Having lived abroad for three years now in countries that don’t speak English, I know how hard it can be to share your faith without little or no words. When I finally managed a simple testimony and gospel presentation in Russian I lept for joy (yes really).
I haven’t always followed the easiest path to learning a foreign language, but every mistake I’ve made has taught me more about the right way to go. With that in mind I want to share some great tips and tools to help you learn a foreign language, so next time you end up on a short (or long term) mission trip, you don’t have to rely on a translator and you can share the gospel yourself!
Why Most People Hate Learning a Language
The main issues people have with Language learning are
- Memorising vocabulary
- Grammar rules
- Reading a different script
- Finding time to practice
These are big challenges but there are some tricks to help you reduce these barriers. Out of all these, motivation is the biggest barrier. If you’re not motivated, then you won’t put in the effort to learn. Tim Ferris links this with three factors
- Effectiveness (does what you learn help you)
- Adherence (will you be able to keep up this pace of learning)
- Efficiency. (Will you progress and be able to see progress quicky)
Yes these are similar to learning a new skill in 20 hours like Josh Kaufman (surprise), but there are some different applications for language learning (and no I don’t think this list is complete but it’s still good).
- Effective/efficient.: By learning the more common words in a language (and the context you want to use the words in) you can quickly know the core vocab for about 95% of all communications (somewhere around 1000 words depending on the language).
- Adherence: By using topics that you are interested in and do already you can help build learning into your time table. Furthermore by using good tech tools you can get a prompt/notification to do some study.
Generally I agree with Tim’s diagnosis, but I don’t necessarily agree completely with his prescription. Here are his action points. I feel there are a couple of vital extra ingredients that you need if you want to learn a language:
- Practice: Knowing words is one thing but using them is another. The best way to be able to use words is….to use them! You need to find a way to use the language and practice (and that includes getting things wrong).
- Phrases as well as single word: Tim focuses on learning the most common words, it’s not a bad tactic but Phrases are important as well. Phrases sometimes don’t follow traditional grammar rules, or follow very complicated grammar structures but learning them as a phrase means you don’t have to bother learning that unusual grammar idea (at least for now). When you speak, you don’t generally think in single words, you have set blocks of words that you can assemble very quickly.
- Repetition: Repetition is very important for remembering things. Simple test, two Russian words for you. Chashka (cup) and Vilka (fork) repeat the second one in your head 10 times. Let’s see what you remember at the end.
- Multiple contexts: There are two aspects to this, first hearing a word in a different context will help you to remember it and understand it more, the second is that there is a pretty strong theory that there are no direct translation, words as used every so slightly differently. Maybe they’re not used in certain contexts or the are used in extra contexts (or you use different words with them). Seeing a word in multiple context helps you to learn a language.
You WILL Suck
Accept it now, you will say things that are wrong, you will make mistakes, you might accidental use a swear word in church (true story!) It happens, but if you don’t make these mistakes you won’t get it right later. Experimentation is a sign you are figuring out the language and your brain is processing what it is learning. And remember, even native speakers make mistakes when they talk.
Tomorrow, will take a look at some practical ideas for learning a new language.