Saturday, July 05, 2008

Notes on Language Learning and Breton

Language Learning

1. Acting as if... and believing it!
Every now and again, there's some chatter about polyglots past and present. And as soon as the polyglots show up, there are others who will notice the polyglot doesn't speak their language that well. But if you know a language perfectly and never open your mouth, then the person who knows four words poorly and deploys them wherever possible is ahead of you. Likewise, the polyglots who aren't really fluent in twenty languages but can make a reasonable effort at communicating ought be given their due. And we can learn from them: Thinking you're a polyglot won't make you a polyglot, of course. But thinking you're not a polyglot will assure you don't become one.

One of the contradictions of language learning is that you have to have the humility to demure about your abilities yet be willing to put them on display. Je parle français... un peu. Hablo español... un poquito... This requires maintaining a different internal conversation from what you project to the outside world. You need to tell yourself Je parle français très bien so that you'll feel comfortable speaking up even as the words coming out of your mouth tell your interlocutor the absurd Je ne parle pas français, pas vraiment - which is an obvious contradiction.

The point here is to watch your internal conversations closely. Because while you don't want to be one of those polyglots about whom native speakers say "He doesn't really speak my language," you do want to have that confidence that allows you to believe in yourself, believe in your skills and believe in the work you've put in.

Do you find yourself saying I'll never speak... or I just can't find the time to study or This is too hard for me... Or any of the other excuses we make to ourselves for not doing our best? Once you decide to learn a language, you should commit yourself to being an improving speaker of the language - humble about your talents, but not utterly dismissive of them. Keep a healthy internal dialog and things will come more naturally since your feelings about the challenges of learning won't be getting in the way of the actual learning.

Speaking of which...

2. Getting back into learning
Over at the Cunning Linguist, there's a short note on the pain of getting back into language learning when you've been away for a while. If there's one thing harder than sticking to your routine when life gets busy, it's getting back in the groove when things settle down. But the right attitude can help.

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but if not, it's worth checking out the courses at Wikiversity. Here's the Language School. And here's the Breton page. Note that for some reason, the Breton lessons are much more developed than for some other languages. Depending on your language, this may be a pleasant surprise or something rather less.

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