Bookstore shelves run thick with language learning advice.
Make no mistake, a language cannot be contained within the covers of a book or the confines of digital media. It is a living, breathing, para-ecosystem that rides and thrives in the hearts and minds of its speakers. So before you dive into that jungle, you’d better prepare yourself.
From flappy yellow jackets whose covers caw at you, outright accusing you of being a ‘Dummy’, to austere red and ivory towers with titles like, ‘Petrov’s Explications of the Nuances and Cognizant Factors of Russian grammar: Book The First’, the options are endless.
Which can be great, or just leave you feeling confused as to who to give your money to. Probably the cashier’s a good place to start.
Figuring out where to start while staring down several walls of options can feel like trying to solve a rubik’s cube while balancing on a table that’s skate boarding down a hill. And you’re on fire.
Eventually, physics will run its course and you’ll fall on your ass.
Which can mean over spending on all the wrong methods or walking away empty handed and with a bruised backside.
I’m hoping this article will save you some time, some money and some bruises.
The first step is the most important and like all important things it deserves at least thirty seconds to a minute before you get bored and eat a Cheeto.
Start with the question:
Why do you want to learn this language?
Be as honest as you can, (although you should always be honest anyway, right? I mean…Why would we lie to ourselves?)
Write it down or say it out loud, let whatever comes up flow.
Some examples: I want to date a tall Norwegian girl. I want to couch surf through Southern France. I want to order my Chinese food in Chinese. I want people to see me reading Harry Potter in Italian on the subway during my rush hour commute.
Once you’ve got your reason, you’re halfway there.
Next you need to set your reason up as your goal.
So take your reason and make it as specific as possible. Don’t worry about this too much. Follow what feels right to you in the moment.
This doesn’t need to be an end game goal, and it can be modified as you get closer to it, but you need to start somewhere.
Basically, whatever your reason is you need to focus on being able to do this from the start.
Sounds a little paradoxical, I know.
It’s like saying, well if you want to learn to read, the way to do that is to read. Which is solid advice.
So how do you do this when you’ve got something huge?
Say for example, you want to give a 10 minute presentation about Dante’s l’inferno in Italian.
Start by breaking this goal down into manageable bits.
If it were me, I’d attack it this way:
First, I’d read Dante in a language I could understand.
While going through it the first time, I’d make a list of all the words and themes that I thought were most interesting.
Then, I’d go write my ten minute speech in a language I was fluent in.
Next I’d sit down and look at the kind of language I used in my speech.
How did I open the presentation? With a joke? With a fact? Did I introduce myself? From there I’d start translating, with the help of an Italian tutor/friend and the internet.
Another approach, say if I really wanted to focus on actually reading Dante’s l’inferno first and the speech part second, I’d start by going through the meat of my speech and that list of words and themes that I kept while I was reading. Those would be the things to focus on.
This is all a very rough draft example, but hopefully you get where I’m going and how I’m going there.
The point here is, life is short and there is A LOT of it. There are so many things. So many languages. Why waste time learning how to say toothpaste in French, when you know damn well you’re not going talk to your toothpaste anyway?
So, setting your goal, is the first step in learning a language.
Now what about all those flapping bright colored books and prestigious methods?
The short answer is that my top five picks are:
Glossika, FLR Method, Pimsleur, Duolingo, Assimil.
If you want a more detailed review of why I recommend them as well as pros, cons, price points, and for whom I think they would be the best fit, then you’ll have to wait for next week’s article.
The take-away here is that before you start aimlessly wandering through the jungle that is a new language, you can bump the odds in your favor by setting a destination and taking a map.
Once you get to your first destination, you might set another, and another, and so on, until you suddenly realize that you’re pretty good at navigating that the jungle.
Happy beginnings to you in your new language quest!