BUT I FAILED HIGH SCHOOL FRENCH!
Learn That Foreign Language Again the Easy Way
By Louise Whiteside
Did you dread hearing the bell ring, indicating it was time for 11th grade French class? And did you sit there, hoping and praying that the teacher wouldn’t call on you to conjugate a verb? Or, worse yet, ask you a question in French that you did not understand. Were you terrified at the thought of being humiliated in front of the whole class?
Well, you’re not alone. Many of us have memories of sitting through agonizing foreign language classes. Unless we had a natural penchant for language mastery, those drills and vocabulary memorization exercises could be painful.
I recall my student teaching days in high school Spanish. Often the students would plead with me, “Why do we have to learn a foreign language? What good will it do us in the future?” Probing my brain for an answer, I would reply, “Well, someday you might want to be a translator.” Or, “Someday you might work for a foreign service organization.” Needless to say, my feeble responses didn’t excite the kids very much, especially since their upcoming exam was frazzling them.
Well, there’s good news about learning a language today. In the first place, it’s wonderful to discover how many fun, useful things you can do with a new language. And secondly, some unique techniques have been developed to make the learning process simpler and more enjoyable.
OK, that sounds good. But can you share any good reasons why I should learn a foreign language?
1. Travel the globe. Or spend a single week in Mexico or French-speaking Canada.
You’ll be astounded at how much easier — and more fun — it is to order a meal or look for a museum, when you can converse in the local language.
2. Challenge your brain. Take a course in Japanese at your local community college.
Learning a new language can help improve your memory and multitasking skills and, according to some studies, can even help stave off dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Volunteer. A local community service organization or hospital with a large Spanish-speaking population would love to have your services, even if you know only a little Spanish.
4. Speak with the new immigrant family in your neighborhood. While you’re learning their native tongue, you can be helping them with their English skills.
What makes it so much easier to learn a foreign language today than it was when I was in high school?
New techniques have been developed that encourage a more natural learning style. As one example, Rosetta Stone (www.rosettastone.com), an interactive language learning software, advertises that it teaches foreign languages by immersion, rather than by translation and memorization drills. Their software is available in more than 30 languages. Another language learning system — known as Pimsleur (pimsleur.com) — advertises a 30-minute-a-day plan that involves listening to authentic native speakers and mimicking and answering questions, in much the same way a child learns a language. Pimsleur lessons may be learned on a computer, iPhone, iPad, or CD, while you are driving, exercising or cleaning the house.
Other tools which will facilitate your language learning:
1. Up-to-date bilingual dictionaries.
2. Internet access to texts, chat lines and tutorials.
3. Books, magazines and newspapers in your language of choice available at your library or via the Internet.
4. Cassettes, CDs and DVDs in your language available at book stores and your local library.
5. Foreign films with subtitles.
6. Speaking your language at restaurants, churches and organization meetings where the language is spoken.
7. Writing to “e-pals” via the Internet and teaching them English while you learn their language).
8. Adult education classes in your public school system or local community colleges.
9. Radio stations in your language of choice.
Whether your goal is to become fluent in your new language, or just to know enough to manage socially or in your travels, you’ll find that today’s learning methods are easier, more natural and more fun than the arduous drills of your high school days.
Louise has taught Spanish at the high school level and English as a second
language to adults and elementary students. She has traveled in Spain, Italy and Mexico.
Merritt, Anne. Why Learn a Foreign Language? Benefits of Bilingualism.
Merritt, Anne. “Foreign Languages: How to Memorize Vocabulary.”
Babelan, The Languages Site
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