I speak three languages.
Surely, that makes me knowledgeable enough to share tips and tricks on how to learn a language, right?
Well, yes. I can at least give my own experiences and what helped me learn the languages I know. I may not be able to sit down and explain how language works and how to learn a foreign one (yet), but I can at least give SOMETHING that will help others.
However, there is one thing that I have not yet been able to master enough to share my wisdom with others. That would be retaining a language.
When we’re toddlers, it’s really easy to learn and retain a language. You speak whatever your family speaks, and use that in your everyday life. You both learn and retain through the mystical ways of immersion. If you are/have been an exchange student, this term should be VERY familiar with you. You had no choice but to speak that language, so you had no choice but to learn it. It’s your native tongue.
That’s how I learned English. I’m American, my family all speaks English, and only ever spoke English to me.
When I took French in high school, it was a little more difficult than that to retain what I was learning. I had the class every other day, and was never given homework outside of any projects or missing work. I went to tutoring when I needed it and always tried to go the extra mile. I was counted as an “exemplary student” due to my high grades in the class and how passionate I was about learning the language.
So, how did I learn French?
Well, I’m still learning everyday. I have one French class three times a week with bunch of homework. However, I was able to get so advanced so quickly by a few of things.
For one, I tried to talk with my high school French teachers (I had two throughout my high school career) as much as I could. Even if it was a simple “bonjour” or “comment ça va”, I made the attempt. I was very shy, only recently coming out of my shell, but you just can’t be shy in learning a foreign language. Once I had a larger vocabulary and a better understanding of the grammar, I was able to tell my teachers about my days, how my weekends were, tell them about a movie (or, most likely, an anime) I really enjoyed, or whatever. Simply attempting to use it helped.
And then there was the forcing myself to use it. In the summer of 2015, I went on an exchange to France with Rotary (I’ll link to their website at the bottom). It was only for three weeks, but I had the time of my life. Not only did I get to see so many cool things and meet so many people, but I got to improve my French immensely. My teachers noticed how much more natural I was able to speak, and was able to understand some more slang that French teenagers used, and overall just had a great improvement. Never would I give those experiences up.
Lastly, there was trying to be useful. I hosted a French exchange student during my senior year of high school (2015-2016). She spoke (and still speaks) pretty good English, but there were of course things that she didn’t quite know how to say. Even little things like when to say the “h” sound (as French don’t say their “h”s), or having to translate things for her to help her with whatever. My previous knowledge of French and being able to speak it helped her. In term, she helped me whenever I made a mistake and she taught me how to say many more things. That was one of the best ways to learn French.
Now, even with all of this, I’m struggling with the retention of Japanese. This would make sense, as I live in America, in an area that primarily speaks English, with many Spanish speakers, and you’re more likely to see a pink Zebra than meet a Japanese speaker. It happens, but really not that often. My college is quite diverse, there are people from many different countries who speak different languages, but it’s still a little rare. So, how am I attempting to retain what I’m learning?
I’ve never been to Japan, and I’m only able to pray that I’ll one day be able to teach abroad long enough to get some immersion… in about four years.
I do have a Japanese friend, but both of us speak French to each other. It’s helping him immensely, but that isn’t exactly helping me out too much. I also don’t know a whole lot of conversational topics to discuss with him. I’ve been learning things like “it takes me five minutes to walk to the station on foot” for the past few days. Not the best way to make a conversation.
So, with what little I am actually able to do, I do these things: Sing, watch anime, and read the newspaper.
I have a YouTube channel where I’m currently mainly singing in Japanese to improve my pronouciation. I am also a big fan of anime, so watching it in Japanese and attempting to keep myself from reading the subtitles forces me to really listen to what the characters are saying. Reading a Japanese newspaper and at least looking for katakana helps me with my reading skills in everyday situations.
It may or may not be working, but I’m trying. Hopefully I’ll be able to learn enough to be fully confident in speaking in Japanese with strangers!
Link to Rotary (the exchange program): https://www.rotary.org/en/our-programs/youth-exchanges
(Feel free to ask me any questions about Rotary!)