As both a language teacher and a language learner, I have often thought about ways to improve language skills. The first time I studied another language was back in the ’80s. I think I just saw your eyes widen at that thought. Yes, I know…you weren’t born yet! Let’s not think of how old that might make me seem, but rather let’s focus on the vast array of experiences that I have had as a learner, and as a teacher, in the years since. You’ve read articles before that have told you to use this application or that website, but that’s not what I’m going to provide for you. I’m going to lend you my experiences and relate my advice to you based on them.
First, I will provide you with a little background about WHY I became interested in learning a second language. It’s important to know your WHY. Being from Canada people often assume that I must be fluent in French, because aren’t all Canadians fluent in French? Canada is a bilingual country, after all. The answer to that is NO. We say we are a bilingual country, but I think multilingual suits us better. Even I, a Canadian, was surprised to learn how many different languages there are in Canada. Curious? Click here. It is an incredibly long list!! According to this page, there are 22 immigrant mother-tongues in Canada that have 100,000+ speakers. 22!! We are as diverse linguistically as we are with the varied beauty of Canada’s seemingly endless landscapes. And no, not everyone speaks French. My WHY. When I was a young child I remember my great-grandmother sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen. When she spoke, she spoke only in Czech. We didn’t live near her. In fact, it was a 26-hour car ride to visit them in Manitoba. Can you imagine being 6 or 7 years old and your great-grandmother is speaking directly at you in a language you’ve never heard before? Then, your mother and grandmother translate for you? I was a little confused, to say the least! My family spoke another language? Why couldn’t I speak the language? My great-grandmother did her best to keep our culture and our language alive in our family, but sadly our family failed her. You see, it wasn’t “cool” to speak another language when my mother was a child, or to have an accent when you spoke English. My grandmother moved to Canada when she was 5 years old. She was able to speak and pronounce English perfectly as an adult. My mother’s first language was Czech, as that was what they used at home. However, she and her siblings were teased and bullied at school for being the children of immigrants. Nothing will kill a language faster than ignorance and bullying. Giving the gift of language is a beautiful thing. Knowing more than one language opens your heart and mind to so much more of the world. Just think of the people, movies, music, and culture you can enjoy when you know another language. As a child I couldn’t understand what my FAMILY were speaking about in my grandmother’s kitchen. I felt left out, and desperately wished that I could participate in the communication. Actually, they even spoke in Czech when they didn’t want us to understand!! It was their secret language! That’s my WHY. The ability to experience completely, to be able to communicate with others, and enjoy fully all that is connected to another language.
Fast-forward to 6th grade. My elementary school was becoming a bilingual school, English and French. All students were offered the opportunity to study French in a full immersion classroom. “Elana, would you like to –“ “YES!” This brings me to my first point regarding how to learn English (or another foreign language).
1. Immersion: Imagine entering 6th grade, yet not. Yes, scholastically I was entering
the 6th grade. Many of my friends chose not to enter the French program. They picked up where they had left off at the end of 5th grade. I, however, was on a new adventure! I was learning the names for colors, numbers, months, days, weather conditions, greetings… kind of like pre-school, but we were much older. Our teacher used no English with us after the first day of class. We were not allowed to speak in English with our classmates. Sink, or swim. I swam.
I studied in that way for 6 ½ weeks. Then, my family moved to Manitoba. The students there had been studying French for 2 years and 7 weeks, by the time I entered the class. You know what? I was way ahead of them! They had only studied French for 1 period per day for their 2+ years of study, and the teacher used English and French to teach. I even knew some words that the teacher did not. If you can, get yourself into an immersion program taught by someone who is a native English speaker, and who does not allow any other language in the classroom. It was incredibly difficult, but the rewards were incredibly great.
2. Think it: As much as possible, think in the language you are learning. When you are taking a shower, think about everything you do, in English. Riding the subway? The bus? Think about it! Getting dressed? Name the items of clothing as you put them on, and try to describe them. Cooking your meal? In your mind explain to yourself the cooking process. Thinking of your girlfriend or boyfriend? Yes, that’s right.
Think about how much in love you are, in English. The more you use the language the stronger the neural connections will be in your brain. You’ll notice as you think in the language where your strengths and weaknesses are.
