Monday, March 17, 2008
If You Want To Learn A New Language...
After speaking this week with an American who might be coming to Sweden to live and work in the near future, and who expressed his deep desire to learn the language, I started thinking about what lessons I’ve learned in my continuing attempt to acquire the wonderful and elusive language of the Swedes.
So with an apology to you Europeans, this week’s Linköpinglivin’ entry is dedicated to any of you hoping to learn a new language, particularly you native and naive English-speakers with hopes of one day speaking Swedish. Listen up for lessons about language (and stop laughing that I have the audacity to claim some level of knowledge in this area):
Build a foundation, then you must simply practice: You must take a class or intensely study to gain the basics, then the continuing practice is up to you. It must become a part of your life, not just a class or something you do when you have a moment. Osmosis is a science term and by no means a guarantee of learning a language, especially if you know English.
Vowels: It may seem basic, but you can’t do anything without nailing the vowels. Spend your first week simply getting the vowels down. Your proper pronunciation will make all the difference in the long run. If all I did my first month was say "Å, Ä, Ö," things would have gone a lot better.
Phrases and sayings: My elementary approach to learning a language said that I could just learn the words, memorize some vocabulary, then spit it out just like I would in my own language. I learned embarrassingly late that you are not just learning the words to a language, but much more importantly, you are learning how to use that language appropriately and effectively. When learning to speak your new language, you must think of what it is you want to say, then think how this might best be said not in your native language, but in your new language (hint: do a lot of reading).
Read children’s literature: In fact, the more you become like a child in your learning attitude, the better off you will be…You Swedes, if you’re still reading this week’s entry, will be interested to know that I have finished Astrid Lindgren’s Mio, Min Mio and am currently reading Karlsson På Taket Smyger Igen. I thought that would make you smile….
M-O-T-I-V-A-T-I-O-N: Curiously, this word is spelled the same in English and Swedish. Perhaps because it is the single-most important element in learning a new language.
F-A-I-L-U-R-E is your best friend in learning a new language, so you’d better leave your pride at the door from the beginning…laughter is also helpful.
Being correct vs. being understood: Just because people understand you doesn’t mean you said it right or even well. Ask a lot of questions…
Order of acquisition? Depending on your approach, you may find that your order of language acquisition goes something like this: Reading, then writing, then understanding others, then speaking. I am currently on phase three and only hoping to get to phase four by the time I leave Sweden at the end of 2008. I’m keeping my fingers crossed or as we say in Sweden, “Holding my thumbs.”
What about grammar? If you’re anything like me and appreciate details, then you might think perfect grammar is important, but don’t get stuck and waste all your time in the grammar book. Learn the basics, then get the language. Details will come with time.
Exposure is essential. Conscious and sub-conscious exposure through all means is so helpful. Anyone who has been reading Linköpinglivin’ for awhile knows that I think a world without TV would be a good world indeed (sorry, Todd), but watching TV attentively and curiously is an excellent way to pick up understanding of the language.
Do Not Give Up. I have been tempted to do this and at moments have, but ultimately, I’m determined to not give up and you shouldn't either. Progress will eventually come, or so I've been told!
Though there are many people who deserve recognition for their great patience and persistence with my Swedish acquisition, the bulk of these lessons were articulated by “Elin,” who in good Swedish fashion would NEVER make a comment on the blog, but certainly has a lot of advice and opinions, of which she shares on a regular basis over email. Thanks, Elin.
Linköping University Campus Valla this afternoon.
Though never surprised by snow in Sweden, we were all caught a little off guard by our return to winter all day today. A great day to delight in the beauty of winter once more before spring, unless of course, you were on a bike, of which I fell off just five seconds into my ride. One sweeeeeet wipe out that left me doing spontaneous snow angels. Here's to a Swedish spring!