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Learning a New Language: The Old Fashioned Way

December 6, 2011 3 Comments »

After graduating from college, I decided that I was going to explore the world. The day after graduation I was on an airplane to Amsterdam and have not looked back since. I have lived in over ten different countries over the past twelve years, and in every country I have tried to learn the native language. I failed miserably. I took class after class, went to private tutors, read books on grammar and vocabulary, but for some reason I simply could not seem to even get the basics down. I consider myself to be a fairly intellectual guy. I am a well educated, I am a fast learner, and I am even a certified teacher. So if I am as smart as I think I am, why haven’t I been able to pick up a new language to save my life?

About five years ago I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina. This was the first Spanish speaking country I had ever lived in, and I decided to take a completely different approach to learning. I decided to learn like a baby. Take a second to remember how you learned your native language. You listened to your parents, you watched cartoons, and you were surrounded by people who spoke the language that you would one day grow to master. After pondering on this for a few days, I decided that I would throw my grammar books and private lessons out of the window and start from scratch .
I like to think learning a new language as a pyramid. The base of this pyramid is speaking and listening. Obviously this is the most important part of any language, and the first thing you learn as a child. The middle of this pyramid would be writing and spelling and the last part of the pyramid would be grammar, style and rules. Now, after taking numerous classes and reading countless books, I have noticed that for some strange reason when learning a second language the approach seems to be the exact opposite. Foreign language teachers want to cram your mind with rules, grammar, and spelling before even getting into pronunciation and understanding. This approach makes no sense to me what so ever .

In summary, I became fluent in Spanish in less than two years. No books, no grammar rules, no classes. I just surrounded myself with Spanish speakers, watched movies in Spanish, and spoke in Spanish as much as possible. My advice to anyone learning a new language: Think like a baby!

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3 Responses to “Learning a New Language: The Old Fashioned Way”

  • pierre
    Commented on December 8, 2011 at 1:23 am

    i am impressed by your will and ability to learn a new language and adapt trhoughout your travels. i would like tu suggest you a new tool i used for my language learning. , it is a new free language learning website with a lot of exciting features, meeting new people, learning new languages, find and chat with native speakers, fun games to take your learning progress to a another step. Visit it is free, and learn while having fun!

  • Linda
    Commented on December 13, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Hi Robert

    It’s funny because I learned most of my languages just like you said, by throwing myself into a new culture and having no other choice than to listen, ask, and try my best. I fluently speak French and Spanish as my native tongues and have learned English and Mandarin, although without practice I have lost it for now. As they say, practice makes perfect!
    It’s great to see confirmed what I have also experienced, unconciously.

  • Commented on December 18, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    […] del original de Robert W.) Etiquetas: gramática, Hispanoparlante, idioma extranjero, […]