by Beverly Stewart, M.Ed.
It’s a popular item on many a Bucket List: Learn a new language. Whether you’d like to brush up on your French for a vacation to the Loire Valley, need to communicate more effectively with non-native speakers at work, or simply want to try something new just for you, learning a foreign language can be an exciting undertaking.
First, if you haven’t conjugated a verb since the 11th grade, don’t panic! One common fear? If you’ve never learned a foreign language as a child, it’s too late. In fact, children younger than age seven do have brains which rewire themselves more easily, making learning a language easier. In adults, however, motivation is a key factor to learning a new language successfully.
According to Lisa Davidson, an associate professor of linguistics at New York University, “The more time that you spend during the day speaking your second language, the better at it you’re going to be.”
To start, you need to decide which language you’d like to learn. Sometimes this decision is easy (you need to be able to converse more easily with a German business associate, for example). But sometimes, the decision is not quite so clear-cut.
In the United States, Spanish is a useful choice and growing in popularity. Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language worldwide. And the Romance Languages like French and Italian are especially useful for the European traveler. There are approximately 6,800 distinct languages in the modern world!
Then, you need to determine how and where to begin your studies. For in-home learning, a program like Rosetta Stone® is a popular option. Benefits include the ability to learn at your own pace, as well as the ability to learn on your phone or tablet. The downside, of course, is that there is no one to answer your questions or work with you through increasingly challenging assignments.
For some, night classes taught at a local high school are an easy way to dip a toe into the water. Classes have the advantage of offering personal interaction (as opposed to an unforgiving computer program) and students may learn more nuances, plus the unique culture of the country studied. Of course, if you were one of those students who dreaded being called on (and you know who you are!), this may not be the best option.
Bringing together the best of both worlds is 1-on-1 language tutoring. The 1:1 student to teacher ratio enables language students to learn at their own individual pace. Plus, tutors can determine each student’s learning style (hands-on, verbal, auditory, etc.) and teach accordingly. 1:1 interaction can also be far less intimidating or worrisome for the student who has been out of the traditional classroom for many years.
The most important thing to remember is to relax and enjoy the process! In a recent interview Lynn McBride, the author of “How to Learn a New Language with a Used Brain,” explained it best, “It’s really more fun when you take it on as an adult, there’s no pressure to perform, just the challenge of learning, the fun of playing with words, and all the new places a new language can take you!”
This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of the Hockessin Community News.
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