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A New Year’s Resolution to Learn a New Language
Danny Glover, the famous American actor, once said that his new year’s resolution was to learn French, because everyone he wants to speak with in West Africa speaks French. If you would like your fun new year’s resolution to be to learn a new language, then there are quite a few different ways you can go about it.
Perhaps you’ve been wanting to learn the language of your Grandmother. Perhaps you would benefit from learning an official language or unofficial second language of your country, such as French in Canada or Spanish in USA. Or Greek in Melbourne Australia! Apparently the second largest Greek-speaking city in the world after Athens, in terms of number of people who speak Greek, is Melbourne Australia! Or perhaps you feel like learning something that feels exotic like Japanese or Swahili. One Saturday in November 2004, the national Canadian newspaper the “The Globe and Mail” put its entire front page in Chinese, explaining that with the globalization of jobs, Chinese will probably be a necessary business language of the future.
A fun way to start learning a new language, especially if you’re not a disciplined type of student, is to enrol in a language course. You meet other people in your class who have the same language interest as you which is fun in itself, you’re being taught by a real teacher, and the once a week schedule of the classes means that you are practising your new language regularly and steadily. Local community centers offer these courses. Colleges, private language institutes and continuing education programs at university offer them. You may be lucky enough to have cultural organizations nearby that offer language courses. For instance, a local immigrant organization in my town offers courses in Swahili, a language spoken in many east African countries. Downtown, a cultural organization funded by France called Alliance Française, offers French courses. A nearby Saturday Chinese school offers courses in Mandarin Chinese for both adults and children, and it’s quite encouraging to see Cantonese-speaking adults there having as much trouble pronouncing Mandarin as the non-Chinese adults!
If you can’t get away to a class, then there are lots of language courses you can study at home: books, audio cassettes, video cassettes, DVDs, music, interactive computer software, and online courses on the Internet. Your local library probably has language learning resources that you can borrow, if you don’t want to start off the year with the expense of buying these materials. When studying on your own in this way, try to devote 10 minutes every day to a bit of study or revision, instead of doing 1 hour one day but then not finding the time to look at it again for a couple of months. With 10 minutes of study each day, you probably won’t feel like you are making progress because the progress is so gradual. However, the progress will also be steady, and in 3 months time when you look back on how much you have learned, you’ll probably impress yourself.
To get you started learning your new language in the next 5 minutes, here are some links to free online courses
http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages - On the BBC website, you will find free online courses for French, Spanish, German, Italian, Greek, Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese. And also for Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Irish and English, and links to British Sign Language.
http://www.word2word.com/course.html - The Word2Word website contains links to free language courses all over the Internet. As of January 2005, it has links for 114 languages, from Abenaki, Albanian and Arabic, to Urdu, Vietnamese and Xhosa. In all, there are 288 links to online courses. So whether you want to learn Cree, Croatian or Korean, hopefully you’ll find a free course for the language you want here.
A great way to learn and practise another language is “language immersion” – being surrounded by people who speak that language and you having to get things done in that language environment. A holiday in a foreign country is a very interesting and fun “language immersion” opportunity. People amaze themselves, speaking words in a foreign tongue that they didn’t realize they knew, when they have to function in a foreign language environment. Closer to home, local immigrant community events may be able to provide you with a language immersion environment without the expense of travel.
My Japanese teacher told us that if you understand more than 5% of what is being said in a foreign language, then you are not at the optimum level for learning the maximum amount possible of that foreign language. If you understand more than 5% of what is going on in your class, go up a level he said! If 95% seems gooblety-gook to you, then that’s perfect he said! Take heart. It means you are soaking up as much of that foreign language as is humanly possible!
According to Ellen Bialystok and Kenji Hakuta in the book “In Other Words”, adults are more capable of learning a second language than most people assume. In the book “What’s Going On In There”, Lise Eliot explains how Noam Chomsky discovered in the late 1950s that all of the world’s languages share the same fundamental structure. He called it “Universal Grammar”. The language you already speak and the language you want to learn both have sentences, grammar, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions. You may not be able to label those parts of your speech, but your brain is applying those concepts to your speech every day, and has been doing so ever since you were a baby. Experts believe that our brains have specific language circuits, like a computer has specific circuitry to do certain tasks. If you can communicate in one language (and if you are reading this, then obviously you can!), then you have the necessary brain circuitry to communicate in any language.
Which brings us to the subject of babies, kids and language. My father observed that French children must be very clever. While English-speaking teenagers are struggling with French in high school, apparently French children are fluently speaking French right from toddlerhood! (!!!)
Language courses for children exist in our communities, particularly in communities that have vibrant ethnic members. Fun but academically serious Saturday language classes for children are very popular among immigrant families. They are created so that children can learn the language and culture of the old country that their ancestors came from, and they usually embrace the participation of other children from outside their culture. So if you want your child to get a head start in a foreign language, to reap the IQ benefits of being multilingual, and to share and practise with you while you also learn a foreign language, enrol them in Saturday school for Chinese, Italian, Greek, Croatian or whatever language school you find available for kids.
As with adults, lots of multimedia resources are available for teaching foreign languages to children. The latest craze is language videos for babies! Small children find these videos very entertaining and love to watch them. Some well-known titles include Bilingual Baby and Lyric Language. On the Internet, http://www.kiddiesgames.com offers fun free games for babies and preschoolers to learn Spanish and French.
Have you ever thought of learning Sign Language? American Sign Language (or ASL) is the first language of half a million people in the United States and Canada, and is probably the third most used language in USA. Dr Bill Vicars at the ASL University at http://lifeprint.com/asl101 tells us that many deaf people cherish and enjoy their language and deaf culture so much that given the chance to hear, they’d rather remain deaf so as to remain part of their culture. On that website you can find a free online ASL course and visual dictionary.
The benefits of hearing babies and toddlers learning sign language are very exciting. The research of the past decade has shown that hearing infants that learn sign language learn to speak verbally earlier, have higher IQs, have less tantrums during the terrible twos because they can communicate their needs, and are generally happier! There is now quite a choice of entertaining videos for small children that are very effective at teaching kids signs, such as the Signing Time videos at http://www.signingtime.com and the We Sign videos that you can preview at http://www.production-associates.com/wesign.html. In some areas, it’s possible for children to take signing classes such as those of http://www.kindersigns.com or to join reverse integration kindergarten at deaf organizations or signing playgroups.
Have fun carrying out your new year’s resolution of learning a new language. Find some music in your target language that is in a music style that you enjoy and has the words to the songs. Robert Fisher in the book “Head Start” explains that there is a link between music and remembering language. He reports that the Ancient Greeks would listen to the whole of the Iliad chanted to soft lyre music, and this allowed many people to be able to remember long passages from the Iliad.
Have fun! ¡Diviértase! Amusez-vous bien!
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