Oh-Hello! You’ll have to excuse me. I wasn’t really expecting too many people, but I’m glad you are here. There is nothing like sharing something you are passionate about with other people.
If you just happened to stumble across this page without the recommended reading info from our Inspiration Report about the Pimsleur Language acquisition courses, the initial recommendation is pasted below.
Pimsleur language courses. A+
I’ve had languages and culture as a hobby for quite a few years. I think it has an abysmal practical return on investment, yet I still enjoy it. I don’t know why. I highly recommend Pimsleur’s methodology for those who think it would be cool to speak a foreign language.
I like how it skips the rote memorization of numbers, ABC’s and mind-numbing, awkward grammar rules. Also, I like how it is audio focused. You can use it with your phone app while driving, going to sleep, or whenever it is handy – learning primarily with audio mimics how children and babies learn, preventing heavy accents from letter pronunciation carry-over. For example, a “P” in Finnish is pronounced closer to the English “B” sound. It is an excellent program, BUT you will need more than just this program to enjoy speaking another language.
The idea of learning a language has appealed to a lot of people. Why? At the end of this article, I enumerate some of the benefits people enjoy from learning a language. But trying to explain the real appeal of learning a new one is elusive. Perhaps because it comes from an individual, unique need. Notice I said the idea of learning a language is appealing.
Many people decide it isn’t for them before actually getting started. Others get started, but realize what they are getting into and abort mission. Or they continue to dabble at it for years, not quiting, but not really moving forward either. Some push forward, develop a big vocabulary and knowledge base, but struggle putting it to practical use. Why? What is the missing link? Read on my friend. Along with these easy-peasy lemon squeezy* tips, I share what I see as the missing link preventing practical fluency.
(*OK, Bust me for false advertising. Language acquisition takes mental work, so maybe the word easy is misleading. But with the right method and mindset it is fun and certainly dances with easy!)
Still with me? I’m not busted? ….Good. Then let’s saddle up and get into it!
1) You have to talk. You say: “Well Duh! Ya don’t say! Of course you have to talk.” But yet this obvious admonition needs to be said. Fumbling around to trying to talk with a new language is embarrassing and takes mental work. Most of us shy away from having to think too hard and feeling dumb. You might even get laughed at.
Multiple times I’ve heard how somebody studied a language and eagerly tried to speak it upon arriving at their destination. Imagine asking someone a question in a new language and hearing the reply, “I’m sorry, but I don’t speak English.”
Humiliation has caused many a learner to throw in the towel. Don’t let that be you. That is another thing I like about Pimsleur. You are constantly prompted to talk, even without achieving perfect pronunciation.
2) Don’t try too hard the first year. Rather than trying to master a Pimsleur lesson per day, just do little bits of the lessons without missing days. Focus mostly on “brain bathing.” Try to get at least one hour per day where you hear the sounds of the language. Comprehension is not the goal. So listening to a radio news station or a Podcast are great brain breathing options. My favorite option to get familiar with the language and build memory muscle for future word retention, is listening to children’s songs over and over.
3) Mix your language learning with other routines interest and activities. For example, learning how to say the Lord’s prayer has been a great way to get repetition for me. How about switching the language of your cell phone? It sounds scary but it is not. Your brain adapts quickly when it has to. If you Like running, stamp collecting, fishing, birdwatching etc, begin to conduct conduct some of your hobby be time in the language you are pursuing.
4) From crawling to walking. Let’s suppose you’ve done the “brain bathing” and have learned the 2000 most common words of your chosen language. How can you actually move from knowledge to usable proficiency? The best way is to simply move to the country where your language is spoken. That is effective, but perhaps a bit hardcore for a hobby! The next best
way, is to find a surrogate language “mother” who has the patience and time to help you fumble through miscommunication, confusion and mistakes. Another good option to use is to begin story storytelling. If you’re feeling ambitious you could start with the plot of your favorite novel. Or you could start with a simple fable or children’s story. Summarize the story from different characters perspectives include how the the protagonist might feel, what they see, and what they do. This exercise will help you “Put Rubber to the Road!” Words will become available when you need them after repeatedly doing this exercise. From crawling to walking is the final and most frustrating step to practical fluency.
5) Know when to stop. The message of Fall 2022 issue’s ‘Happiness is’ applies here. Stopping while you still want more will keep it fun. Some words will be tough for you to say- at some point it makes sense to stop trying so hard to get things perfect. It may encouraging to know that things continually improve the further you get. Little children mangle both grammar and pronunciation a lot! In my opinion, forward motion is much preferable to hesitant but flawless speaking.
Adopting this approach, you will not have the frustration of doing tons of research or working to articulate exactly WHAT you want and WHY. A good professional designer can get inside your head and eliminate a ton of decisions for you – this is a beautiful thing with very little waste or frustration when it works. On the other hand, I have seen designers get thrown under the bus simply because people have had too many conflicting desires to overcome indecision and “moving target” syndrome even with the help of competent professionals.
Possible Benefits for You?
