Learning a new language is something we have left to the young-ings. We expect the little ones to pick up our mother tongue, English, Kiswahili and the little sheng words we throw around the house once in a while. They are young, we argue, they can take it.
We often excuse learning a new language because of age, the whole neuro-plasticity decreasing with age argument. Truthfully, it is valid in a sense. According to an article published by the Guardian, learning a new language may not always be easy for adults, but there is research to suggest that doing so is beneficial for brain health. It will look good on your Cv too!
But, this is not an article to convince you to try it, neither is it a testament to the many who have successfully learned new languages. It is simply me, giving tips I have found useful.
- Relax and make mistakes
Sid Effromich speaks 7 languages; he learned 3 of them within a span of 3 years. I only speak two more in addition to English and Swahili so he is obviously more qualified to tell you this. In his Ted talk, he says that perhaps the best thing you can do, second to learning a language you love is to relax.
We are hardwired to do things right. From birth, we are taught what we should do, how we should do it, at what time and so forth and this is excellent. But when it comes to language, the most important thing is probably getting things wrong.
This is important because sounds in new languages often sound wrong because they are not in our database. For example, the English language contains 26 letters, if you are going to learn Kamba, you will need to allow yourself to add another ‘U’ that is pronounced different from the English vowel, as in Mundu (The two ‘u’s read differently).
- Scrap the foreign alphabet
When you are learning a new language, chances are that you will be trying to read the new words through the filter of the languages you already speak. This will not help you to learn better. Instead, and at the risk of sounding like a motivational speaker, open your mind to learning new approaches.
What I mean is, learn the sounds, even if they will often sound strange, like a new child would. Find a tutor who mouths them well and copy him or her. It is better if you can find one to talk with face to face, but if this is not possible, there are many online resources such as YouTube that you can use.
- Associate and practice
The old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is equally as true for learning a new language as it is for other areas in life. But there is more. Since you run the risk of sounding like a crazy person every time you say ‘bonjour’ to a person who knows no French, you can associate terms and situations.
For example, when crossing the road, you can remember the German word for pedestrian crossing – ‘Zebrastreifen’ and effectively embed it in your brain. Carry a notebook in the first days if you must, but by all means, practice.
Learning a new language is no easy feat but it is do-able. It most of all requires consistency. I hope these tips, in-comprehensive as they maybe, will help you better communicate with your new friend or fit in in your new environment or whatever other reason you are learning a foreign language for.