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Tips About How To Learn Foreign Language

I cannot teach you how to learn foreign language perfectly since I do not know English or any other language perfectly. I can teach you how to efficiently communicate and it does not cost a dime � like some of these software programs worth hundreds of dollars. I was born in Poland, my first foreign language was Russian, then English and German. Then I also learned some French and Spanish.

The easiest way to learn foreign language is to move to a foreign country when you are younger than 12-13. At this age the internal vocal organs can still adapt to the sounds of the other language. Many Hispanic people in this country are truly bilingual, operating with the same ease in English as in Spanish with no foreign accent whatsoever. They are really and truly bilingual.


Can we learn foreign language when we are already adults? Yes, of course we can, but we need to follow a couple of simple advices:

The most important is to be MOTIVATED. Why do Americans and Brits not speak many foreign language as Swiss or residents of the Benelux countries do? Not because they are dumb or not talented, but because they are not motivated since they expect others to know their language, English. Even as tourists in foreign lands, we expect to be able to communicate in English with the local population.

Unfortunately, this is very limiting since we are confined to talking only to people who speak English, so we are unable to merge into the real life abroad. It is like seeing the other country from the window of the bus, but not being able to join the crowd on the street.

My first foreign language was Russian. This was dictated by political circumstances. The lessons of Russian were boring; there was lots of propaganda and politics. The effect was that not too many children learned Russian well, in spite of the similarity between Russian and Polish, both are Slavic languages.

On the other hand, learning English was enjoyable � no politics but lots of fun stuff � like stories about Beatles, the Loch Ness monster etc. We knew that English is a core language all around the world and the classes were fun and educational. We were really motivated to learn it.

I did learn German later, I was strongly motivated to do so. During the hyperinflation in Poland in the 80-es we received lots of help from the German friends of my family. They sent us coffee and chocolate, which were either unavailable or very expensive in Poland. At that time Western Germany was a prosperous country. The stores were full and people earned decent money. At the same time in Krakow, my hometown, shelves in the grocery stores were almost empty, and we were earning the equivalent of twenty dollars per month. I realized that if I knew German I would be able to go to Germany, work and earn some money there. So, knowing German would open doors to a better and more prosperous life.

The other important factor is the EXPOSURE to the foreign language. Being surrounded by people who speak other languages helps. When I was a girl and did not know any foreign language at all I was still able to distinguish between different languages. While adjusting the radio to a favorite station � I had to go through a whole spectrum of different frequencies with the stations in German, Russian, Czech, Slovak or Hungarian. I was very surprised to learn that my Texan husband could not distinguish between foreign tongues las I did! This had nothing to do with a lack of learning abilities, just the lack of exposure to any other than English or Spanish languages here in the US.

I remember, I was in the tenth grade and my second year of learning English when our English teacher let us to listen to a simple English conversation on a record. I was shocked and terrified. I could not understand a word! Then I realized, that it is because the conversations were by native English speakers. I was used to listening to the Polish- English of my English teacher and schoolmates. In the past, when I participated in international conferences, it was easier for me to understand my countrymen speaking English, or other foreigners speaking English, than the native English speakers!

One extra tip: do not be afraid to speak a foreign language if you have a chance, do not worry that your command of the language is still not perfect. The foreigners are usually very impressed to hear somebody speaking their language, even if the person just tries! It is a great exercise to learn it actively rather than passively only.

The other very important factor is DISCIPLINE. One cannot learn foreign language by spending a day and then, not practicing for a month. One needs to practice every day, or every other day if even for half an hour daily. I never tried to memorize the words, it was just too boring. I always learned by reading a real story or conversation. This helps to memorize the words since you learn it in the proper context!

I hope I motivated some of you not to give up and learned the language of your dreams. We have a phrase in Polish "dla chcacego nic trudnego" which means that if you want something you can get it with little effort.

Copyrights Baba Jaga Corner
November 2007

This article was published in the complete paper edition of Polish-American Journal, you may subscribe to it here


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