Language Learning: It’s Like Sex

lets-talk-about-sexLanguage learning is like sex, as in it’s easier the second time you do it.

The first time you have sex, you might have struggled with it a bit. Some parts might have been good whilst other parts might have been less than desirable, but you’ll most likely get better at it and find it a lot easier the second time.

It’s the same for learning languages, please bear with me on this.

I remember sitting in French classes at high school, never understanding how anyone could study or learn 2, 3 or more foreign languages at a time. The sheer effort of memorising verbs, vocab and strange grammatical concepts was so time consuming and required so much effort, I never thought I would ever get around to learning another foreign language and marveled at those who did.

Fast forward 10 years later and I’m starting to learn my second foreign language and finding it so much easier, so much that I can pretty much teach myself with free internet sources and a few well chosen textbooks.

When I started looking for Japanese learning resources, I realised I already knew the building blocks involved for learning a language. I started looking for tips and blogs from people who had already learned Japanese and what their tips were for learning it. I learned pretty quickly to avoid any textbooks which didn’t teach you the Japanese writing system.

In Japanese there are three scripts (Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji) the first two are the most common and represent syllables. In some textbooks they romanise these syllables into English sounds like ‘ga’ and just write out Japanese phrases phonetically. If this was my first foreign language I might have stuck to textbooks which just has the romanised versions of Japanese, but since studying French I’ve learned there are no real shortcuts and starting the hard way will make it easier in the long run. I also knew that if I ever wanted to go to Japan and be able to read a menu, I’d have to know the Japanese writing system. So any book which only had ‘romaji’ in it was quickly abandoned.

I also know to use audio and not rely on the text in front of me. I quickly put Japanese resources in the ‘trash’ pile which didn’t come with free native-speaker audio material. I know that when you’re learning a language you have to start learning like when you learned a language as a  baby – without the words in front of you. So many people completely screw up the pronunciation of foreign words because they try to figure out what it would sound like by reading it. Or they feel they can only understand the foreign language with a transcript in front of them, which would be fine if people in the real world came with subtitles. This is akin to doing something in theory over in practice, it’s just not going to work.

Once I’ve found the audio, I’ll play it without looking at the text. I’ll replay it and replay it maybe 5 times until I can understand it (and by ‘understand it’ I mean I understand the general meaning of the sentence, not necessarily every word).

Something else I’ve learned is the language of language. For example do you know what a pronoun is? What about verb conjugation, an indirect object or the conditional tense? Do you understand why in some languages objects have genders or have different words for a female cousin and a male cousin? Without meaning to brag, I do! 🙂

But it wasn’t always that way, not only did I have no idea what the English ‘gerand’ was, but it really confused me and was like learning a whole new language. Even though I was always conjugating verbs in my own language (that is changing a verb into different tenses, e.g. ‘I go’ versus ‘I went’) I never thought about it and definitely didn’t have a word for it.

So now when I find out that in Japanese there are two ways to say good morning, the informal and the formal I just nod and jot it down without feeling that resentful ‘why do they say things like that? We don’t do that in English!’ Or the concept of verbs being conjugated differently according to the last syllable, I just go with it and accept that some things are just different in other languages – makes the whole process a lot more pleasant 🙂

I know repetition is the key. This means that just because I’ve read one article on About.com about the Japanese writing system, doesn’t mean I’ll skip over that section in a new textbook. There is always more to learn and there could always be something that you’ve missed the first time, so it pays to read multiple explanations of the same thing. I’ve already had a few ‘a-ha!’ moments with Japanese and understanding what a long dash character does to a word after the third explanation I read.

I’ll also go over my previous notes before I start studying Japanese again, try to remember vocab and sentence structure off the top of my head and repeat, repeat, repeat. I know I’m saving time in the long run by doing it this way!

I honestly now feel if I want to start studying another language or two once I’ve been studying Japanese for a few years, why the heck not?

So if you like sex, you’ll probably enjoy learning foreign languages and the more you do it, the easier and better it will get 😉

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2 thoughts on “Language Learning: It’s Like Sex

  1. that conclusion cracked me up xD oh and how about you compare the language you’re learning with the partner you’re trying to please 😉 Sex isn’t all selfishness now..
    Good piece of writing indeed!

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