There you have my five tips! You may notice that I did not mention joining the military and doing a full time language boot camp… because that turns a hobby into work! But for someone looking to pursue language acquisition is a cool past time, I wish you the best! If you are the sort of person who needs to support your emotional decision, (All decisions are) with logical reason, here are the best excuses I can give you:
Excuse #1) Because it is there. Kind of like climbing a mountain. We all seek out some sort of challenge to feel alive! As much as we dislike doing hard things we somehow need it… as long as we can make it fun and enjoy the process.
Excuse #2) Stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Many studies show improved bank brain function and resilience from mental exercise which comes from learning a language.
Excuse #3) Expand your wisdom and creativity. Both wisdom and creativity come from accumulated knowledge, experiences and awareness. As you learn a language you become aware of cultural differences- which are more to do with how people think than the food they eat or the customs they observe. We think in pictures. The pictures. Languages build pictures slightly different from each other. These nuanced feelings and perceptions have an impact on who you are and how you experience life. You will also get thinking-on-your-feet creativity because of your small vocabulary. (As you get more advanced in your language you will find creative ways to avoid using words you always butcher!) For me, exposure to foreign construction and business models have had a direct transferable influence on my depth of creative thinking. I’m sure many countless invisible impressions from foreign exposure also influence how I think.
Excuse #4) It builds character. When I was just starting Finnish as a 20 year old, my great uncle, a man with an education and a hunger for learning, gave me a pat on the back regarding learning: “It is nice to see you using your head for something other than a hat rack!” Thinking, concentration and perseverance used while learning a language are all attributes of solid character. But those pale in comparison to what could be the biggest character building benefit: You become OK with being wrong, making mistakes, not having the right answers and basically feeling like a fool. This is no small thing. As people we always want to be right and look good to others. Learning to tolerate feelings of embarrassment that come with being wrong also reduce our survival reaction when faced with criticism or judgment in our daily grind. You like me, are probably your own worst enemy. If we can quiet our gut reactions even a little bit, how much better would that make things for us?
Excuse #5) Lastly – actual communication. For us English speakers, the need tocommunicate is poor motivation to learn a foreign language. So many children around the world learn English, starting at a young age, in addition of the global consumption of English-speaking movies and entertainment. BUT, if you can listen to someone express themselves in their native tongue, you get to know them on a deeper level. You also earn their respect and trust. AND, If you plan to spend time visiting a country, you can follow what is happening around you. On my very first trip to Finland, I was always surprised when people started putting on their coats getting ready to leave because I couldn’t follow the gist of what was being said. While most everyone would speak English to me, general conversation was in Finnish. AND, you still run into people who don’t understand a lick of English. In that case, anything you can speak is better than continually smiling at each other. If you’ve been there, you know exactly what I mean! 😆 Lastly, when you are able to successfully cute communicate in another language with other people, open, dopamine centers in your brain light up!
Well, we’ve come to the end of this treasured “Soap Box” topic. At this point you might be thinking, “There’s gotta be a faster, easier way to get dopamine hits!!”
Here is my counter argument: You are absolutely right. That is how hobbies work. One must enjoy the journey. For example, a fisherman spends scads of time reading and learning about fish feeding habits, preferences and temperments. And the investment requirements to pursue a fishing hobby have the potential to swallow every dollar you throw at it without even burping! Not to mention the up-before-the-break-of-dawn fishing excursions and the hours taken off work to “put meat on the table.” Some things arenot meant to add up.
So my final advice is this: Don’t try to justify your hobby. You are free to try learning a language and quit if you don’t like it. Define what good looks like… then cosider lowering your expectations a bit! Nobody is putting a gun to your head. Just make sure to keep it fun!
PS- Reach out to me if you should happen to be interested in Finnish, Swedish, Spanish, or German. (Maybe Chinese in the future… I’m eyeballing Chinese as an enjoyable swan song!) We can can have a jolly good time making fools of ourselves!
PPS- Regarding the list of hobby languages I have above, I need to confess something… I don’t want to risk getting busted for false advertising! My definition of language fluency could be wimpy… I optimize fluency level with the theory of diminishing returns. “Huh, what is that?!”
Let’s suppose you can walk a mile in 16 minutes and decide you want to improve your time. Without too much effort, in a month or so you could be down to an 9-10 minute mile. If you continue running, push yourself and get adequate recovery, a 6-7 minute mile in another 3 months is realistic. Now ask yourself, “How hard would you have to work to get down to a 5 minute mile?” And how about a 4 minute mile? Now one can start talking about strict diets, sleep management and intense training… for perhaps years! Elite runners can train for a year to drop their time from a 4:00 min mile to to 3:55 min mile- and for them those 5 seconds are a monumental accomplishment! So when I apply the theory of diminishing returns to learning a language, I’m quite happy getting the “7 or 8 minute” marker. After that I begin to lose interest as the gains come slower and require more and more effort. As long as I can understand the news, everyday non-technical conversation and people don’t have to think too hard to understand me, I’m quite satisfied with my incorrect grammar and wonky pronunciation.
Yup! That’s right!
I simply lower my expectations to arrive at my definition of fun.