[Royce Morris is, among many other things, a multi-ethnic worship leader and former staff member of Proskuneo, and is currently in the US Navy studying at their language institute.]
For the past ten years, I have been intensely interested in learning languages. It started when I went on a trip with my church to the Dominican Republic the summer of ninth grade. I had no previous knowledge of Spanish but I learned a few phrases while I was there and when I returned I was determined to go back and communicate with the Dominicans. Four years and lots of study and grace from God later I was again in the Dominican Republic with my church except this time I was the only Spanish speaker and translator. After dabbling in few other languages I began a very intensive language course and have started the learning process all over again. From these studies I thought I would share with you what has worked for me when it comes to learning languages.
1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and look foolish.
No one wants to look dumb (including myself), but actively using the words and language that you are learning and taking chances to string things together that you might not be sure of is essential to becoming proficient. You have to be willing to be corrected and look silly. Think of children when they are learning… they say all kinds of things incorrectly on their way to mastering English and so will you, but the more you experiment and try the easier it will become.
2. Spend time with native speakers.
When I was learning Spanish I would find the Spanish speakers in my classes sit with them and ask them to talk to me in Spanish. Figure out where the people of your target language hang out and go meet them and befriend them. One method I have seen is creating, beforehand (so you already have some vocab and sentences in your mind), a list of things you want to talk about and arrange a meeting with native speaker and talk about those things. Go to a church service where they speak that language. Watch TV, listen to music, anything that will expose you native speakers.
3. Don’t compare to English.
This is a natural way of thinking since English is our first language but when learning a new language, especially one very different, it’s important not to superimpose English over it because the structure and syntax won’t match. It will hinder your learning. To say eighty in French you have to say quatre-vingts (four twentys) To say, “I forgot it” in Spanish you say se me olvidó (it forgot itself to me). These literal translations don’t make a lot of sense in English so it’s important not to try and give each word an English counterpart. Just take the phrase and tell your brain that when you say, “las llaves se me cayeron” (the keys dropped themselves to me) it means, “I dropped the keys.”
This is the hardest part for me when it comes to learning a language. There are so many words to learn. Personally, I am a big fan of lists but here are some other ideas… Try to think of concepts instead of English words. For example when you learn the word semáforo (stoplight) try and picture a stoplight in your mind with out using the English word. This can work well for complex ideas that aren’t easily translated. This might sound contradictory to the previous section (it’s really not) but try to find a relatable English word for example قرطاسية (courtaseeya) in Arabic sounds a lot like the English word courtesy. The Arabic word means stationary and I think: It would be a courtesy to write someone a letter, and I would write that letter on stationary. That may be too much of a stretch for you but I find it helps a lot especially for words I have a hard time remembering.
I hope these thoughts are helpful to you as you endeavor to learn a new language. Keep it up! It’s a hard journey but worth it in the end. What have you found helpful in your language learning experience? Please share your tips with us!