Summer is in full swing, and with the new season comes renewed energy and enthusiasm to tackle projects, accomplish goals and start new things. Summer can be the perfect time travel, dive into a new daily routine, take a summer class or participate in a workshop. With that said, summer can be the perfect time to start learning a new language.
Language learning was a challenge for me for many years. I would study, take classes, listen to tapes or watch videos and I wouldn’t see improvement. In college, however, I decided to start learning American Sign Language. This time I had motivation, some prior exposure and a myriad of reasons to learn. It was then that I began learning ASL within its cultural context, in a full immersion environment, from a fluent and native professor. This environment changed the way that I viewed language learning and ultimately changed the course of my educational pursuits and lead me to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in American Sign Language.
Through my experience with learning ASL I learned that there are five very helpful keys to language learning that I want to apply to the next language I approach.
1. Start Where You Are
Many of us desire to take on language learning, but have no idea where to start. We may feel like we don’t have the time it takes to commit to learning a language, and so we give up altogether. Learning a new language may seem overwhelming at first, but it is an enriching and wonderful process that is much more approachable if you view it as a life-long journey. There are so many ways to start. Maybe you are in college, and need to take a second language class. Or maybe you have a long commute and could carpool with a friend who is a fluent user of another language and practice with them. Maybe you have an opportunity to travel in a full immersion environment this summer. Or maybe you have a co-worker who is fluent in another language that you could commit to learning with at work. All of these are great places to start.
2. Commitment to Self and Others
Once you know what language you want to learn, the first step is to make the commitment to yourself to start learning. Recognize how important this language is to you and why you are motivated to learn it. Do you have a family member you want to communicate with? Are you planning to travel abroad? Do you desire to communicate with your customers in the language that is accessible to them? After you know why this language is important to you, then understand that you are committing to others by learning this language and realize that you are participating in a vibrant community of language users. Making a commitment to yourself and others will help you stay the course and will give you intrinsic motivation to learn long term.
3. Full Immersion Within Community
Recognize that the best way to learn a language is through full immersion. Learning a language can start in the classroom, but even then it is best to learn from native and fluent users of the language. Immerse yourself in spaces where the language you are trying to learn is being fluently used in a variety of settings. Attend community events, go to performances, attend parties and travel to places where the language is being used in all spheres. Allow yourself to be open to feedback when fluent users offer valued perspectives. Allow community to be a place where you can incorporate your interests and values in the learning process.
4. Learn Language Within Its Cultural Context
Language and culture are intertwined and inseparable. Learning language in its cultural context is the key to picking up on a wide range of discourse. When you are learning a new language, allow yourself to be a student and observer of the culture the language is born out of and used in. Study up on the etiquette and manners of the community you are learning from. Be open to new experiences and position yourself to embrace different ways of seeing the world. Remember that there is a difference between observing or participating and appropriating or claiming a culture.
5. Continued Use
Language learning is a life-long process and requires continued use, cultural participation and constructive feedback. There is always more to learn, more vocabulary to add to your lexicon, and more ways to convey meaning. Language is always evolving with new words being added to our word bank as society changes over time. Yes people will reach a point of conversational fluency in a language, but even then there are always new things to learn. Don’t be disappointed when you don’t understand something. Instead, view new conversations as a learning experience. Increase your literacy every day by looking for opportunities to use language.
Use these five language learning tips to guide you on your language learning journey, whether the language has been on your bucket list or it is something you are newly interested in. You never know what you can accomplish until you try