Like many people, my first experience with language learning was forced upon me. It wasn’t a choice I made, or something I wanted to do; it was something I was told I had to do by a school teacher. Learning a new language was in the same category as memorizing multiplication tables. The methods my teachers encouraged me to use were about the same–I was led to memorize vocabulary in much the same way I memorized multiplication tables.
I don’t know about you, but I would guess that as adults, there are far more people interested in learning a language than in memorizing multiplication tables. With all due respect to mathematics, for most people there’s just something more interesting about learning a new language.
That’s why it’s so sad that so many people are forced to study languages, and rarely ever taught how to acquire them.
I’ve done my best to share my own experiences going down the wrong paths, and what I believe to be the right path toward learning a new language. One of the recurring themes I’ve tried to stress is that there is no single “best” way to learn a language. Every human being is different, and what works for one person might not work for another.
At the same time, there are some approaches that are more or less efficient than others, and a few that should generally be avoided, if possible.
Years ago, when I decided I wanted to learn Circassian, I never thought I’d speak it as well as I do today. That doesn’t mean I’m done learning, though. I’d love to speak it better, and as time goes on, I know I will!
But I never dreamed I’d speak it to my wife and parents; I never imagined it would be the first language of my children; I never thought I’d go on to acquire several other languages or become so passionate about languages in general.
At various points, I’ve referred to language learning as a journey. That might sound clichéd, but I can’t think of any better analogy.
When I think of what it takes to learn a new language, I imagine a dock jutting out into the ocean. As the journey continues, that dock becomes a bridge – one built by the language learner – step by step.
At a certain point, we look back and are amazed at how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve built. We feel a mixture of pride and joy. Then we look forward and realize how vast the ocean is, and how much farther we need to go in order to cross that ocean and reach the other side.
There are times when that can feel overwhelming, even to someone like me. But as I’ve said many times, learning a new language is a process, not an event with a terminal point. Maybe this means that my ocean crossing analogy is flawed. But it’s what comes to my mind when I’m learning a new language. And as imperfect as it is, it reminds me that my goal should be to enjoy the journey, not just count the days until the journey is complete.
No matter what language interests you, and no matter which method(s) you choose to employ, I truly hope my words have helped you on your own journey.
Best wishes, good luck, and I hope our paths cross again someday!
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