Have you ever been in a relationship with a foreigner or enjoyed a netflix series in a foreign language? Or was there something different that excited you, kept you awake and continues to do in a foreign language that made you stay with it? And although you didn’t know first what they were communicating or singing about, you understood something, while some time later you found yourself picking up words in the language you didn’t speak or study yet (well)? And if yes to most of it or something similiar, than it is that thing that made you learn.
Why is learning a second language then often so difficult? Often times, we don’t learn another language because of a single movie or because of a frequent encounter with a foreigner such as in an annual business meeting, but becaue we have to. Having to lacks naturality, which is the naturality that comes with learning, for example by maintaining frequent contact with a foreigner or an interest in a foreign language. Because you are interested or because you want to learn something that “foreign vocabulary” can offer, you keep at it and you likely naturally figure out what the other person tries to convey, or what that amazing song or book might mean. Learning ends up feeling rewarding.
Following curricular, studying vocabulary and grammar tends to feel unnatural if it is something that you don’t need, but need to gain something out of it. Remember how you learned you first langauge? I hope you don’t remember it, but you remember how it came naturally and how it was context dependend and in that context relevant to you. You learned by applying language. ” I am hungry. I am angry. I need this. Can I do this?” And as you grew older, you became professional in your primary language. You didn’t study it by force, but because of how you and your environment shaped and responded to your linguistic capabilities automatically.
A child wanting to eat potatoes for dinner wouldn’t learn first the grammar, an ettiquete and all the words for fruits and vegetables. Intead it would get quick to the point by likely asking “Can I eat potatoes for dinner?”. Potatoes are what it is familiar with and dinner is what it tends to have daily.” As adults, this works similiar.
Forcing ourselves or having to learn something that lacks the relevancy to us, often feels time consuming but also less effective. For example, why should you be able to learn to communicate about the weather and ettique in country Y, when right now your country and your way of communicating is individual and of individual importance to you? And why first piling through various grammar rules, when learning to say a sentence in the correct time leads you to the response or the gain you hoped to achieve with it right away? “Did you send the report?” “Yes.” “When?” “Yesterday.” “I did not recieve it.” “Did you look in your spam folder?” ” No, I will have a look, Thank you.” [Here the correct time is automatically learned and leads to effective conversation].
What makes learning more effective? Learning is a process and often it is effective if what we learns aligns with our interestes and needs. These may not always be about fun, but anything that is important to us; our job or a thing we want to pursue like understanding foreign sports better or needing specific vocabulary to explain ourselves fast as well as under pressure. This makes learning effective, when it is about you. And of course having someone to support you in getting there. In doing so, learning grammar and the correct time comes naturally with it; and a pass in the exam or better communication at work likely too.
Whats a good teacher then? Someone who lets you be yourself and who challenges you too, like you would be in real life 😉