By: Morgan James, Spanish Teacher
Too often we hear adults share that they do not remember much from language classes taken during school age years. Unfortunately, the expectations of becoming a fluent speaker are somewhat unrealistic. While hoping to become bilingual from a traditional school day or playing on an app for one hour a week are far-fetched, learning a foreign language at any age is not. Although it is true that many times at a younger age we have less fear to try new things, you can in fact teach”seasoned” dog new tricks. With the right tools and motivation, anyone, at any age, can learn a newlanguage.
New teaching trends and technology have made it increasingly easier to access materials to aide in the pursuit of becoming bilingual. However, hopping on an app andcompleting a game-structured lesson once or twice a week is simply not enough to become a fluent speaker. I once had a college professor share that fluency can be compared to singing a song. One of the biggest mistakes made when trying to learn a foreign language is not exercising the different skills that are part of effective communication. Learning a language is not only being able to speak words, but the ability to interpret and use in conversation.
The benefits of learning a foreign language can be life changing. Languages allow us to experience new cultures. When we travel, we are typically in a state of mind far from the everyday hustle and bustle we experience at home. This mindset often encourages us to be more open to trying new things we may not normally try within our daily routine. While we learn a great deal about others through travel, we also learn a lot about ourselves.
Traveling with children creates a global awareness far from what they would receive hearing about other places through textbooks or stories. Students will often return from school trips saying how much more they appreciate their life at home after experiencing a new country. The same can be said for adults who have traveled for business or leisure.
School and Work
Many studies on students taking foreign language classes have shown that the skills developed in a language class actually benefit core classes, such as math, science, history, and English. According to The College Board, the organization responsible for preparing standardized test like SAT or ACT, students who have studied a foreign languagefor 4 or more years outscored students who had not on the verbal and math portions of the test. Many colleges today promote the idea of “global citizenship”. This is the idea that students have rights and responsibilities as members of the world, rather than members of specific nations. Many colleges like to see that students have not only satisfied college graduation requirements by taking a language, but also surpassed the minimum requirement and shown interest in becoming a “global citizen” through different cultural experiences or travels.
There have also been numerous studies showing that students learning a foreign language have increased problem solving and memorization skills. Speaking another language assists students in becoming more aware of grammar and vocabulary in their native language. Students also benefit through the use of interpersonal skills. In a world that at times feels like it is beingtaken over by machines, we sometimes see students who simply do not know how to communicate with peers outside of text and social media. Learning a second language can be a confidence boost for many students.
In the work environment, the ability to speak a second language can easily help your resume stand out from your colleagues. In some cases, the ability to speak a second language can increase your salary. Many companies operate internationally and have a need to hire staff that isbilingual. This is not only for translation, but to help the company understand customary practices andnorms of the countries they do business in.
At this time, the resources available for those wishing to acquire a second language are endless. While applications and workbooks are awesome tools, aforeign language learner needs to remind himself or herself that foreign language communicationtakes practice and, moreimportantly, use. In order to achieve fluency, you need to exercise all the areas crucial to communication. No single program can achieve that. Making the language part of your everyday life is key.Even without a friend or colleague to converse with in the language being studied, there are things that can be done to aid in learning. Set your TV orNetflix account to the language you are learning, look up 2 or 3 new vocabulary words a day in a foreign languagedictionary, get a workbook and do a page or two a day, or listento music in the target language.
One of the biggest takeaways is that adults and children do not learn new things the same way. Children learn through play and repetition. They also have stronger echoic skills or the ability to mimic sounds. However, adults learning a foreign language can be more motivated and have a greater understanding of what it takes to master a new skill. Learning a foreign language does take commitment. Learning something new can be frustrating when we find that we cannot simply pick up a manual or watch a YouTube video and teach ourselves how to do something. While the gratification of learning a language is far from instant, sometimes the things in life that take the most time and effort bring the greatest reward and fulfillment.