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Foreign Language Acquisition

A Look into Motivation, Methods, and Strategies of Successfully Learning and Speaking a Foreign Language

In modern society, knowing one or more foreign languages isn't seen by many as something that is quite useful, especially if you live in a country that's majoritatively english-speaking such as the United States or Australia. Sure, speaking a foreign language is a valued quality in the job market and it sounds kind of impressive, but otherwise, why bother wasting all that valuable time memorising endless lists of vocabulary I know I'm gonna forget? Why should I slave over learning something like this when everybody else speaks english anyways? It just seems like an awful lot of work for something that's not going to get me very far in life. Right?

Learning a language, as well as learning in general, are concepts that have become more or less demonised thanks to our modern education systems. When somebody thinks about learning a language, they're immediately taken back to their horrific language classes they were required to take in high school. When you're in a language class of this nature, you are not going to learn the language. What you will learn in a language class is how to pass a language class. Ultimately, you will likely finish the course rather familiar with some basic notions of grammar, a couple hundred words stuffed away in your passive vocabulary, and how to say "Puedo ir al baño?" with a foggy, nearly incomprehensible pronunciation.

People need to realise that learning a language in this manner is definitely not learning a language. These language classes are taught with a backwards curriculum, which only causes stress for who would be otherwise eager learners. Learning a language doesn't have to be this complicated. Il ne faut pas chercher midi a 14h. People need to understand that learning another language is a process that can be stress-free (one could even argue stress-relieving), enriching, and fun overall.

Why Learn Another Language?

When people find out about my passion for other languages, I'm usually asked the same question: Why? People want to know what drives me, and that's fair. I definitely don't do this simply because I thought it was kinda neat. There are many substantial benefits of knowing another language.

On A Professional Scale

I've already mentioned that knowing a second language reduces the competitiveness of the working world, but this is not something to be taken lightly. If I were an employer and presented with two potential workers of the same qualities and one was monolingual and the other spoke two, I would definitely be hiring the one who can connect to more clients. Knowing multiple languages opens up a very wide variety of jobs that would have gone unconsidered otherwise. Working abroad is already a very real option to many, but knowing the host-country's national language can bring you so much farther.

On A Social Level

As someone who has studied abroad, I have many international friends. A grand majority of whom don't speak much english at all, but some of them are people I consider to be some of my closest friends. I never would have bonded with them the way I did without knowing the language. Also, when you learn a language to fluency, it trains you how to think and speak efficiently, as you obviously wouldn't want to say something very wrong, helping you know better (in your native language and in any other you choose to study) exactly what to say in most given scenario, boosting your confidence.

Self Improvement and Understanding

Knowing a foreign language can improve your understanding of your own maternal tongue. It should also be noted that languages have different grammar, and that switching between languages is much more than just swapping out all of the words. The order of the words change, there are colourful, meaningful expressions that exist in your target language that just don't make any sense in your native language. It changes the the way you see things. It gives you another mentality, another point of view. It makes it so much easier to understand complex topics. On top of that, language is intertwined with culture. (I'm not going to get into why that is in this post, so just know that it is) Gaining another language can be extended to the idea of gaining another culture, and opening your mind in a fascinating way.

Modern Myths Surrounding Language Learning

I don't have a good memory, I could never learn so many words. I hardly have a sufficient vocabulary in English.

Hardly anyone is born with a good memory, or even a decent one. But no athlete was ready to race before he started to train. Training yourself to have a better memory is quite an enjoyable process, and I'll get into it later, just keep in mind that with as little as a few minutes of practice a day will make you a memory master in no time. Regardless, there are countless different ways to learn vocabulary. Needless to say, some methods are better than others, but a lot of them don't even require what one would call a "good memory".

I'm so busy, I don't have any time to spend on learning a language. How do you expect me to spend 15-30 minutes that I don't even have?

Over the years I've come to discover that time is very, seldom a good excuse to get out of learning a language. Just about everyone has what I and others like to call "dead time" scattered throughout the day. When we wake up a little early, when we're eating lunch, on the bus, after dinner, and anytime in general we'd otherwise be scrolling around on Instagram. All of this dead time adds up. Of the 15-18 hours we're awake every day, we probable spend around one of those hours, more or less, doing nothing terribly productive.

I was never any good with languages growing up, how’s that gonna change?

The reason you weren’t good with languages is because the only approach you’ve tried was likely in a high school curriculum, and as I said if it’s in this kind of setting, it likely won’t be profitable. So the real reason you think weren’t good at languages is because you didn’t excel in the class, and you’ve probably not truly tried to absorb the language.

Where To Begin?

