THE Secret to Learn Another Language
Updated: Jan 2
(and has nothing to do with memorising thousands words)
The other day I was reading an article on BBC News that said “many scientists believe that knowledge of another language can boost your brainpower.” I thought this was great but, how come aren’t we all trying to learn a new language? Then I remembered that acquiring another language can be hard and take a looooong time. Studying, practising, repeating…this could be “too much effort” when we could just be watching that series on Netflix everyone is talking about!
The common perception is that we need to memorise thousands of words we haven’t seen before and pray we will be able to remember them forever. However, according to Stuart Webb, professor of applied linguistics at the University of Western Ontario “When people have been studying a language in a traditional setting — say French in Britain or English in Japan — often struggle to learn more than 2,000 to 3,000 words, even after years of study!” In fact, “a study in Taiwan showed that after nine years of learning a foreign language half of the students failed to learn the most frequently-used 1,000 words.”
Apparently, what is important when learning new words, is the “frequency with which the words you learn appear in day-to-day use in the language you’re learning. That is the key to the learning process.” So then I wondered, why does the traditional teaching approach focus on memorising things we cannot even use in a real conversation? Something like “the elephant ate my apple” is as helpful as chasing rainbows. Is it because it is cheaper to produce general content in books that potential students around the world can understand?
I am convinced as professor Webb, that the key to learning a new language is through something we can use day-to-day. Something interesting for us enough to talk about it. I mean, if you are passionate about dogs, you can learn another language while reading about dogs, breeds, how to take care of your pet, videos to train dogs, etc. You will be so happy learning and then sharing your knowledge; you will start practising no matter how many mistakes you can count in a phrase!
My Path Learning English
I had been studying English in Colombia, first at school and then at uni. However, when I decided in 2009 to enrol in a Masters in Translation at the University of Westminster in London, the first thing I was told was that I needed to take a (proper) English course before joining the Master.
“Aw, really? I have been studying for 10 years!” I mumbled.
I finished that course, the masters, started working with translation projects on an agency only to see that my conversational level was not improving at the rate “I should have.” I still struggled to communicate what I needed to say with the fluency I expected (instead of the five rounds around the bushes I had to run).
2016 arrived together with anxiety and panic attacks due to stress, so I found myself on a journey of self-knowledge, and studying Yoga & Meditation. The consequences of this shift in my life were huge. I was not only learning to relax my own body and mind with yoga, but I was also improving my knowledge of English with every class I was attending. Without even looking for it!
So To Learn Another Language All I Need To Do Is Relax?
Well, you still will need to study, memorise and repeat some exercises so you can build a good foundation for your Tower of Babel. What I am saying is that we need to learn how to study from a relaxed and grounded place. We need to find a way to integrate those relaxation techniques for body and mind to our learning approach, as I explained in this post.
I don’t think we should restrict the learning process to mental/memory work. We learn better when we connect abstract concepts from our mind with physical experiences we all recognise in our body. So, for example, if I am learning the parts of the body and the vocabulary for movement, it seems logical that I do it by moving those parts in my own body. This is not only the way we learnt as kids, is the way we involve our whole being into the process.
Another thing that improved my communication skills was teaching in English. I know it sounds crazy to teach in a language I barely felt comfortable asking for directions, but teaching pushed me to be better at what I wanted to share with others. I thought this was “only happening to me”, but then I noticed most of my foreign classmates were having similar experiences. They all agreed that “when we teach, we research a lot about both the topic and the language. Once we are ready (or we think we are), we jump in front of a group ready to push us to improve every day!”
So, if practising yoga and meditation is something you enjoy, then learning another language while practising will be ten times easier, more productive and enjoyable for you than just trying made-up conversations. At first, you probably won’t understand EVERY.SINGLE.WORD but rest assure your brain will still pick up small details that will sum up. Trust me!
Let’s prove that point. I posted short videos to practise English Here. Take only a quick look at the vocabulary and the visual help, but then try to follow the exercises only by listening. Tell me how did it go in the comments and LIKE the page if you do.
Alright, good luck in your journey and…Hasta la vista!