Showing posts with label language learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label language learning. Show all posts

Friday 5 August 2016

3 simple language learning tips for shy people

Most researchers advocate that language involves the communication of meaning. It was this idea that brought forward the communicative approach in language learning. This approach gives special emphasis to communication and speaking in the foreign language, ideally from day one. Some of us, though, are shy. Some of us are not comfortable talking with people we don’t know, let alone talking with people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, and using another language for that matter.

So what do we do? Here are a few tips for shy language lovers:


First of all, we should bear in mind that being shy is not something intrinsically bad. This is who we are and we are not obliged to change if we don’t want to in order to conform to a cultural ideal. Besides, while some language learners are extroverts and talkative, and are learning new languages with the aim of communicating with people, others, more scholarly types, learn a language in order to focus more on literature or translation. Each motive is legitimate in its own right.


I don’t think it’s a good idea to push ourselves to speak in a new language if we don’t feel comfortable. After all, I believe that our shyness is not connected to our language learning. We can learn a language and still be shy, right? Besides, some people just need more time in order to develop oral communication skills. If you are in a language class, try to explain to your professor that you need your own pace. Your professor should respect your learning style and needs.


Language learning cannot transform shy people into extrovert language learners. However, shy language learners who nevertheless enjoy social media can opt for alternative communicative settings in order to practise the language they are learning. For example, they can join online conversations, e.g. a forum discussion. This way they will be able to use their new language in a safer setting. Besides, shy language lovers can always use their new language in a great number of situations, from reading and translating novels to enjoying films, exchanging emails or exploring a new academic interest. There is no rule saying that shy people should avoid learning new languages.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your language learning!

Monday 11 May 2015

5 good reasons to learn Greek

So  you are looking for a new language to learn. Have you ever considered Modern Greek?

I truly believe Greek is worth it, and not just because it's my language. Okay, maybe precisely because it's my language, I may be a little prejudiced in favour of it. But why not trust my inside knowledge on this? Let's find out the 5 reasons why Greek should be your next language.


Consider that Modern Greek is not that hard as Ancient Greek. Still, there are four cases to master (including the most interesting and rare vocative case), but all in all, grammar rules are pretty straightforward. As with most Indo-European languages, Greek has become more analytic, making things easier for the language learner.


You will use a beautiful new script that is used in mathematics, science, and engineering. Greek letters are also used in the International Phonetic Alphabet and in the names of stars and constellations. In case you want to appear sophisticated, you could also learn how to write in the quaint polytonic system. So cool!


Some languages are great for prose and some other languages for poetry. Modern Greek is absolutely a language for poetry. We are a small country but already with two Nobel laureates, both in poetry. If you love poems, that's the language to learn!


Believe it or not, you already know a lot of Greek. I know, because I have the (bad) habit of saying Greek stuff to friends from other countries and I have seen they understand me. How they do it: using the Ancient Greek they had been taught at school as well as the various Greek elements that appear in certain English words. So with Greek, you are not starting from scratch. Αnd now a quiz for you: can you guess the meaning of the following Greek words? paidiatros (παιδίατρος), pateras (πατέρας) katharizo (καθαρίζω), theatro (θέατρο), panepistimio (πανεπιστήμιο) gymnastirio (γυμναστήριο). You can find the answers at the end of the post.  


According to some linguists, Modern Greek is still evolving, trying to sober up after years of struggle between the two varieties known as Demotic and Katharevousa. The two varieties differ in the matter of register, with Katharevousa being more formal due to its connection with Ancient Greek. As a result, there are many sets of words that express the same idea or concept, something that is explored by writers in various ways. Learning Greek will enable you to witness this most interesting phenomenon.

As you see, Greek is a messy language, with tons of exceptions and irregularities. But this is due to its numerous adventures over the centuries. Studying this kind of language can make you grow as a language learner, and this is what matters most.

Still all Greek to you? Read more:


Quiz answers:
paidiatros: paediatrician, pateras: father, katharizo: to clean (related to catharsis!), theatro: theatre, panepistimio: university (related to epistemology!) gymnastirio: gym (from gymnasium). 

Saturday 29 March 2014

10 things language learning has taught me


Achieving fluency in a new language can take so much time. So, one of the first things language learning taught me was how to set long term goals, and how to stick to them. Language learning has taught me as well how to manage these goals, and especially how to deal with boredom the days these goals seem far and unreachable.


