The Art Of Learning New Languages

I have always been envious of people that have grown up bi-lingual and tri-lingual. Languages are such fascinating things, and it’s amazing to watch people go from speaking English, to effortlessly slipping into another language for someone who needs it, to slipping back into English without missing a beat.

Many other countries introduce students to a secondary language from the time they reach ages four or five, and as a result, these students enter the adult world with some form of fluency in at least one additional language than their native tongue.

Compared to most other Kentuckians I know, I’m one of the lucky ones. My college-prep high school provided me with 6 months of Latin and 2.5 years of basic French. In college, I took one year of Japanese. …that’s it. And it’s a lot more than many others got.

I primarily took Japanese in college because that was when I was at the peak of my “OMG KAWAII DESU NE I LOVE YAOIIIIII” days, and literally all of my friends decided to take Japanese with me so that we could understand anime subs better. I did well in the classes, but I have retained very little Japanese in the span of the past six years.

On the flip side, I have retained a lot of my French skills, despite it being twelve years since I’ve taken my last French class. I was always in love with French, and have created many characters in my prose that have French backgrounds. I even took a French placement test before entering college and earned 3 credit hours towards my degree from my score! That love of French (combined with the fact that it is far more similar to English than Japanese is to English) has likely helped me to retain my reading abilities, although my speaking abilities are almost non-existent.

Driven by a desire to relearn what I’ve lost and advance from there, I have been using the DuoLingo app for the past two months to study French once more. I was surprisingly cynical when I heard about the app. How could using a free app for ten minutes per day possibly help me to learn a language?

Well…it actually has been a great experience.

A lot of what I am doing with the app is centered around learning vocabulary, which I actually enjoy. If I am ever lost in France and can point to an object and form a basic sentence around it, I’ll (hopefully) survive my journey. A lot of the sentence structure comes from the speaking challenges in the app, which are helpful and fun! I have regained a lot of my old abilities in a relatively short period of time, and have started learning new terminology.

As an additional challenge, I have also downloaded the HelloChinese! app and have also started learning Chinese! This app works similarly to DuoLingo, since DuoLingo does not currently have a Chinese selection for their available languages. Why Chinese? I have no idea. It is probably a mix of my morning job (teaching ESL to Chinese students) and my insatiable love of Chinese art and food. But I genuinely love the language so far! Not as much as French. But enough to make me look forward to my nightly 10-minute lesson.

Chinese poses a completely different issue than French, however. They write in Chinese characters. Barring the accent marks (which are easy to pick up on during daily life anyway), the characters used in French are the same ones that I am accustomed to in English. If I don’t know a word in French, I can “sound it out” with French pronunciation and come pretty darn close to the correct term.

That is not possible with Chinese. Luckily, when learning words, the app shows you the English romanticization on the screen. But at least once a lesson, they will show you a Chinese character for a new term you have learned, and you then have to draw it on the screen.

I’m going to be honest. If the app didn’t eventually give up and show me the strokes to draw one-by-one and then let me move onto the next part of the lesson, I’d be screwed.

Right now, I’m more focused on learning to speak Chinese, and then I will begin learning to write it, but dear lord it’s going to be difficult! I’ve met many native Chinese people who speak fluent English but cannot write English. I now realize the likely reason why that is…the writing systems are starkly different!

For now, I look forward to my 20 minutes a day of learning French and Chinese! It’s exciting, and every day I am stronger at both languages!

What languages do you guys speak? Have you had any fun (or not-so-fun) experiences at learning new languages? 🙂