Learning another language is always a good goal in my opinion. It helps improve memory, it provides context to another culture, and it can open doors on the career front. I greatly admire people who speak multiple languages and wish my skills were better in this area. No sooner do I try to learn something that it flies out of my head. My good friend speaks 5 languages. I cannot fathom keeping all of that straight.
However, the idea of learning a language has been on my mind a lot recently. First, I am still working my way through German lessons. I started learning it when I lived in Germany but never could get beyond the vocabulary of a child. Actually, I can understand more than I can speak, but still I struggle.
The second reason I have been thinking on the topic of learning a second language is that I have seen that a lot of the hits on my blog come from overseas. Most of these hits are on the book reviews that I do. It has made me think that somehow an ESL teacher found my blog and told the students to use it as practice. If that is true, I am all for contributing to another persons journey to learn English as a second language.
4 Parts of Building Language Skills
There are four key skills to master when learning a language; listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Two are production skills and two are reception skills. For me the reception skills are not so bad but the production skills are grueling.
Actually, what I experience is not that uncommon. Production skills are on average harder than reception skills. However, a learning disability compounds that problem for me. It was difficult for me to learn my native language. I struggled in school until I found ways to adapt and make learning work for me. The tricks I learned in English just don’t translate to another language yet. But I am not giving up!
When I was living in Germany, there were times when I knew what I wanted to say, I rehearsed it in my head, but when it came time to talk I could not get the words out. Some of this was stage fright, I did not want to get it wrong so I reverted to English out of sheer nervousness. At other times, the words were just gone…my mind was a blank.
The most frustrating part was often times after I walked away the words would return to my mind. I could have the whole conversation in my head playing both parts. Sure my grammar might not be the best and using the correct article might escape me, but a person would be able to understand the intent of the message.
Thank goodness for the aforementioned friend, who would go shopping with me and bail me out if I could not speak to the clerk. German was in fact her 3rd language. She could switch between English (her 4th language) and German so smoothly that it was amazing to me.
Writing is a foreign language is arguably my weakest skill. Believe it or not, I struggle to write in English. I have a severe form of dyslexia and my spelling is just the worst. Sometimes I spell things so badly even spell check cannot find the word.
In fact writing this blog is a form of therapy for me. It makes me focus on using my words. If you could see my screen as I type, you would see how often the red squiggle line comes up and corrections have to be made.
I once told a German teacher, I can’t spell in English, how can you expect me to do it in German and get the accent marks correct. To which he replied “du kannst lernen deutch.” And then he invited me to leave class.
When I told this to my friend she said, “dang that was so rude.” I was like, well I am having a hard time. Yea maybe a bit harsh but why do you think it is rude? She then tells me as a client of his the respectful thing to say would have been “Sie kannst lernen.” Using “du” was treating me like a child. Yikes, I bet he laughed at that one when I was gone.
Reading is where I start to feel comfortable; at least with sort sentences and small to average words. I actually went to a German library and sat in the children’s section to look at a few books in the beginning. You may laugh, but if a child can learn that ways so can I.
Actually, I was very excited when a book I was reading in English had some German in it and I could understand almost all of it. One of the characters was German so the author put in a few lines here and there to remind the reader that the people in the book would have actually been speaking another language.
I have loved to read since I was a small child. For hours I could be entertained with a good book and silence. To this day that is my happy place. So the skill of reading in another language is probably the most natural.
The listening skill is a mixed bag for me. If you speak slowly and use smaller words I can follow for the most part. I learned to say ” sprechen sie langsamer bitte” out of self defense, which is speak slower please.
If you are German and reading this please refrain from correcting my bad German. I already know I learned the phrase inaccurately but people understood and most were kind. Actually, many were happy I even tried.
I could watch some German TV shows and pick up on the gist of the show but if I was at a store or somewhere loud, listening was harder. The noise coupled with the natural speaking pace of most people was just too much for my brain to process.
At one point I had a German boss who realized that I could understand more than I could speak and for awhile she refused to speak to me in English for at least a few hours a day unless she had an emergency task for me. This lady was determined to make me learn to process the spoken word faster. To this day I still hear her in my head saying “nein das ist nich richtig”…no that is not correct. Bless her she was trying her best to help me.
Learning a second language will be a goal for a long time to come. I don’t expect to ever be as fluent as my friend who has a natural gift for languages. But if I keep trying I am bound to learn something and improve my mind along the way.