3. Don’t just think it, speak it: It’s probably better to do this one at home.
Can you imagine having a conversation with yourself on the subway? It might give you a bit more space, since people will think you are crazy and might try to put some distance between you and them, but I don’t think that’s really what you want. When you are alone speak your thoughts. Go one step further and record yourself. Play back your monologue and listen. What positive points do you notice? What would you improve? What errors did you make? Don’t judge yourself harshly, but listen to yourself objectively. Note the positives and the could-be-betters.
4. One to one: Whether you do a language exchange or you hire a teacher, one to one lessons will greatly help you improve. In person is of course the best, but with technology what it is these days there are numerous venues for online lessons. This year I’ve been studying Czech. During the summer and winter vacations I go to the Czech Republic. I study Czech with my teacher at cafes in Prague. When I return to Korea we use Skype for video lessons. I can feel that my skills improve so much faster when I hire a teacher for one to one lessons. It may take some effort to find a teacher in Korea to help you with your English as most of us here are on E2 visas, and those visas do not allow us to teach anywhere but at our main job. Try asking at some hagwons if they offer one to one lessons, or search the Internet for someone offering lessons online. A language exchange might be easier to arrange, as many foreigners in Korea would like to learn Korean. Do you have any foreign friends? If not, search the Internet for language exchanges. My friend, John, has a Facebook group specifically for Korean and English. Check it out here. He’s expecting you!
5. Multiple methods: Korean students know about studying, there’s no doubt about that. Which methods do you prefer? We are all individuals, and we should celebrate that! Why though, do we limit the ways in which we learn? Have you heard about multiple intelligences? In simple terms, we all have areas that we are stronger in, and weaker in. Are you better at learning by listening? By reading? Using music? Moving your body? You can read about multiple intelligences here. Would you like to know your own strengths and weaknesses? Take the test. I just did it. My highest score was in word smart, nature and myself smart tied for second, third was body smart, and fourth was picture smart. Those were my top four of the eight categories, and I must say that I think it’s quite accurate based on my own knowledge of myself. Do you know who you are?
6. Explore: Explore in your own country or travel to another. Find ways to explore the language outside of a textbook. Again, take a look on the Internet to find what you seek. Is there an area in Korea to experience English/Western food and culture? Of course there are. There are several foreigner areas in Korea. There is an abundance of music, TV shows, movies, and books in English. Why not try reading a novel written for teens? If that is too easy, find a book that was written for a young adult audience. Perhaps you watch a movie with the Korean subtitles on the first time, and after that you re-watch it without them. This could even be an activity you could do with your language exchange partner.
7. Travel and study abroad: The plain truth is that you cannot get a 100% authentic knowledge of a language and its connected culture without visiting the home of it. You just can’t. Would you tell someone in the US to go live in Koreatown (a neighborhood of Los Angeles) for an authentic Korean experience? Of course not! Koreatown is an ethnically diverse area, and that’s not a bad thing. If you want a real Korean experience, guess what? You need to visit Korea. It makes sense, right? If you do travel or study in a foreign country, please do not only stay with/hang out with Korean friends. I’ve heard it so many times. A student goes abroad for anywhere from one month to a year+ but they don’t branch out. Let’s think about it. If you spend a lot of time and money to study in Canada, for example, but everything outside of the classroom is done in Korean, then how different is your learning experience compared to sitting in English class in Korea? Sure, it’s different, but do you really reach the level you thought you would? Probably not. What if you could study abroad in a different way? What about a program that combines adventure with language study? A program that incorporates multiple intelligences? A program that teaches you English by way of teaching you history and culture? Learning both in and outside of the classroom, with professors and tour guides who are focused on the students learning in meaningful, memorable ways? A program in Central Europe taught by native speakers of English, and professors from the top university in the country? A program that offers you an amazing language adventure study tour at a lower cost than other native English speaking countries? Curious? Take a look! There is also a Facebook page. If you like what you see please like us on Facebook ~ and share us with your friends. Prague is a beautiful city. I hope to welcome you there one day!
To sum up, don’t just study a language. EXPERIENCE it. Understand your why. Know how
you learn, and make sure you nurture that in your studies. Have FUN with it. Anything is
easier to learn when you’re having fun with it
Elana Rodgers, B. Kin, MEd, Holistic Health Coach.
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