A nitty-gritty resource for how to learn a foreign language is here.
The #1 language learning tip:
Speaking from personal experience, if you move to the country where they speak the language (or if you don’t), you also have to commit to stop speaking your own language.
(As an English teacher, here in Turkey, who is required to speak English daily, this has been a source of frustration for me.)
For example, Jorge, a Brazilian friend of mine has been living in Australia for almost 20 years.
He already spoke English before he moved there, however, he didn’t have the Australian nasally twang to his accent that he does now. 🙂
When his Brazilian friend, Dennis, moved over to Australia and they flatted together, they always spoke English.
Picture this – two Brazilians (whose native tongue is Portuguese) waking up in the same house, sometimes eating together, shooting the shit (that means conversing!), laughing, and always speaking English together.
Even when there were no other Australian or native English-speaking people around.
It wasn’t for show. It was for genuine learning.
Do you think their English is better today than if they had reverted to speaking Portuguese during the years they spent their time together?
Admittedly, they already had a decent base in English.
Whatever your level, though, the same principle applies.
For example, when I first moved to Brazil on my Rotary Youth Exchange, I knew maybe four words in Portuguese.
For the first month or two, I spent extensive time with another exchange student, Hiroshi, from Japan.
Hiroshi could speak Portuguese but not English. So, ordinarily, we would have been at an impasse.
Fortunately, both of us were patient and, via body-language initially, formed a connection.
We became great friends.
Learning and teaching the language brought us together.
When he left Brazil to go home around seven months later, we could communicate openly.
And from my 12 months living in Brazil, Hiroshi is one of my most cherished friendships.
In my experience of having learned (to a conversational level) two foreign languages, while living in said countries, the best friendships I have made were with two kinds of people:
- Those who couldn’t speak English at all; or
- Those who could speak English but had zero inclination to revert to speaking English, because they knew I didn’t want that.
Jorge, who I mentioned at the top of this post, was in that second group – he always spoke Portuguese with me in Brazil, and encouraged me profusely.
Like Jorge, this second group of people who speak their native tongue with me are not:
- Using me to practice their stop-start English
- Showing off how well they speak English
- Painfully impatient
- Reflexively (and mistakenly) assuming I want to speak English
- Falling into a condescending mindset of ‘this poor little Western foreigner trying to speak our language’ with a proverbial pat on the head, as if to say ‘nice try’
If a person speaks English because they want to connect, I don’t think they understand how much it makes the person who is genuinely trying to learn their language uncomfortable.
It creates distance.
It destroys confidence.
Living in a different country for an extended time, you would hope the locals would welcome you to become a part of the culture.
Language is the root of any culture.
So if someone can’t accommodate you on this, are they really welcoming you?
If you want to know how to learn a foreign language, it takes a certain stubbornness to deflect the onslaught of people (who try) speaking English with you (or whatever your first language might be).
In this way, you might lose a few potential friendships while trying to speak & understand these new sounds but, unfortunately, it’s unavoidable.
On the other hand, there is a certain path for how not to learn a foreign language.
And it’s not unlike learning any new skill. When real change occurs, when you grow and evolve, so do the people around you.
The friendships you do make will be genuine and long-lasting.