Now that you’re motivated, and we’ve debunked some of those hindrances keeping you from meeting your true language-learning potential, it’s time to get started. But where do you even start? Naturally, with whatever peaks your interest. Pick a language you want to learn. Make sure that the reason you’ve chosen it is strong, as your motivation will crumble if your reasoning isn’t able to support the cause. For example, say you have family in Greece and they cross the sea every Christmas to visit your home. Your immediate family has all the same traditions, but it’s missing something, some piece of culture that just isn’t as present when all the cousins are laughing away in their native tongue. Perhaps you’d want to learn Greek because of your family ties and to become closer to the culture. This would be a  good motivator (in my personal opinion). Now say, for example, that you want to learn Mandarin Chinese because you saw Brad Pitt order a meal Limitless. If you ask me, I’d say that this isn’t the best reasoning to start learning a foreign language. 

Obviously, every person is different. While I may need something more than simply marvelling actors in hit films speaking in other languages to keep me going, it might be more than enough for someone else. In fact, I know people who’ve learnt languages just because they liked the way it sounded. Bottom line, you’re the voice behind your motivation, determine if it’s strong enough and fall in love with the language. 

Once you’ve chosen a language, you’re going to need goals, and you’re going to need a strategy put into place to achieve these goals. For me, it helps to have large scale and small scale goals, such as “In 6 months I will be able to have conversations on Italian, and in 1 week I will be able to introduce myself and familiarise myself with some common words.” These goals are rather specific, and you can make as many as you want so long as you try and chase every one of them. I recommend you write your goals down somewhere where you’ll see them often.

Strategy

The thing about a strategy is that it varies for each person. As I said, everyone is different, and no one learns in the exact same manner as another. Developing a strategy to conquer your goals is something you’ll need to work on on your own. Here are some things to keep in mind and to get yourself started:

There are four parts of a language that should be practised, and they are speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Now, what seems to work well for me is a combination of (1) Reading and Listening (whether it be shows on Netflix with captions on or music with lyrics on the side) and apps / books / other content dedicated to language learning (I prefer Memrise, Duolingo, LyricsTraining, Mango, etc.)

Listening to the spoken language with a text of exactly what’s being said is probably one of the most efficient ways to habitualise oneself to the language. At the same time, you hear and see the sentences and learn words in context, making them more difficult to forget (unlike long lists of random vocabulary). Listening and reading at simultaneously will also strengthen listening comprehension, as you’ll eventually be able to pick up when one word ends and another begins. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand a lot of it, with time everything’ll start to come together, you just need to be patient. In my opinion, the ideal way to practice this is on YouTube. There exist many channels on the platform known as EasyLanguages. All you need to do is type Easy [Insert Language Here] and see if it’s available on the platform. EasyLanguages is incredibly useful because not only does it include listening and reading in the foriegn language, in includes an English translation of what’s being spoken. This way, you see entire sentences translated at a time, and notice the differences in grammar, and pick up words you weren’t familiar with before.

Naturally, you aren’t going to understand everything at first (you’ll probably actually understand next to nothing at the beginning of the process). This is where I start to employ the apps I mentioned before.

Memrise

Memrise is an application dedicated to learning vocabulary words using a Spaced Repetition System (SRS). In lamen’s terms, it reminds you of recently learned vocabulary right before it’s about to be forgotten, which has proven to be a very accurate way of remembering things. Relearning things you’ve recently forgotten is a great way to remember them. In relearning the information, you’re telling your brain “Hey, this is important. Let’s not forget it this time.” This app exists on smartphones and is also a website. It has both free and paying versions, but don’t worry, the free version is largely sufficient. On the web version, there are many more languages available to learn.

Duolingo

Duolingo is an application that is rather well known in the world today. It’s become a popular way to learn the basics of a language, or brush up in one you haven’t spoken in a while. The platform is completely free, and can be very beneficial if used efficiently. If you’re interesting in maximising what you get from duolingo, I suggest you watch FluentASAP’s related videos on his YouTube channel.

LyricsTraining

LyricsTraining is not a conventional language learning app. It takes more of a “learn with music” approach. It’s helpful if you want to memorise foreign songs, improve your accent and intonation, as well as your ease and comfortability with the language. I usually only choose the “Karaoke” mode, but you can do with it what you wish.

Where To Go From Here?

So now you’ve got what you need to get started. I really encourage that if you want to begin learning a language, you research people on YouTube like Steve Kaufmann, Luca Lampariello, Gabriel Sylva (FluentASAP), and other channels you may find along your path. I hope what you’ve read has motivated you to expand your horizons and begin your life changing journey of acquiring a new language.

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