There is more than one way to express our thoughts in any human language. Some persons may express it with one single word. Others may describe their thoughts in multiple sentences. The goal is to express our feelings to others. When we start learning a new language, assuming that we already speak at least one language, the initial days of learning is hard: a whole new bunch of words and phrases. Learning becomes significantly difficult when the new language has a different script from the languages we already know. But can language learning be made simpler? Do we really need to learn multiple languages? What could be the first phrases to learn? This article explores some of these questions.
They say that there is more than one way to express our thoughts and feelings. If we do not have the words, we express them with gestures; we try some or other means not to mention the drawings to express ourselves. But what if we are limited to words in a language? What if the only option before us is to speak in a given language? And what if we need to express ourselves in multiple human languages, especially languages from different language families1.
Learning a new language is significantly difficult. When we see children learning a new language (or even their first language), we are surprised by their rapid progress. And as adults, we struggle to learn and retain the vocabulary from the new language. We tend to forget after a while the various grammar rules. I often feel confused concerning the right gender for objects and sometimes the right tense in a foreign language. Despite these struggles, I still love language learning.
There is no doubt being bilingual or multilingual or even polyglot has several advantages6,8. Several research studies have shown its positive effect on the brain5. But what is also more important is to be able to preserve our dying tongues7. Several languages are endangered. With the extinction of a few of them, we have also lost our ability to express feelings, thoughts, and ideas in other possible manners than how we usually express them. Hence there are increasingly many efforts to prevent2 the extinction of languages we know today (the remaining languages). Several efforts of online communities, in particular, Wikipedia11,12, are notable in this regard.
Here are some of my approaches to learn a new language. I think some of these methods are also followed by other language learners. The first important question is to know how close is the new language to the language or languages you already know. This will give you an estimate for the effort required. One interesting way is to take a look at the language tree. The language tree can help you visualize the distance between the new language and the languages you already know. Do these languages derive from a common language? Is this common language very high up in the tree? Or is it quite far from the two languages that you are comparing? These are important questions since it will help you decide whether you have to learn a new script, the common characters between the two scripts, their pronunciation, and even the presence of common words.
While learning a new language, most of us approach it using the word by word translation, which in many cases may not work for phrases or complete sentences. It may be useful for learning the translation of certain common nouns but not very useful for phrases or even verb-phrases. This is something that I observed during language learning. Sometimes, the verb-phrase in one language can be translated into multiple verb-phrases. A sentence may use different verb-phrases depending on the subject or the object of your sentence.
Sometimes, a single word for expressing an emotion or describing an object or concept may not exist in the new language. Some languages tend to economize words, whereas others do not. Words may have multiple senses. It may be difficult for language learners to make this shift easily. The language learners may either have to learn new words for every sense or associate every sense (in their initial language) to a single word in the new language.
Another important aspect of language learning is to be clear about the goals from the very beginning. Are you learning a language for written or oral communication or both? Written communication often requires more formal approaches, and one cannot use the ideas expressed in written communication in an oral communication context. It may sound very weird to the listeners of the new language. Also, concerning written communication, it is important to note that punctuation marks are not really universal. Languages use different characters to express the end of a sentence. A language may have more or fewer tenses, aspects, genders compared to your first language.
I have identified some key stages in my language learning. My first step is to learn some new words, especially some basic words for introducing oneself. At the same time, I also try to watch videos in the new language, but with subtitles in any language that I know. This helps at getting acquainted with the words and sometimes, by even identifying the already learned words in a speech. This is a very long process since it requires repetition. Watching videos with subtitles helps in remembering the new vocabulary and in comprehending the different contexts of use.
Is there any learning order for words? The answers depend on the books and learning applications that you use. But if I have none of these at my disposal, I approach learning words related to the five senses, a few common words of life, pronouns, commonly used verbs, adjectives, daily life objects, and places of interest. However, this is also related to the question of the reasons behind your language learning. If you are learning a new language, because you will live in a city that speaks the language, you may have different reasons to learn in contrast to someone interested in learning because of their interest in the movies or books in the new language.
Language learning is difficult for some of us. It may require a lot of reading and practice. However, two approaches may help a lot in language learning. One is to listen to several videos, and the second is to try to write expressing your feelings. Though many learning applications and memory tools with phased learning exist, it's the daily practice that plays a major role in language learning.
- Language family
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