I originally hated the English language. At age 11 I was required to take English lessons and was not happy! I wanted to learn French. I loved the sound of French words and thought it was a more romantic language. But alas, I had to study English until I was 19.
While I passed my English classes, I didn’t enjoy the language. I was just focusing on the grammar and memorization of rules and irregular verbs. Quite boring really, and not the best way to learn a language.
Everything changed when I went to England. All that grammar had never been put into practice. It was there in my brain but I was unable to speak, to understand and communicate. But once in a foreign country, learning English suddenly became vital. I had to communicate to survive.
All of a sudden, I wanted to know this language! I wanted to make friends. The more I learned, the more I loved. I discovered I actually liked learning a foreign language. This love for other languages has grown over the years.
The beauty of learning and knowing a foreign language is that you can communicate with people you otherwise wouldn’t be able to talk to. It is such a great experience because once you know the language, you understand the culture better. There is a strong connection between language and culture. Language is the key that opens the door to the understanding of a culture. Once you understand the culture, you understand the people and are more accepting, more open. In this way you increasingly engage with a world that is new to you. You break down preconceived ideas and open up to a new way of thinking.
Learning a new language changes you as a person. It improves who you are and the way you think. Furthermore, it helps create more connections in the brain. Once you know a second language, it is easier to learn a third language because your brain has been trained. You also realize you don’t know your own language that well because you have been using it without thinking. While learning a second language you are expanding your knowledge of your own mother tongue. The use of two or more languages helps the brain remain active throughout life and slows down the aging process.
As you learn a new language you discover different sayings and funny, interesting phrases that do not make sense when translated into your own tongue, but in their language context are just wonderful. You might find yourself using your second language to explain something that you cannot quite express in your first.
So what do you, or your students, need in order to successfully learn a new language? I would say a desire to learn; an objective, something to aim at. The use of intuition is very important during the learning process, as is putting the language into practice without fear of making mistakes. Mistakes will happen because you are learning, but don’t let them stop you from talking and communicating. The more you understand, the more exciting it gets. The more you make yourself understood, the more confidence you gain. The key is to put the language into practice. In this way it becomes alive and real, fun instead of boring. It becomes useful rather than a burden. Enjoy the whole process with its ups and downs while letting your brain expand to a new level.