Adults can learn languages, too!
August 12, 2009
¿Esta Susana en casa? Si, esta en la cocina.
Does this dialogue sound familiar? Many of us learned such exchanges years ago in our first high school Spanish class. That was when language students memorized dialogues, studied grammatical rules and drilled to learn new vocabulary. Not only was this approach boring, but it was ineffective in achieving the real goal of learning a foreign language – to be able to communicate with native speakers.
If you have tried to learn a language and failed, you are not alone. If you still wish you could learn a foreign language, take heart. Times have changed. You can learn a foreign language, too. Here are a few important points to keep in mind.
First, it’s a myth that children have the best shot at becoming fluent. My experience shows that adults learn languages more quickly in a classroom environment because they possess a deeper knowledge of their first language, greater interest in the world around them and greater motivation to learn.
Second, recent research in foreign-language acquisition has improved teaching methodologies. The days of endless drilling and dialogue memorization are gone, as are the days of studying grammar as an end in itself.
In most language classes today, students work in groups using their new language to communicate in real-world situations. Also, they develop the ability to understand both spoken and written language, research the cultures where the language is spoken and learn the strategies necessary to become lifelong language learners. Learning a language is a lifelong process requiring dedication and an understanding of the techniques you can use to continue learning, not the quick fix that some commercial language schools or computer programs promise.
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If you are considering taking another stab at learning a language, keep in mind a few important strategies to be a successful learner:
• Don’t be a perfectionist; mistakes are necessary for learning. Remember the goal is not grammatical perfection, it is communication with others. Be brave, speak up and get your message out there the best way you can.
• Get comfortable with ambiguity. There isn’t always a one-to-one correspondence between words and expressions in different languages. Try to understand the context in which you hear the new expression and then start using it.
• Put your dictionary aside. You can’t stop each time you hear or see a word you don’t understand. Instead, make an educated guess using knowledge of your first language to guess the meaning in context. Take note of phrases and words you don’t understand. You can use your dictionary or ask someone later.
• Take every opportunity to hear and read the language you are studying and to learn about the cultures associated with it. The availability of movies, radio, television shows, newspapers and the Internet in every language imaginable provides us with endless possibilities to further our foreign language skills.
Dr. Sara Smith is associate professor of Spanish at Colorado Mountain College. Conversational and transfer-level language courses start soon at CMC.
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