Archive for June, 2009

How to learn: immersion

Posted on June 9th, 2009by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Foreign language immersionCompletely immersing yourself in a new language by going to a country where it is spoken is a very brave choice. Perhaps it’s not for complete beginners, but it’s definitely a great way to force yourself to improve quickly – when eating depends on your ability to ask for food, you will soon find words!

However, complete immersion can be overwhelming. Being unfamiliar with your surroundings as well as unable to communicate can lead to loneliness and culture shock. You may find the language you hear to be different from that you learned in a previous class, with slang words you may not have heard before. As much as you research the place you’re going to, your first few days are going to be a learning experience.

The positive side of immersion is the chance to get to know the culture and history of the country, alongside the language. You’ll (hopefully) meet new lifelong friends who you can continue to converse with after you’ve left. You get to try new things you may never have thought of, and it will also look great to future employers, showing both initiative and a willingness to accept challenges.

A major consideration of the language immersion route though, is the cost. Apart from the initial expenses of getting to your chosen country, there’s the day to day living costs and perhaps additional classes to help the transition. There are some grants and scholarships available, and language schools abroad will also be able to advise you on costs and what you can expect. This interview with an immersion school director is a good start, as well as these frequently asked questions (although they’re specifically about learning Spanish, they can be applied to all languages).

Milton from Travellers Rest moved to France on a semester abroad part of his MBA:

When I arrived in France, it was overwhelming! It’s pretty nerve racking when you not only have to deal with a new language but new customs as well. A trip to the supermarket became an ordeal – I ate oranges, bread and cheese for two weeks! I would come home exhausted every day from having to work through the simplest tasks in a new language. Eventually, however, things that you are forced to do every day become second nature and really contribute to your learning. For instance, on the way home from my school, there was a bakery that I stopped in every day. I came to know the owner and we would talk and she would tell me about the different foods and make recommendations. This not only helped my language skills, but my cultural knowledge as well. Now, I can’t wait to go back!

How to learn: the podcast

Posted on June 6th, 2009by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition, Technology | Leave a Comment »

Podcast dogLearning via a podcast is modern technology’s version of a language tape or CD. Advantages include portable learning – you can listen to a podcast whenever or wherever you like – and the range of podcasts available, a lot of them free.

This range has a downside, however. One of the great things about podcasts is that anyone with the right equipment can make one. But it’s also the big pitfall as the quality is not guaranteed.

You also need the ability to download and play the podcasts, which means investing in an MP3 player and some time at a computer. If you’re not tech-savvy, this could be a problem.

Another consideration is the need to actively listen. It’s too easy to put on headphones, hit play and drift off listening to the soothing tones of that lovely-sounding Frenchman. But you’re not going to learn by osmosis! So it may be beneficial to keep a notebook to go with the podcast and jot down times of sections you would like to go over again, as well as notes on what you understand and don’t.

Some good basic language podcasts for travellers can be found here. They’re free, and also include the script of the podcast in English although unfortunately only available for iPods at the moment. For listings of podcasts for various languages, check out this site.

Wendy from Nottingham has been following a Spanish podcast in preparation for her upcoming trip to South America:

It was difficult to find a suitable podcast as I wanted a Latin American Spanish one rather than a European one. Once I found this though, my skills have definitely improved! It’s great for speaking and listening practice, but I’m using a book also as I’d like to be able to recognise and read some of the basics also.

How to learn: the class

Posted on June 4th, 2009by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Classroom learningBeing back in a classroom may recall horrible memories of learning Latin or French by rote at school, but it’s a great all-round approach to a new language. A good teacher will cover all the skills you require – reading, speaking, writing and listening.

In addition to this, there is instant feedback on pronunciation and what you are doing wrong (and right!). Plus, you know when and where you will be learning each week, so the time is already set aside for you to do so. There is also the opportunity to become friendly with your classmates and converse outside of the class.

However, those who don’t feel comfortable in a group setting and speaking aloud in front of others may find the class setting overwhelming. A class also has to adapt to the various levels of ability within it, so a faster learner may feel held back whilst a slower learner may feel too rushed. There is the option of one-to-one classes, which may speed up improvement and make the student more comfortable. However, the cost of classes also has to be considered.

There is the cost of the classes themselves, but also any texts you may need, and the travel to and from the school. In addition, you need to find a class at a time that will be convenient and fit in with your other commitments.

Rob from Sheffield has been taking classes in German:

After finding out that I’d been accepted into a student exchange program in Germany, I figured I’d better learn enough of the language to get by. The Language Museum classes fit around my uni schedule, and I learned as much about the culture as I did about how to speak German. I’m now in the third week of the programme, and am even relaxed enough to have organised my first date!

(Note: learning a language does not guarantee you a date!)

Next time… the podcast.

How to learn: which method?

Posted on June 3rd, 2009by Michelle
In Hints and Tips, Language acquisition | Leave a Comment »

Over the next few posts I’ll be taking a look at different ways of learning a language – from a classroom setting to using modern technology such as podcasts .

Whilst by no means a definitive list of pros and cons of each method, it’s a good starting point for those considering committing to a new language.

Before considering each method, it’s worthwhile putting some thought into what you want to get out of the course – conversational skills to be able to converse with family members? A few words to take you through a foreign holiday? An understanding of business speak to aid in work transactions?

Your reason for learning will of course impact on which method(s) you choose and how much you can commit.

First up – the class.

The No Cussing Club extends its reach

Posted on June 1st, 2009by Michelle
In English, Events | Leave a Comment »

Cussing not allowedRecently in Los Angeles County, the county supervisor decided to proclaim a No Cussing Week.

This follows on from the success of McKay Hatch, a 14 year old who started a “No Cussing Club” at his middle school a couple of years ago – he’s even appeared on “Dr. Phil”. As someone who swears reasonably frequently and with some pleasure, I was amazed at this, along with a quick search that revealed there’s an organisation called the “Cuss Control Academy“, whose two stated purposes are:

1. To increase awareness of the negative impact bad language has on society and on individuals who swear too frequently or inappropriately.

2. To help individuals and groups eliminate or reduce their use of profanity, vulgarity and offensive slang.

The organisation has even printed a book to out those who wish to rid themselves of their foul mouth. Personally, I disagree with their purposes. I think most adults have enough control to know that cussing has a time and a place, and the idea that it’s somehow responsible for the destruction of the moral fabric of society is perhaps a little farfetched.

Luckily for those in LA County though, the supervisor’s spokesman says No Cussing Week “[Is] not enforceable. It’s like Breast Cancer Awareness Week. We want to remind people about their choice of words. Use different language — be kind; be civil.”

And that I think we can all agree with.