With languages, a little goes a long way. With speakers of other languages, even in the cases when you simply know one greeting or two, it can make much difference. It shows that you respect and acknowledge these people.


Having said that, I believe it is equally important to enjoy taking care of the small details while moving towards your goal. And this goal should be none other than fluency. Personally, I enjoy being fluent; when I use another language, I thrive on the quick game my mind is playing while searching for the correct word or expression.


With learning new languages, many methods work, from the most ancient to the most state-of-the-art ones. In other words, there is not a best method for every student and for every purpose.


With language learning, a little goes a long way, as I said. If you study for a while every day, you will be able to see the first results very soon. This has taught me that if you give time to something, it will grow. In other words, if you take care of something, it will take care of you.


Since languages reflect reality in many different ways, using another language can bring out another side of you. Personally when I use a different language, I become quite a different person. The medium affects the message, as they say.


Have you ever felt you lack the words to describe a situation? That words are not enough? This happens because language evades us. Reality is far more complex than language, and what's more, people tend to use words in their own way. The fact we are able to translate between languages with meaning staying roughly the same shows that there is a level which exists below the surface of language. And while we can reach this level through language, it will always evade us. And it is better to try to think in other ways, for example through images and feelings, and don’t take language too seriously. This is closely connected to what I am going to say next:


Since language is only surface deep, and speakers of different languages usually describe the same state of affairs using different means of expression, learning new languages can shed new light to our experience of the world. For example: in the English language, we 'jump' to conclusions, emphasising this action as premature or thoughtless. In Greek we say we 'bring out' conclusions. So, for me, conclusions are both 'brought out' and 'jumped to', and despite my being a native Greek speaker, when I think about conclusions it is impossible not to think about 'jumping'!


Not knowing anything about a group of people can lead to stereotyping and xenophobia. But interestingly, when you start learning their language, these people begin to have a voice. And it always comes out that this voice is very close to yours. In a world that emphasises differences, learning each other’s languages will bring us closer.


They say that a new language is truly yours when you dream in it. Do you think it is required to have achieved fluency in order to be able to dream in a new language? No, not at all! I have dreamt in languages I had just started to learn. Have you ever experienced looking at something and at the same time name the thing in your mind in another tongue? Or, have you ever started to use words, expressions, even whole chunks of language in a new language without realising it? This is native-language-style processing, and it certainly can happen with languages other than your own; especially when the situation calls for it!

Thanks for reading!

Friday 21 February 2014

4 unconventional language learning tips for fast results

Do  you want to study a new language? Remember: when it comes to language learning, the best advice comes from fellow language learners. This is because language learners will give practical advice. It’s one thing to understand the theory behind language learning and another thing to be able to use studying methods that work. That’s why I am going to give you a few unconventional learning tips that have helped me over the years learn languages faster. Are you ready?


It is true that grammar is not the be-all and end-all of communication. However, a good grasp of grammar will help you express yourself more accurately. Like it or not, grammar goes with the territory of language learning, and those who get down to the dirty job of learning the grammar at the very early stages of their learning, always find language learning more rewarding.

And why start with the verb system? First, since verbs are the basic element of any sentence, a sound knowledge of the verb system will help you understand more input. And second, a sound knowledge of the verb system will help you form more sentences that are very close to what you really want to say. Especially when it comes to writing, you will find yourself that you are able to express yourself far more easily with a wide range of verbs at your disposal. Remember that the verb system is more complex when it comes to declension, so better get it out of the way as soon as possible. Moreover, bear in mind that while you can get away with a noun that you always use in the nominative, a poor verb system will make you sound quite abrupt.


The words of a language are just the tip of the iceberg: a whole system of values, cultural traits and norms exists below (see also #7 in the 10 things language learning has taught me). Some of these elements are not completely understood even by the native speakers of the language. In other words, language is closely connected to this thing called ‘real life’, and it is through ‘real life’ that we have to tackle our language learning. And since there’s not a one to one correspondence between languages, we have to go through the real world once again in order to connect it afresh to the words of the new language we want to learn. When we are exposed to something new, this finds its way into our mind and memory. This means that the sooner the language learning steps out of the ‘book’ context into the ‘real context’, the better!

So, what do we have to do? We have to notice notice notice! Even a small chunk of language, a small advertisement or a newspaper headline, can become a much more important language input than a phrase in a book. Our brain marks it as a very important activity and pays more attention. Besides, this way we learn not just the meaning of the word, but something of its use, its connotations, its register, its collocational restrictions etc. And this saves us much time in the long run.


