Friday, March 4, 2016

What Language Learning Is Like

Since languages are often a part of a school curriculum, many people believe that learning a new language is like learning algebra or physics. It is not. Algebra and physics take understanding. Learning a new language takes development of new skills, and it has more similarities with playing music, dancing, driving a car, and other practical skills.

Why is learning a language similar to learning how to drive a car?
When you learn how to drive a car, you should first learn all the traffic rules, but that doesn’t make you a driver yet. You need hours and hours of practice to learn how to apply all those rules on road. With a new language, you learn the rules first, but rules alone won’t make you a speaker - you need a real life practice. The shock a new driver may experience is similar to the shock a language learner gets when he or she tries to speak the target language for the first time.

Why is language learning easier than driving a car?
Because the cost of making mistakes is much lower for language learning. What is the worst thing that may happen if you pronounce a word incorrectly or mess up a word order? Some misunderstanding that is relatively easy to fix. You can not kill anyone with a wrong word or poor grammar.

Why is learning a language similar to playing music?
Music and languages both take a lot of boring, routine practice. In order to excel in music, an aspiring musician should practice every day, and most of the time it is just polishing technique and memorizing the material. You have to be really passionate about music to overcome this boredom. Only then can a musician enjoy the freedom and happiness of expressing oneself. Freedom and flexibility come with persistent hard work. This is also true for language learners.

Why is language learning easier than playing music?
Because musicians have to be perfect. The audience never forgives imperfections. Luckily, we are more forgiving to non-native speakers.

Why is learning a language similar to dancing?
Like in dancing, you need a partner to practice. Of course, you can dance alone, but it is more fun and makes more sense if you do it with with a partner or in a group. Like in dancing, you have to learn how to coordinate your mind and your body, and train yourself to perform a dance not a series of separate gestures and moves (words and combinations of words, in the case of languages), but like a whole and self-sufficient expression. Should I add that, like in music, freedom comes with hard work?

Why is learning languages easier than dancing?
Because when you dance you have no time and no chance to correct yourself. You can always stop and correct yourself when speaking - no one would even notice.

Why is learning a new language like fitness?
Athletes, much like language learners, have to spend a lot of time training, and quite often there’s not much fun in it. Like athletes, language learners should practice every day to stay in a good shape. Otherwise, all your previous efforts will vanish in a few days. All the words that you’ve learned - you’ll forget them if you don’t practice. A little bit of fitness everyday is better than a hardcore workout once a week. Similarly, a little bit of language practice every day is better than three hours of exhausting language lessons once a week.

Why language learning is easier than fitness?
Well, because you can not injure yourself practicing language. You can hurt your ego, of course, but it heals quickly.

Happy language learning!