Friday, March 8, 2013

Learn a Language in Sixty Years!

I recently had a fascinating conversation with an extremely bilingual person. (Can you be extremely bilingual? I don't know, but she speaks six languages, so I am going to call her extremely bilingual rather than try to figure out what a six language person is. Multilingual? Probably. I still like Extremely Bilingual better.)

She's married to Sam's cousin, and I so enjoyed getting to know her. She's from Switzerland, what I consider to be the most beautiful country I've ever visited, and Switzerland is a country of languages. They have four official languages, and it is common there, she told me, for people to speak two, three, four languages. She already spoke German, French, Italian, and Romansh (I hope I'm getting this right, Anita!) when she came to this country. She learned Portuguese in college and she learned English as a foreign-exchange student here.

Languages are very important to her. Knowing Italian helped her land a great job out of college. Her sister is a translator back in Switzerland. But my impression was that she sees learning languages (I am putting words in her mouth here!) as more than just a way to get a good job or expand your occupational horizons. She sees it as a way to expand yourself, your mind, your heart. Learning languages is going to be a big deal in her family. Her children will learn more than one language at least, because it is important to her.

I explained a bit how Mary had attempted learning German using Rosetta Stone, and how I was seriously unimpressed with it, so I gave up the whole thing altogether. I had no way to immerse her in a language, so what was the point. She'd never learn it.

"I think you can learn languages by rote learning," she told me.

I was stunned. What??? Everything is immersion nowadays. Schools all over the place have dual-immersion options where the kids will be bilingual and brilliant by the time they leave elementary school. It is supposed to effortless, and if it isn't effortless, there's no point.

But here she was telling me you can learn a language from a book. From studying the language. Memorizing flashcards maybe. Practicing. Working.

This invigorated me, gave me hope. I know a puny amount of French (from Jr. High) and an even punier amount of Japanese (from high school). I am embarrassed about my lack of bilingualness. If she is Extremely Bilingual, I am the Anti-lingual.

But no longer! We have all picked a language (except for Flannery). We bought some language books, the best Amazon has to offer. Mary is learning German. Calvin is learning Arabic (and seriously doing an amazing job so far—it's pretty cool, though I'm sure his accent stinks). Lucy is going to learn Spanish, and Shaemus is beginning Chinese.

I know it makes more sense for us to all learn the same language. Then we can speak it together, right? Well, we are not all learning the same language because I tried that a long time ago. We were all going to speak Spanish. I taped up cards with Spanish words all over the house. We were supposed to be immersing ourselves. It didn't work. It was frustrating and rather annoying. I gave up.

We just aren't going to be an immersion household.

I have decided to learn Spanish, and I have been delighted to find, it is fun! I can fill out these workbooks, and I am actually remembering things! Spanish is great, because I am already familiar with a lot of Spanish words, just from living in this country. It feels comfortable, though it really isn't. It feels good, the right thing for me to do right now, though it will take decades at the rate I'm going.

This post is to share with you the pretty great rote-learning language books we are using, and to ask if you have any other suggestions!!! (Not computer-based program suggestions. Rosetta Stone has sounded the death-toll in this house for computer-based immersion language programs.)

Get Talking Chinese by DK Publishing. Comes with a great CD to help with the crazy pronunciations. Shaemus really loves it. Seriously, he thinks it's fun.
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Practice Makes Perfect Spanish by Somebody (This is my awesome workbook. It even has references to Harry Potter, Tom Cruise and Paris Hilton! What could be better?)
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Mastering Arabic 1 and the accompanying Activity Book
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We also like Your First 100 Words in Arabic (Fun flashcards inside!!!)
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Mary likes both of her books:
The Everything Learning German Book (What a weird title...)
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And German Made Simple (she really likes the accompanying CD to this)
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I just stumbled on this great little way to help your kids memorize their foreign language words. I stole it from Calvin's Mastering Arabic Book.

You tape five envelopes up on the wall. They are labeled Day One, Day Two, and so on. You take your flashcards and put a few in Day One. Once you've got those memorized, they move to Day Two. Every day you get a flashcard right, it goes into the next day's envelope, and by Day Five, the word has graduated. It is now an official part of your brain cells. This seems like an organized way to make sure you are always working on brand new words (in Day One) and reviewing words you pretty much have down (in the other envelopes).

I'm thinking this will also be a good way to keep practicing our languages over the summer, so we are going to set this up this weekend. I'll post a picture of what I'm sure will be the glorious result. :)

I think it is important to remember that nothing worthwhile is effortless. If I want to learn a language, I'm going to have to work at it. And by the time I am ninety-five, I will either know Spanish or I will not. It's up to me right now to determine that outcome!!!

(Prepare yourselves for book posts about picture books that help with this...)

1 comment:

  1. If Calvin and Shaemus are learning Arabic and Chinese, it just makes sense that you really should come live by us in the bay area!!! :)