Learning languages: small advice

I am French and learn English in my teens, together with Spanish as my third language choice. The problem with the French teaching system (if it has not dramatically changed since), which is common to other countries (like Japan), is that grammar and writing are the main emphases of the learning process. It is understandable as practicing communication in a full classroom is difficult and time-consuming. However, my proficiency in English was only achieved after my move to Sweden, where I had to speak English on a daily basis.

This is of course quite logical, but it is also based on scientific evidence: language is a tool to communicate, to have social interactions. Without such, the language is only a collection of vocabulary, with a fancy set of grammatical rules. I would like to cite R. Ellis in his article on the “Principles of instructed language learning”:

If learners do not receive exposure to the target language they cannot acquire it. In
general, the more exposure they receive, the more and the faster they will learn.

So, in addition, to learn about the social and cultural particularities of the group speaking the language one wants to learn, it is also important to hear it.

I started to read my favorite books in English since I already knew the story, this allows me to enjoy reading in another language, and acquiring new vocabulary. It follows by watching, first with subtitles, then without, known movies. I really recommend switching any favorite pass-time to the language you want to learn.

An easy read on language learning in the classroom would be the article from Z. Dornyei, where the willingness to communicate is just the second most important behavior for language learning, the first being the actual use of the language. The motivation is also important, as well as classroom interactions, but the most important is to use the language and to will it, without a clear motivation (and goal), the learning process is painful and slow.

 

maeva
Fig1: My dog Maeva when I told her we were going for a walk.

 

Languages are extremely interesting to study and to define. There are several attempts to communicate and understand the communication between non-human. There is a lot of behavioral studies oriented towards animals (apes, wales…), insects (ants, bees..), and even trees, which communicate in their own way (sound, smell, visual cues). There is a long time dream of speaking to other sentient beings that motivate this research. It is also interesting to note that body language (and facial expressions) are heavily recognized by a wide range of animals, the most evident one being the dog, but experiences with crows, chicks, sheeps and countless others, have shown that they can “read” us, and a form of communication can be achieved . Do not forget to really communicate with your interlocutors: eye contact, gestures and tone of voice can be a good tool to help fill up the gaps in your language skills. Be aware that not all clues will be percieved the same way everywhere, take into consideration what you learn of the local culture and social politeness.

If you are interested in languages, I recommend a Youtube channel called “Langfocus“, which analyses different languages and dialects, exemplifying through everyday life sentences.

 

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