It is a delight and pleasure when I find myself among parents that appreciate the importance of foreign language education, consistent language study, and cultural experiences. I attempt to make myself available to help encourage a language student towards successful and enriching language fluency. Through my work I share what I believe is essential to foreign language study and what I experiment with my children and students.
As a parent of bicultural children, I understand the struggle parents may encounter in an attempt to introduce and practice a foreign language with their children. Babies and toddlers joyfully accept any language, and as many languages, a parent or caretaker uses to interact and communicate with them. As the children grow and their social circle expands, a dominate language can create an obstacle for a parent if exposure to any additional languages is not supplemented. As a bilinguist and language educator, I know the necessity for continuous exposure and use of language to build speech recognition, vocabulary, and proficiency.
Consequently, the key to proficiency and fluency is daily exposure and use of language and culture. Of course, the ideal would be to surround oneself in a community of native language speakers, and equally important, native language educators. Therefore, for students of a foreign language I recommend that they listen and use the language at least 15 to 30 minutes a day, not a difficult task when in an environment rich with diverse language speakers. Therefore, in addition to the weekly foreign language class, I suggest these language learning tips:
- Listen to foreign language radio, music, podcasts, blog talk radio, etc.
- Listen to books on tape in the foreign language
- Listen and/or watch visual media in foreign language (television, YouTube, internet, etc.)
- Watch favorite movies dubbed in the foreign language (WITHOUT subtitles)
- Eavesdrop at the market, shops, group settings for foreign language speech recognition
- Borrow foreign language children’s books, poetry books, fairy tales (NOT bilingual)
- Pen pal, audio/visual messaging or chat, VoIP chat with native speakers
“But, when?” Usually the next question I hear from my students is how to possibly add an additional 30 minutes to the day. With the busy lifestyles that students already experience, “when,” is key. However, language is a natural, experiential study, and NOT a book study. Literature, other than children’s books, poetry, and fairy tales, is important, yet comes later in the study of a foreign language. Hence, for now, listen, watch, and read lightly while,
- In traffic, traveling to and from school, work, sports, etc.
- Doing your chores, such as vacuuming, folding laundry, washing dishes, cooking dinner, showering/bathing, etc.
- Waiting, at the doctor’s office, at the school’s office, for a meeting, for the carpool, for the bus, etc.
Students are usually skeptical of these tips and grow frustrated at the slow progress in comprehension, however comprehension is not the first goal, rather the acceptance and recognition of the new language phonetics/sounds. Once the ear is open to and accepting these unfamiliar “noises”, the eyes come into play to watch how a native language speaker forms the sounds, accompanied by her body language. The second goal is the recognition of cognates, correct and false. At this point students are relieved that their study has “not been for naught.” As a native Spanish speaker and student of English it was not until my college studies that I finally heard the English /ch/ sound while focusing on one of my Spanish professors lecturing. Later goals include vocabulary acquisition, reading & writing, and speaking & producing the language’s accent(s).
Stay tuned as I offer additional tips to language proficiency and fluency as part of Sententia Vera’s monthly eNewsletter, The Culturist.
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On the motivation to study a foreign language… Mostly I was motivated by my personal relationships/friendships with my Spanish teachers throughout Waldorf [Education]. They were always people who inspired and challenged me.
Ian Pollard Student at the University of Texas at Austin