The Art of Learning Languages
Learning languages has never been so important as now. English is still 'language number one'. Meanwhile, people connected with production and trade first acquire German and French. Recently enormous popularity has been gained by Spanish and Chinese.
How can foreign languages be learnt? Which ones are more difficult to learn? What age is more suitable for beginning to learn languages? Is 'intensive' learning worth doing? We will try to answer these and other questions.
First let us give the general prerequisites for successful language learning:
- the knowledge of basic rules of language learning
1. Motivation is not an easy job. First of all, it should be long-term. The interest for a language should not be lost when the first difficulties come along and free time runs out. Therefore, it is necessary to set clear learning goals.
2. The knowledge of basic rules of language learning
Before learning a language it is necessary to find out about its structure and general rules and decide if it will be 'easy' or 'hard'. When we hear that this language is 'easy', it means that it is not difficult for beginners. But when we are told that the language is 'hard', we realize that the initial stage will be challenging.
No doubt, it depends on the mother tongue. As far as a Russian speaker is concerned, the languages can be crudely classified into five groups:
- the first group includes the languages that are easy for beginners. For a Russian speaker they Ukrainian, Belorussian, Polish, etc, the language of the Slavic group;
- the second group has such relatively easy languages as English, Spanish, Italian;
- the third group includes french and German, quite hard languages for a Russian speaker;
- the fourth group has relatively hard languages, for example, Finnish;
- and, finally, the fifth group includes most difficult languages, for example, Arabic.
It is worth mentioning that the difficulty and easiness of a language are not absolute: one language can be easier in speaking, the other - in reading.
Organization means work, time and material. They are a key to learning a language in speaking and writing. From the very beginning it is worth having your own books - a dictionary, a grammar reference, a coursebook, etc, which will help to organize autonomous learning.
A) 'Internal': innate language
4. A teacher
C) 'internal' + 'external':
1. The ability to organize your work
Innate language abilities
Innate language abilities play an important role but it is not essential when you need to acquire conversational skills.
Students tend to complain that they have a 'bad memory' or 'no language abilities' at all. They are partially right, but it can be easily compensated by well-organized work and a suitable approach.
And, of course, it is not true that language learning is harder when you grow old. No doubt that a grown-up learn things differently in contrast with, say, a schoolchild. Anyway, a grown-up can reach a good level under the same circumstances. The work can even go faster as less physical effort is required, but experience and autonomy are already possessed.
External success factors:
Work. Here we speak about systematic, relatively intensive, everyday work. We would like to say a few words about highly popular intensive courses. They arouse great expectations but the learners are often dissatisfied with the result. They are especially unhappy when they choose an intensive course abroad. They might have seen an advert about 'intensive courses' and believed in miracles: they will become fluent in a couple of weeks, although before they were elementary. No wonder, the expectations are not realized.
In other cases leaners acquired the language basics but they can't use them abroad. As a result, the money spent on 'a language journey' proved to be wasted.
It is worth mentioning that learning a language is one thing and picking it up for a while is a different thing.
A genuine learning is associated with acquiring comprehensive, profound knowledge and fundamental skills. The 'intensive course', which might be quickly forgotten, can be considered too ambitious an enterprise.
Time is one of the most essential factors in language learning. It seems that there is a certain minimum of time necessary for language learning. Depending on a language and abilities, it can take rom one to ten months.
It is obvious that language learning cannot take place without learning materials. Be ready to buy or borrow course books, readers, grammar references, dictionaries, audio-courses and software programmes.
But as you can see, these materials are useless without a qualified teacher. It is absolutely essential in the beginning because the language basics are laid and phonetic and grammatical characteristics are explained. Nowadays there are a lot of self-study books. But they cannot substitute a teacher who will encourage, motivate, correct,etc.
The ability to work autonomously is closely related to self-discipline and, of course, self-esteem. All these qualities help to learn foreign languages. When you have them, you can start 'from scratch' and achieve great results.
The Russian proverb says: 'Do not put off till tomorrow what you can do today'. Start learning a language today.