Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Learning A New Language

I am not talking about Pig Latin here. Learning a new language can be a wonderful way to sharpen the old mental processes. In fact, studies show that people who continue to learn well into old age and who are in a constant state of challenging their minds live with their mental faculties intact for a longer period of time. So if you are looking for something that will fill your desire to learn and will be a great way to spend your time, try learning a new language.

The first step, of course, is to decide what language you would like to learn. Although you can begin anywhere, you may want to think about what you are looking for in a new language. If you speak English and want to keep something with similar grammatical and syntactical structures, try another Germanic language. (German is the obvious choice here.) If you are looking for something a little more challenging, go with a Romance language, such as French, Spanish, or Italian. The beauty of these languages is that they are so similar that once you learn one, you really can pick up the others fairly easily. When you are ready for a major challenge, go with a non-Western language. You could try Russian, Arabic, or Chinese. These languages all have value in the marketplace (in case you ever want to use your language skills at your job), and they are attached to vibrant cultures.

Once you have decided on the language you want to pursue, you should begin by getting some books. Think about how you learn best before you start shopping. Some people, like me, learn by movement. I need to write to be able to learn. If I write out the months of the year in another language, I will learn them very quickly. Other people, like my husband, learn by hearing. He needs to listen to a tape to know how the language sounds. You should think about how you learned best in school so that you can decide what materials you should need.

When you are first learning the language, it helps to take it slowly. Do not expect that you will be able to learn too much in the first few weeks of instruction. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the alphabet of the language and the pronunciation. Practice saying the letters aloud and work using the pronunciation guide as you are getting started.

Next you will work on basic phrases. Think about what you say when you meet someone. You want to know the name of the person. You may ask where he or she is from or how the day is going. You also may want to know basic information, such as where something is located (such as the restrooms) or the time. Those sentences and phrases will be the first that you will learn. Do not worry at this point about understanding what all of the words mean; just get these few sentences down.

Knowing the basics of a language will help you feel comfortable when you need to speak to someone. If you begin to pick up on the language around you, as probably is possible with Spanish in most areas of the United States, you will feel more confident if you get the first couple of sentences of a conversation, even if they are simply phrases of pleasantry.

Next you will begin working on the other lists of words. The books or tapes you got will have a certain order, but you can shop around. My personal preference, after learning one language fluently and working on another, is to start with basics, such as days of the week, weather words, and months of the year. You typically will express these words with set phrases, so you can learn the phrases. Then you will be able to share the weather of the day or the month and day of the week without trouble.

Then you can learn subjects and about the basic verbs: to be, to have, and to do. You can begin to put together small sentences once you have these verbs down. Learning a language takes time, but it is fun. This useful hobby will serve you well your entire life.

By Julia Mercer

1 comment:

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