You should have known that this would come up, right? I mean, I am an Applied Linguistics student who is teaching a language, working hard to master a language, and overall, I think that there are major benefits for EVERYONE to learn a language (psychologically, culturally, socially . . .) But, this post isn’t from me. I did an interview with my friend Aaron over at the Everyday Language Learner. (By the way, his last post was really great, especially for any of you out there working on language number 3 or more!!) Aaron is now living in the States, but had been in Turkey for the last several years, so we’ve been able to connect over a shared love of Turkish and languages in general. If you are working on studying a language, I highly recommend checking out Aaron’s website and resources.
But now, onto the interview!! (And hopefully this will inspire any of you monolinguals out there to get working on a language!!)
1. How many languages have you studied?
I studied German for a year in university but it was futile. I learned very little because at the time I put forth little effort. Four months after graduating from university though, I took a trip to Mexico with some friends. We decided to move to Tijuana in order to work with the urban poor alongside a church there. That started my journey into Spanish. I am largely self taught though I did take one week long course about seven years into learning Spanish. I am now trying to resurrect my Spanish. It went into hibernation when my family and I moved to Turkey and I began learning Turkish. So German, Spanish and Turkish. I speak Turkish the best.
2. What has been your motivation for learning the languages that you have studied?
My main motivation has always been the fact that I was moving to the country where the language is spoken. I had to learn Spanish and Turkish. That is perhaps the main reason that German didn’t work out – I needed to graduate but had no plans to use it.
3. What is your favorite thing about learning a language?
Getting to know people in their language is my favorite thing. Most of the relationships I have with Turks are ones that would not exist if I had not learned Turkish. So for me, it’s all about the relationships. Of course language are fascinating in and of themselves and I love that there are words in Spanish and Turkish that express ideas in ways that just can’t be expressed in English.
4. Would you advise people who are living in their native country to learn a second language, even if they might not use it much? Why or why not?
Absolutely. There are countless reasons to learn another language and vast opportunities to use a language. We live in a super connected world where borders are becoming more and more meaningless. People are moving around like never before and learning another person’s heart language is perhaps one of the greatest acts of kindness anyone could do. I suppose I write that mostly to monolinguals in North America.
5. What do you think is the most important thing to do at the on-start of learning a second language?
Find or create a reason to learn the language. Everyone I know thinks learning another language is a good idea, but unless there is a specific, tactile, present reason for learning it, most of us will quit. Nobody works hard for a “good idea”. It’s an abstraction. You need to understand why you want and need to learn the language. If the desired outcome is clear, the rest will fall into place.
6. What are your three favorite resources to help in language learning?
The Internet has completely changed the playing field for language learners. Ten years ago you needed a teacher to learn another language if only because the teacher could provide you with resources. But with the Internet, nearly every language on the face of the earth is available to learn. So the first resource is the Internet and sites like Livemocha, LingQ,Duolingo, Rhinospike and Lang-8.
The second resource I love are what I call password phrases. These are phrases that you get translated into your target language that allow you to investigate the language, to ask questions, to become an independent language learner out in the community of native speakers. You can read my post about these here.
Another favorite resource is the use of handcrafted audio. The basic idea is that the learner write regularly – stories, journals, retellings of events. With a native speaker, the learner then gets all of his or her writing corrected to make sure it is all grammatically correct and makes sense. Then the native speaker would read the writing while the learner records it for later listening. When I create handcrafted audio, I try to pack in all the new words, expressions and grammar forms I am learning. By writing and recording several of these every week, a learner can begin to build up a library of listening material that has samples of everything that he or she has learned. It’s a great resource for increasing both depth and breadth of learning.
7. Do you think that anyone can learn a language? What characteristics or disciplines do people need to develop in order to successfully learn a language?
Everyone can learn another language. Two thirds of the world are multilingual – if everyone else is doing it, it is because it is a natural, God-given ability. No excuses about “not being good at learning languages” allowed. The main characteristic needed is perseverance – you just have to stick with it.
8. What encouragement or advice do you have for people who have gotten down the basics, but feel stuck at making further progress in their language journey?
Increase your level of need. Everyone learns a language to just above the level they actually need to survive. In order to move forward, you need to increase the need. Put yourself in new situations. Sign up to give a speech. Sign up for a class at the local university. Wanting to get better is rarely enough. Put yourself in situations that require you to improve.
9. What are your future language learning goals?
Right now I am working to resurrect my Spanish. I’ve been solely in Turkish for the last five years. Spanish is in there – I still understand a lot – but whenever I try to speak, Turkish comes out. So I am trying some things to see what it takes to get my conversational Spanish back to where it was and at the same time, I continue to work on my Turkish.
10. What are three small steps that people can take this year towards their language learning goals?
First I like to encourage everyone to create a list of five to ten time sensitive, convenient activities that they can do in five minutes or less to engage with the language. Everyone is busy so you need to manipulate the system in your favor and take advantage of the small chunks of time that present themselves throughout your day.
Second would be to begin to build a learning environment that works in your favor. If you drive to work everyday, let the only CD’s in your car be of music or books or podcasts in the target language. Surround yourself with the language so that it’s easy for you to get into it.
Finally, I’d say make a plan. A goal without a plan is just wishful thinking. Make a plan to learn the language. Think daily, weekly and monthly.
Aaron, thanks so much for your thoughts and ideas!! This post has been encouraging for me, personally, and I hope it is encouraging to others out there. Again, if you are hoping to start working on learning a language, you have to check out Aaron’s resources at everydaylanguagelearner.com. You won’t be disappointed!