A way to keep the brain going: learning a foreign language (or five!)
The subject of languages came up in the comments section of my last post, when Floodmouse asked about my fluency in both English and Italian.
And I thought that for a blog that has the Silk Road as one of its themes, together with exotic adventure and history, then languages should be an interesting and pertinent topic. And languages have always been an interest of mine – and I learned a few, and I might have some dubious wisdom to share.
And talking of dubious wisdom…
I can’t remember in which of the Flashman novels1, Flash Harry gives some good-natured suggestion to young men abroad in need of learning the local lingo in a haste.
Flashman’s suggestion boils down to shacking up with a local prostitute for the time needed, and do some conversation between… ehm, sessions.
Now I never tried that one, but I do have a few languages in my CV, and I am absolutely certain that knowing a different language (or three) is an essential life skill.
It helps us communicate with others, of course, and it provides us with the opportunity of seeing the world through other people’s eyes – by reading their books and newspapers, by listening to their songs and their radio news, by talking to them.
Practicing a foreign language is also an excellent method to keep the dust off our brain.
And it can be quite fun, if done with the proper attitude.
And indeed, the web provides a lot of opportunities for learning another language, and practicing it. Because practice is the important thing.
The practice I had speaking English while I lived in the UK is certainly what made the difference for me – together with the practice I had reading genre books.
Spanish for me was acquired and exercised through my cousins in Argentina, and then historietas (that is, comic books) and finally some wonderful pulp adventure books the Spanish have produced in recent years.
For my rusty but serviceable French, I hold roleplaying games responsible – I fell in love with the French edition of The Call of Cthulhu, and read it from cover to cover. It was quite a workout. Then I found out a wonder called Raiders of Adventure, and it was a second serving of game-based French.
So, reading what we like in a language we don’t know is certainly a good start – probably not as fun as the Flashman method, but probably quite cheaper, and the sort of practice one can do on a crowded bus without problems.
The only trick is forget about the vocabulary: the vocabulary is a crutch that will slow you down and hinder you. Dive in straight away. The start will be harder, yes, and scary, but your learning curve will be much faster.
Then, certainly, radio.
A while back I posted a link to a wonderful website called Radio Garden, through which you can access in streaming a lot of radio stations all over the world.
Good training, that.
Courseboks – there’s a lot of those out there.
I always liked the classic Teach Yourself books by Hodder and Stauton – I have here an excellent handbook for Latin (I studied it in high school and can still translate it, but can’t speak it or write it) and from old Teach Yourself, back when I was in high school, I acquired my first smattering of Japanese and my five words of Romanian2.
I’ll have to go back to Romanian one of these days, and as for Japanese, I swear by Naoomi Kuratani’s Action Japanese – that, and a lot of anime.
And once there was a magazine calledMangajin that was an absolute wonder for Japanese learners.
My, I feel old.
And then there’s online courses and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) – I usually go to Futurelearn for MOOCs (because I like the way their courses are organized and presented) but you van find a huge selection of courses and language-learning podcasts and websites on OpenCulture.
Youtube is another excellent place to find old movies and TV series in foreign languages.
And the BBC!
Let’s not forget the Beeb and its fun BBC Languages page! Where you can get a smattering of something like 40 languages. For free. Now this is class.
And finally, I must admit I am quite curious at Duolingo, but I haven’t tried it yet.
But considering they plan to offer soon a course in Klingon, they seem to be my kind of people.
What is still missing at this point, probably, is practice in speaking and writing the languages we learn – but given the presence of the web, it should not be hard to find people to talk to (maybe on Skype, or Google Hangouts) and people willing to get in touch with us through email, for a reciprocal exchange of language practice.
Or we could even look for old. traditional, pen & paper pen pals. Checking out a website like My Language Exchange, for instance, to find study partners.
And what else?
Is there some resource I forgot about or I don’t know?
Some other tool or trick or method we should all know but I don’t?
What other languages do you speak and how did you learn them?
The comments are open.
Then we might compile a collection of resources as a future reference, and maybe start something fun here on Karavansara. Speak your mind, ladies and gentlemen!