Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Misconceptions on Learning a Foreign Language

Many Indonesians feel that they have no "talent" for language or that they are too "old" to learn English well now.

I believe that you are never too old to learn a foreign language. In fact Adult learners posses many resources in learning a foreign language that younger learners don't.

Examples are:

 1. The ability to read

 2. More world experience (i.e. greater context for contextual learning)

 3. Understanding of tactics (very young learners don't use tactics so much but "go with the flow")

 4. Wider vocabulary in mother tongue usually means many similar words in target language

 5. Ability to independently search out language partners And many more.

 The following is an excerpt of an article written on the subject by Steve Kaufman on some common misconceptions people have about learning another language:

 1. Language learning is difficult

 It is only difficult to learn a language if you don’t want to. Learning a language takes time, but is not difficult. You mostly need to listen and read. Believe me, it is that simple. I have done it many times. Soon you feel the satisfaction of understanding another language. Before you know it you start speaking. It is the way languages are usually taught that makes language learning hard to like.

 2. You have to have a gift for learning languages

 No you don’t. Anyone who wants to, can learn. In Sweden and Holland most people speak more than one language. They can’t just all be gifted at languages. Foreign athletes in North America usually learn to speak English faster than people in more formal learning environments. In language learning it is attitude, not aptitude, that determines success.

 3. You have to live where the language is spoken

 Some immigrants to North America never learn to speak more than halting English. Yet we meet people in other countries who speak flawless English. In 1968, I learned to speak Mandarin fluently while living in Hong Kong, where few people spoke it. With the Internet, language content is available to anyone with a computer, and you can download it to your iPod and listen. Where you live is not an obstacle.

 4. Only children can learn to speak another language well

 Recent brain research has demonstrated that our brains remain plastic well into old age. Adults who lose their eyesight have to learn a new language, braille, for example. Adults have a wide vocabulary in their own language and are better language learners than children. I have learned 4 languages since the age of 55. Adults only need the child’s willingness to experiment and desire to communicate, without the fear of ridicule.

 5. To learn a language you need formal classroom instruction

 This is the crux of the problem. Classrooms may be economical to run and a great place to meet others. They have the weight of history and tradition behind them. Unfortunately, a classroom is an inefficient place to learn a language. The more students in the class, the more inefficient it is. Languages cannot be taught, they can only be learned. Theoretical grammatical explanations are hard to understand, hard to remember, and even harder to use. Drills and exercises are annoying to most people. A majority of school kids graduate unable to communicate in languages that they study for 10 or more years.

 6. You need to speak in order to learn (and I have nobody to speak to)

 Speaking the language is usually the goal of language learning, but speaking can wait. Once you have acquired the language, you will find the opportunity to speak. When you are learning the language it is more important to listen. Trying to just pick up a few “handy” phrases to say is likely to just get you into trouble. If you meet a native speaker, you will inevitably spend most of your time listening unless you already know the language. You do not need to speak in order to learn, you need to learn in order to speak.

 7. I would love to learn but I don’t have the time

 How about the time you spend waiting in line, commuting, doing things around the house, going for a walk? Why not use that time to listen to a language on your iPod? Once you get started, even 10 or 15 minutes a day will soon grow to 30 minutes a day, or one hour. If you believe you will achieve significant results, and if you enjoy doing it, as I do, you will find the time.

 Please stay tuned for more tips and motivation to achieve your language learning goals.

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