Remember those flash cards?
People often ask me ‘how did you learn so many languages?” and I say ‘well I studied them’. It sounds glib but what I mean is that I actively tried to learn them. Learning languages can seem hard and tedious, but I have used several tricks to make the process fun and nearly effortless. I’ll tell you about a few.
Think about this- when we are toddlers, we are surrounded by people saying things at us. ‘Oh aren’t you adorable!’– ‘Give Auntie a kiss!’ – ‘Open wide here comes something yummy!’.
Our toddler brain observes the world, hears sounds and watches people’s faces all in a passive, observer way. They are surrounded by faces that contort and lips that move fast and furiously. We know we can do it too and our brains and mouths are dying to understand and produce the same sounds. And suddenly we do! We say ‘NO! stop kissing me Auntie!”
Surround is the key word here. You must surround yourself with the new language you are learning. This passive learning has a big impact on things.
It’s easier than you think and can be fun. If you have kids, involve them because they want to say silly things and scream out new words (it’s their brains). They will help you get comfortable with feeling silly!
First, it is important to note that you must also do some active learning – a book, an online course, a tape etc. You need to learn the words, memorize the verbs and build sentences. This is active learning and it is essential.
Passive learning is where the fun starts! Passive learning (which is what we do when we are toddlers) occurs when we are stimulated with things that surround us. So I suggest the following:
1. Take Post-its and label everything in your world with the foreign word for it. Start in your bedroom and work your way around your house and label everything. Do not use the English word, just write the foreign word on the label – in big letters in a fun color!
2. Start listening to the language passively. Put on a YouTube video and just have it on in the background. You can now listen to foreign radio stations on the Internet – pick the one you want and just put it on. What will happen is magical; I’ll explain.
When you hear a new song on the radio, after hearing it 5 times, you can almost sing it – right? That’s the same idea here. Just put on the language you are learning and have it in the background. Your brain will tune in and out as it wills and you will passively learn sounds and new words.
3. TV News programs – Reporters normally speak directly into the camera. This is key as your brain is secretly registering how they form the words, move their mouth and physically speak the language. Again, you don’t have to do anything actively but look at a news program for a few minutes a day. Your brain will do the rest.
4. Watching movies – I often hear; I watched Sophia Loren in an Italian movie last night and almost understood everything. And guess what, you did! Watching a foreign film or TV program does two things; 1) it attracts your attention and is pleasing to your senses (you relax and are entertained so your brain chills) and 2) it associates actions with words. So if someone is cooking, and they say ‘Now I throw the pasta in the pot” and then do it, this binds the words with the actions, and you learn!
At The Language Chef, we are committed to finding ways make language learning fun and effective. Stay tuned for more!