This is a method I used when I was studying for the entrance examinations in order to get into the University of Athens for my second degree in English Language and Literature (long story), when among other things I had to learn Latin from scratch. I found this was the quickest way to learn it. However, it is really really boring. But it works wonders.

In this method, you visit the same material again and again in order to grasp it totally. Before each learning session, ask yourself “what do I know about this particular language item?” and then study it and revise it immediately. Then wait for a couple of hours and revise it again. In fact there is a whole psychological theory behind this method which is based on how the human memory works. It is indeed very boring to go through the same material so often, but it makes you feel you have grasped it well, and this can give you confidence to go on.


When it comes to language learning, I believe you should try to do what works for you. Even if it doesn’t work, the mistake will be all yours and therefore you’ll learn from it. Well, you should always listen to what others have to say, but you should trust your instincts and do what seems logical to you. And by doing so, you learn how to learn, and that’s the most important of all. This is going to make a true language learner out of you. 

Do you know any language learning tip which might be considered ‘unconventional’? Please share it in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Friday 27 December 2013

3 reasons why trying to finish a language is a bad idea

Some people here in Greece share various assumptions about language learning which I find particularly disturbing. One of these assumptions has to do with the idea of 'finishing' a language. And these people usually mean that if you have managed to attain some certificate (some refer to them as 'degrees', which I find particularly annoying) you have 'finished' the language in question.

I believe that trying to finish a language is totally a bad idea, even dangerous, I’d say, mainly for three reasons:


The idea that language is somewhat finite is completely absurd. A language can never be finished: even native speakers have to study it again and again if they want to use it smoothly. That is why this idea can lead to perfectionism, and perfectionism in language learning is a motivation killer. Since the finishing line can never be visible, the task of language learning becomes both vague and unreachable.


During your course of learning a language, it’s possible that at some point you’ll just feel like exploring other languages. That means you’d like to check whether you like them, and if you do, you’d really like to start learning them. However, the idea of finishing a language makes this forbidden: you think you should try to finish what you have started first, whatever this is supposed to mean! So, you end up feeling somewhat deprived, even angry towards your new language, which just refuses to finish in order for you to move on.


Finally, it is possible that sometimes we just get stuck in our learning and we need a break. When this had happened to me, I thought this time could be used on a new language. But then I felt I just had to finish the first language in order to pick a new one. And when I forced myself to go on with the first, it just didn’t work, and guess what happened: I stopped studying altogether!

Instead of trying to fit into others’ expectations and try to ‘finish’ a language, it is important to be able to create your own personal milestones to look forward to. In other words, to pinpoint certain moments that from that point onwards you will regard as milestones, and which will give you the courage and the strength to move on with your language learning, which never finishes, of course.

One such milestone for me was the moment I finished reading the first English book I ever read. Since then my English is much better, but at that precise moment I felt I had really made much progress, and I still look back to that moment with feelings of pride and accomplishment.

Thanks for reading! 

Friday 15 February 2013

New words are our new friends

When I’m learning a new language, I’m always on the lookout for effective ways to deal with grammar and vocabulary.

Grammar rules tend to stick to my mind rather easily, even though they tend to… disappear right when I need them! But vocabulary is a different story. Learning vocabulary in a new language takes both time and patience. What’s more, if we don’t see new words often, they constantly slip our minds. 

Maybe this happens because new words are like new friends. We have to meet them often in order to be their friends.

I find it impossible to take a list of new words and learn them by heart. Even if some of them stick, I am going to forget them later on.

Just like people I met once. They are not my friends.

But if I meet them one day at the grocery store, the next day at the supermarket, or at a friend’s house… First they are acquaintances. Yet slowly, these people become my friends.

That’s exactly what we need to do with vocabulary.

Not only should we meet new words again and again but also we should meet them in various environments or contexts.

This way they will stick to our minds much easier.

 And how are we going to do that?

By increasing the possibility of meeting new words again and again. That’s what I have done when I learned English:

I listened to songs and looked up the lyrics.
I saw movies without subs.
I read a great amount of novels and non-fiction.
I noticed everything written in English.
I looked up stuff that interested me such as recipes, gardening tips etc.
I looked up every single word in the dictionary.

All the above involve spending amounts of time just hanging out with the new language. And without stressing, just hanging out, it was much easier to learn.