By Corey Heller
As we all know, studying a language is different from living a language. There is a very directed and purposeful process that occurs when we study a language.
This makes sense: as adults, we already understand how language works (grammar, declensions, parts of speech) so we now apply those rules to yet another language. We study the pieces bit by bit and then use them to construct new sentences with these individual pieces. However, our children shouldn’t be expected to study our language(s). Talk about boring!
Language living is what we do when we share our language with our children on a daily basis: we surround them with our languages and allow them to absorb these languages over time. We may point out grammar errors now and then but ultimately we are our children’s example for how to use languages in every day life and we share it with them without expecting them to understand the underlying constructs.
This doesn’t mean that our children won’t reach a point where they too will study their languages (e.g. here in the USA we take many years of English classes to learn about our languages – and we still may not understand it), which is in itself a fascinating subject!
Learning a Language as a Family
As most people know, my family and I are learning Spanish as a second language during our Language Challenge 101 adventure. Yes, we are spending a lot of time studying it, not necessarily living it (at least not yet) since it is a brand new language for us. Studying a language is no small task but it can be so much fun to do it as a family. I highly recommend it!
If you are learning a second language as a family, here are some tips that my family would like to pass on from our own experiences:
- Playful. It has been particularly important for my husband and me to just let go of the weight of learning Spanish and instead play with it as much as possible. Our kids have followed our lead and can see that being playful is not only ok, it is the best way to approach it. We act out the language, crawl on the floor to imitate animals, call out colors in the grocery store. It is such a wonderful excuse to spend time together having fun!
- Make Mistakes. Contrary to what comes naturally to us adults, making mistakes in language learning is the best thing that can happen, especially when someone else points them out. The sooner we give ourselves permission to make mistakes (lots and lots of mistakes), the sooner we can move on to the real process of learning a language. Plus, laughing at our own mistakes makes for so much family fun.
- Daily. My family and I have tried to make sure that we are all exposed to some Spanish language every day. We don’t have a set amount of time. If the kids watch one Spanish-language DVD, that is fine. Then we try to use some of the words from the DVD for the rest of the day. It isn’t our ideal but it definitely helps. And if we don’t get to any Spanish for a day or two, we don’t beat ourselves up either!
- Incentive. Rather than approaching Spanish language learning as something we must do, we use it as an incentive. If we can get in a half an hour of Spanish, then we treat ourselves to a popsicle outside in the back yard (which means even more bonding time) or to something else fun that we’d all like to do. It isn’t used as a punishment! It is an incentive and a way to keep ourselves motivated.
- Speaking. Speak the language as much as possible! My family and I do this all the time without caring whether the words are correctly pronounced or not and whether we know exactly what all of them mean. The language is so very lovely and we love to let it roll off the tongue. Often I will put on a podcast of some random dialog while making dinner, folding the clothes or going for a walk and just repeat the words and sentences whether I recognize them or not.
- Be Inefficient! It can be so hard to get out of our “training” which says that we need to be efficient and moving forward in an accountable way. Throw that out the window if it starts to discourage you! This is not school and we have no one to answer to but ourselves and our own family. I feel how hard this has been for my husband and myself during Language Challenge 101. Old habits (and language training) are hard to break!
- Learn From the One Another. One of the best parts about learning a language together with my family has been the give and take between each of us. Each of us has been in a situation of correcting another family member (including my 5 year old). It is fabulous! Not only does this help each of us feel empowered by our language learning, it puts us all on a level playing field where we can truly share in the experience as equals.
- Learning Styles. We definitely each have different ways of learning. The joy of learning a language with my family has been seeing how each of us responds to language differently. Some of us prefer visual input, others audio and some by writing things down. Sometimes having a translation has been beneficial, other times just listening even when we didn’t understand was most enjoyable. My husband realized how much he enjoys writing things on index cards and then taking them with him when he walks to the store! It must be working because his vocabulary is expanding all the time.
- Emotion. Learning a language can be very emotional – in fact, I believe it should be to some degree to really have an impact. There is so much more to the whole experience of learning a language than the language itself. Culture, music, food and more all come along with the language by default and have an impact on us. And we should remember that as it is very personal, this means we need to accept the fact that each of us will experience it differently and on our own terms.
Those are my 9 Tips for Successful Language Learning. Can you add a 10th to this list? Or an 11th, 12th…. and more? Please share!
What are your experiences learning a language? Do you have some additional tips? Do you feel an emotional connection to the language(s) that you have learned? Please share your thoughts!