Just Ask Alex: July 2013 Edition Posted by Transparent Language on Jul 29, 2013 in Just Ask Alex, Language Learning
If you’re new here, let us introduce Alex Rawlings, a 21-year-old language enthusiast, who has taught himself more languages than we can count on our fingers! Impressed? You should visit his blog! Want to know more? You should keep visiting our blog, too! On the last Monday of every month, Alex will be answering YOUR language learning questions. Have a question for Alex? Tweet us @TLILanguages or connect with us on Facebook using #JustAskAlex.
1. What are the first things that you should learn in a language?
Languages are about confidence, and that couldn’t be more true than in the early stages. The best way to feel confident about your new language is to start being able to use what you’re learning as quickly as possible. To do that, you need to learn all of the important things first.
Your first port of call with your new language is the “idle chit-chat” stage. This is the ‘pleases’, the ‘thank yous’, the ‘good mornings’ and the ‘how are yous?’ These basic courtesy phrases will show people that you’re trying to learn their language and start some conversations. Because they’re quite easy you might even pick up some compliments and some easy confidence points.
Having mastered that, you’ll want to move on. Before you plunge in too deep, though, let’s concentrate on mastering the basics first. Your next focus should be on being able to describe your surroundings and the things that you can see: a town, a house, the rooms of a house, things in nature, transport, and other things that you can see. There are two reasons why this is useful: firstly, learning a lot of vocabulary will give you a chance to practise your pronunciation and ear, and secondly you’ll be able to walk to the shops or work or wherever and look around you and practise what you’ve learnt by trying to remember what everything is. This is a great opportunity to make use of your dead time.
You’re going to want to start joining everything up that you’ve learnt, and at this point you should take a look at verbs. Even if you only learn ten verbs like ‘to be’, ‘to want’, ‘to go’, ‘to like’, ‘to speak’, ‘to understand’, ‘to learn’, ‘to eat’, ‘to drink’, and ‘to live’, think how many sentences you can already form just with those when you combine them with the vocabulary you’ve already learnt!
To finally feel like you have a strong grounding in your new language, complement everything you’ve learnt with lots of ‘connecting’ words. These are aren’t necessarily essential for making yourself understood, but they often add important information and will help join up the sentences that you already can form. This includes being able to tell the time, numbers, colours, phrases that express your opinion, directions, and so on until you find yourself being able to quite confidently hold basic conversations.
Once you have enough vocabulary to form a variety of (interesting) sentences, it’s time to focus more on grammar: different tenses, conditional phrases, and all of that fun stuff. Enjoy!
2. What should you do when you really can’t travel to your target country?
I am a big advocate of visiting the country where your new language is spoken, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to learn a language without doing so. To be honest the ‘language pilgrimage’ trip is not just educational, it’s really just a nice reward for all the hard work you’ve put in.
Your ability to travel should not impose limits on your language learning prospects. If your target country is just too far away or you really can’t make the trip, don’t despair! You can learn a language just as well at home.
When I was learning Afrikaans in London there was no prospect of me ever visiting South Africa. The tickets were just far too expensive. I knew this, but I didn’t let it put me off. Instead I sought immersion in other ways, and through the internet this was entirely possible.
When I’d get home I’d find a South African radio station online and put it on. I listened every day. I used to love the traffic reports from Johannesburg and the heated debates about domestic issues that you’d hear nothing about in the UK. I found Afrikaans music bands that I liked and I listened to them everywhere I went. When one eventually came to London on a tour, I got tickets and knew all of the words, had the best night of my life chatting with all the ex-pats!
I started reading Afrikaans news websites, downloading podcasts, and eventually ordering Afrikaans novels through the internet. It was hard to read them at first, but eventually the new vocabulary that I’d been writing up started reoccurring, and everything became easier to read. I made my way through quite a lot of different authors, all of which helped me sustain the virtual South African cultural bubble that I’d created around myself.
Even though I was on the other side of the world, I made sure that I was living and breathing the language day in day out. I started thinking in it, and because I was working so much on it I even began dreaming in Afrikaans regularly!
I know that this paid off because although I’d never set foot in the southern hemisphere, everything became so much easier to understand, such as the news reports and books that I was reading and the conversations that I was listening to on the radio. When I’d meet a native speaker I was so eager to talk that I’d keep them for hours, trying to pursue any topic possible!
Several years later when by some miracle I got the chance to go to South Africa, Afrikaans was already one of my strongest languages, and I noticed that the moment that I stepped off the plane.
So that goes to show: just with patience, consistence and determination, nothing is impossible!