go to obtain helpful materials and handouts. Libraries interested in establishing their own Citizenship Corner can visit the USCIS website for more information, including handouts and a free toolkit.

Looking to better serve your community? Download our free white paper, 6 Ways Libraries are Responding to Changing Linguistic Landscapes, for more examples, including on-site language courses, online language-learning resources, and multilingual websites.languages in libraries paper 3

Appreciating the Little Things about Language Learning

Posted on 19. Aug, 2015 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Phocine VulgarityI love the way that learning languages, like learning anything I suppose, slowly strips away the fog of ignorance. If you don’t speak French, it might sound to you like some kind of sugar-whipped vocal pastry, a pretty but unintelligible alien tongue. As you learn, however, gently the veil begins to lift, and what was previously opaque becomes clear.

As in the comic above, what’s opaque can easily be mistaken for something else entirely. These so-called false friends, these words which sound the same in another language but are in fact completely different words, have led to more than enough embarrassing situations (speaking of which, embarazada in Spanish does not mean “embarrassed,” but “pregnant,” so next time you’re around your Spanish boyfriend’s family dinner table and want to announce how embarrassed you are, think before you speak. You’re welcome). But once you learn it, particularly if you learn it the hard way, you’ll not likely forget it again.

To me, there’s nothing better than stepping into a foreign country with an incomprehensible written language – perhaps not even in Roman lettering – and slowly deciphering it over the course of the trip. Sure, I won’t become fluent in reading it, but if I knock at it with my little hammer, it cracks, and that’s enough to reveal that yes, it is potentially comprehensible. It is not impossible. It can be done (a moment of grim silence for those who are attempting to translate Linear A. How frustrating would that be? Like trying to solve a 10,000-piece jigsaw puzzle which you’re not even sure can be solved). Before I embarked on a family vacation to Israel this past May, I endeavored to learn a bit of Hebrew. I only had a few weeks, so I didn’t learn much, but I learned a little. When I arrived, I was amazed by how much I understood. No, not full sentences – but just the fact that I could understand anything at all was a revelation! I took the first step down the path of comprehensibility – and that made all the difference. It makes it possible.

Sometimes, however, you don’t want to lift the veil. Sometimes the mystery itself is more interesting than solving it. That’s fine, too, as long as it’s your choice – don’t be ignorant for ignorance’s sake! Venture down every learning path offered to you, even for just a little bit. There’s nothing you can learn in this world that is a waste of time – everything matters, it might just matter a tiny bit. In the case of learning the word phoque in French, however, it might matter a great deal.

What about you? What little things do you appreciate about language learning? No need for grandiosity here, just give us something that perks you up. Maybe it’ll help out someone in a rut.

Challenge for readers learning English: catch the mixed metaphor I used in this article, and you’ll get a doodle!