Michael Erard, author of Babel No More: The Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Language Learners, talks about people who easily acquire new languages and listeners share their tips.
Event: Friday, April 20, 2012 12:30 PM at Idlewild Books, 12 W.19th St, NYC | More Information
Hi, I am fully bilingual--English and Spanish.
Want to learn a Romance language in a hurry? Study Latin in school as early as possible like I did in the small private school I was lucky enough to attend when growing up in Montreal. Latin laid the foundation for French, Spanish and Italian for me and made the learning of those languages almost a natural progression, much easier... Not only that, it improved my English too since so much of the English language is based on Latin. Too bad they don't teach Latin anymore...
I'm fluent in English & (now getting a little rusty) Spanish, & I've been semi-fluent in Hebrew. Once in Israel I asked directions in Hebrew & had trouble understanding the answer. The person giving the directions asked me, "Eizeh safot at m'daberet?" (What *languages* do you speak?) The assumption was that there'd be more than 1 (besides Hebrew).
One thing that really helps in learning vocabulary is reading poetry w/a bilingual dictionary--it teaches you the words native speakers learn growing up that often aren't in the textbooks. And songs are very helpful in learning grammar & idiomatic phrasing.
I have been working with Thula Sizwe, an incredibly talented Zulu performance group that is performing throughout our region this month. The ten Zulu performers in Thula Sizwe speak many languages. Most of them speak from 7-9 different languages from English to Zulu to Dutch.Bridges of Peace and Hope has brought Thula Sizwe here and they performed for our K-5th graders in four elementary schools bringing a message of kindness, mutual respect, and peace. It has been a profound experience to witness the grace of these ambassadors from outside Pretoria, South Africa. During the rest of the year they live in small homes devoid of running water and plumbing. The lessons in character education Thula Sizwe is sharing with us are powerful. And to listen to them sing in their different languages has been a joyful experience.
My "secret" to language learning is to watch movies you know by heart (everyone has them!) and watch them in another language. Works like a charm. Don't try, just watch.
Finding music you love helps a lot as well. The "music of the language fills your head before you know the words. You can usually find words and translations on line and slowly the words start to come together.
The best way to learn is to be involved in the culture and actually live in a place for a while.
Most importantly have fun. This is elusive, but key. I took 5 years of french and couldn't say much more than a few sentences though I aced the class (sums up my opinion of our educational system). I spent a summer in Italy watching movies and listening to music, living in a villa on a volcanic lake town and ended up sticking around to do translations for an alternative energy company.
Languages really open up your ability to see, hear and learn. The world is both bigger and smaller.
I also do the speak as you hear trick .. I tend to hear every syllable in any language I listen to and mouth it internally even if I do not understand it . I wil listen to it as if I do. I listen to music pop music from other countries as well and learn to sing or rap in those languages.... What I find interesting is even thou I studied Russian, Kazakhs tell me my Kazakh is better than my Russian and I find that Mongolian is easier because I know Navajo. Mandarin is intimate for mr and Cantonese is just plain a "fun" language to speak...
Do math and science count as languages? If so, then my count is higher.
I would like your guest to discuss how he assesses "fluency." Grammatical correctness is one component, but what about accents? Some people may know multiple languages but always speak with the accent for their first language and will never sound fluent. I speak 5, know some of another, but I always understood language acquisition as a blend of grammar and imitation. Thank you.
I was born in Korea but adopted by European American parents & raised in Wisconsin; if there's any gene that naturally predisposes one to learn the language of one's ancestors, it skipped me. Growing up with English as my first language, I find Korean almost impossibly difficult. I have mastered French, however, and was very proficient in German at one point in time. Oddly enough, I get compliments on my accent from German speakers & compliments on my vocabulary from French speakers. I've also studied Swedish (just one semester), Mandarin Chinese (just a 3-week intersession course) & I'm trying to learn a little Old English -- I'm reading "Beowulf" in a bilingual edition with the original Anglo-Saxon & translation into contemporary English. The 2 secrets to learning a language, I think, are immersion -- I really managed to internalize French during my year in Brussels & Paris -- and a willingness to make mistakes speaking the language.
I wanted to hear what the caller was going to say about the difficulty in passing along the languages to her kids!
I've read that the average person in sub-saharan Africa and south Asia speaks three to five languages. This has helped make India a mecca for call centers. Please comment.
I speak, read, and write several languages with a varying degree of proficiency. I know languages in the Romance, Anglo-Saxon, and Slavic groups, and I know some Mandarian and Cantonese. I find that, rather than confusing between them (although now and then, a word in a different language does slip out), knowledge of groups of languages reinforces the knowledge in the individual ones. Interestingly, eBay has helped me greatly in French, Italian, German, Dutch, Polish, and Czech because I have communicated intensively with buyers/ sellers in those languages.
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