By Louise Whiteside

              Have you ever doubted you could master a foreign language?  Do you have painful memories of arduous drills and verb conjugations in high school French or Spanish classes?  Well, there’s good news:  Today’s language-learning techniques are easier, more natural and more fun than those you suffered through in 10th grade.  Better yet, they’re more effective.

Why Learn a foreign language?   Here are just a few reasons:

  • Travel  You may      have dreams of exploring the globe, or simply spending 10 days in Mexico      or French-speaking Canada.  You will      be more at ease and have more  fun ordering a meal, reserving a room or finding your way to local points of interest when you’re able to converse in the local language.
  • Enrichment  You’re      not planning to leave the country any time soon.  But you’ve already taken all of the      great books and basket weaving courses your adult learning center offers.      Stretch a little: Learn to speak Japanese!
  • Work or  Volunteer Service  You’d like to work or volunteer at a      local community service organization, but 70 percent of the clients are      Spanish-speaking.  Imagine the smile      on the interviewer’s face when you boast that you’re fluent (or even have some facility) in Spanish.
  • Social Situations  How nice to be able to converse with that new immigrant family in your community, perhaps helping them with their      English skills while learning their native tongue.

How fluent do you need to be? That depends very much on how you’re planning to use the language.  If you’re planning a short trip abroad (say a week or two), you may need only a guidebook with essential vocabulary, phrases and proper pronunciation, to help you navigate through the country or countries you’re visiting.  Such books are also helpful in giving you intercultural tips. For example, you should know that in Spain, restaurants do not start serving dinner until 9 p.m. and that stores close between 2 and 5 p.m. for lunch and siesta.

On the other hand, if you plan to use your new language for employment or volunteer work, you may need to learn more conversational skills, grammar and the particular jargon of the work environment.

If you’re planning to live or stay at length in a foreign country, your skill requirements will be more intense.  A total immersion program, such as those offered to government and corporate officials working overseas may be helpful.

Here are some tools you may find useful in learning your new language:

1.  Bilingual dictionaries, making sure they are up to date.

2.  Internet, which offers free access to texts, chat lines and tutorials.

3.  Books, magazines and newspapers that are available at your local library or via the Internet. Many mainstream American magazines publish in foreign languages.

4.  Cassettes, CDs and DVDs available at most bookstores sell “teach yourself” tapes and video courses for foreign languages.  Check your library as well.

5.  Watch foreign films, making sure they are subtitled and not dubbed into English.

6.  Speak the language as much as possible at restaurants, churches and charitable organizations where the language is spoken.

7.  Write in the language to “e-pals” in the language of your choice via the Internet.  There are folks out there who will be happy to chat with you online in any language.

8.  Take adult education classes at your local community college. Tuition is usually reasonable, and most classes are offered during the day or evening.

9.  Listen to a radio station in your language of choice. Some stations may be available via the Internet.

10. Invite an exchange student into your home.  Contact the International Rotary Club at www.rotary.com or the American Field Service at www.afs.org which help place foreign students with host families.

Finally, you may wish to explore Rosetta Stone (www.rosettastone.com), an interactive language-learning software.  Rosetta Stone advertises that it teaches foreign languages by immersion, rather than by translation and memorization drills.  The software is available in more than 30 languages.

 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 and Mexico.   She can be reached at [email protected]



Esposito, Roberto H.  Latin American Spanish Phrasebook, 5th Ed.  Victoria, Australia:

Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd., 2008

Ehrlich, Eugene.  Les Bons Mots: How to Amaze Tout le Monde with Everyday French.

New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1997

Hawson, Steven.  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Intermediate Spanish, Second Ed.

New York: The Penguin Group, 2007

Rafols, Josep.  Barron’s Traveler’s Language Guide: Spanish.  Stuttgart, Germany:

Ernst Klett Sprachen GmbH, 2003





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