Tag Archives: Languages

Language Learning II: The How

Earlier this year, we talked about what language one should study for a career in public policy, as well as why learning a second language is useful.

By this point, those of you who have started another language should be on your way to fluency.  However, it is important to keep the following tips in mind as you continue your bilingual journey.

1) Keep practicing

Second-language acquisition requires a lot of rote repetition.  If you remember back to your elementary school days, you engaged in a lot of sentence construction and vocabulary learning exercises.  Since the process is similar, you’ll have to spend time practicing, find what works for you and be consistent.

2) Try to hear different accents and dialects

Formal language instruction is often used with the standard dialect, which will work well in formal settings, but often fail in more unique ones.  Knowing modern High German is useful in the business climate of Frankfurt, but is not always the best training for understanding farmers in eastern Bavaria.

Test your listening as often as possible, this could be through listening to online podcasts (usually the national radio station of that country will have language podcast) or streaming other entertainment.

3) Practice Speaking

Without speaking practice it is difficult to achieve fluency in a language.  So, try your best to find places where you can speak with other people at different levels of language knowledge.  In Maxwell, you can find the Moynihan Institute’s Language Tables, or search out other students who are native speakers of a language.  Also see if there are local cultural authorities (such as the Turkish Cultural Center) that may hold events where the language is spoken.

4) Read children’s books

One of the best ways to develop reading fluency is to, well, read.  However, if you’re studying French, don’t immediately reach for Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu.” That approach may simply frustrate and discourage.  Instead, begin with “Babar Le Petit Elefant” and move through “Astérix le Gaulois” before reaching for the harder material.

Despite this:

5) Challenge your technical understanding

If you want to use your language professionally, you need to understand the way in which field-specific terms are expressed.

If you are working on analyzing the construction of refugee camps in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, it would be useful to know the terms for water-borne pathogen. So make sure that while you are developing basic fluency that you are also learning vocabulary that will be beneficial to your career.

6) Don’t be Afraid

One of the major challenges in learning a foreign language is being worried about making mistakes.  Don’t worry, you will, so become comfortable with being misunderstood or embarrassed, the more mistakes you make initially, the more proper improvement you will see.