Have you ever dreamed of speaking multiple languages?
Being able to speak fluently several languages provides incredibly rich cultural experiences. It allows you, not only to understand deeply the cultures of the countries you visit, but also to create quicker connections with locals. Whether it is on a personal or a professional level, it will open you numerous gates, lead you to thrilling experiences and boost both, your career and personal life.
Did you ask yourself the good questions about languages? Why should I learn a particular language? How could I achieve my goals and master the languages I have chosen to learn?
Here is what happened to me last week:
I had a drink with an Erasmus student from Germany, my tandem partner, Sarah. She invited me to a dinner with other Erasmus students from Germany, Scotland and Italy. We all have something in common ; our desire to enrich our knowledge while traveling and speaking several languages. We spent an excellent night, talking, laughing and having fun all together. I seized the opportunity to practice my English, German and Italian at the same time. We talked about cultural differences in our countries but also about our respective lives and projects. The variety of personal backgrounds in the group made the discussion really special.
On the way back, I spoke German with a girl who speaks fluently German, English, Polish, French and Italian. I then switched to Italian when she asked me about my professional goal (becoming interpreter). She was very surprised to discover my ability to speak her second native language and asked me where and how did I learn it. She wanted to know how – being raised by french parents – I succeeded to learn 4 languages. Why and how did I managed it?
Many people ask me this very same question, I thought it would be useful to write an article about it to encourage and help those who want to improve their language skills.
I am sure that you already experienced the huge difference between learning something you HAD to learn (at the university, your workplace…) and learning something you WANTED to learn. You will be more eager to learn something you have chosen to learn, won’t you? Learning a language is a process which gives you access to a culture and to more opportunities in your overall life. What if you could link emotions to your learning process? Many scientists already demonstrated it, our brain creates a shorter path to assimilate all kinds of information (including vocabulary) when you feel strong emotions (positive or negative ones).
Here are the reasons why I wanted to learn a language:
- English: I wanted to be able to speak with as many people as possible ; to learn from them.
- German: I had to learn a third language in class. I have chosen German because I knew most french would choose Spanish over German. I wanted to have a different profile, and I was aware of the role that Germany plays in the EU. I also thought; « Spanish is a Roman language, so is my native language, it will be easy to learn Spanish later on »
- Italian: When I studied tourism, I had the possibility to start a new language. Being a foodie, passionate about arts and literature, I decided to attend beginner classes.
Here is how I succeeded:
English: When I was 12, I spent 2 weeks in Ireland. Thanks to an organization, I lived with a host family, took English classes every morning and discovered the country. I dared to speak every day. I reiterated the experience in England, 2 weeks, when I was 15 and eventually in America, 7 weeks, when I was 17.
Italian: When I was 20, I started to learn Italian but 2 hours per week was not enough for me. I loved this language and decided to do a work placement in Italy. There again, alone, I dared to take the leap and stayed 2 months. Luckily, Italian and French are close languages, I was motivated and already languages oriented. Two months of intensive immersion were enough to speak it fluently.
German: When I was 22 I went to Germany where I worked 7 months as a language assistant (I wrote an article in french about this experience). This was everything but easy. I was in immersion in a country where I lived a cultural shock… but I did not give up! I eventually met people I was happy with (among others, the family who rented me a room). German is a difficult language, but with a sizeable dose of persistence, I did it!
Do you understand the point? I became friends with people from those countries, I lived happy and sad situations with them, I tried hard (watched the TV, listened to the radio, opened books and tried to understand with a dictionary, talked to countless people in their native language and accepted to fail…) I failed but never gave up.
The more your brain is used to learn languages, the more easy it becomes! Especially if you learn languages from the same family of languages (there are similarities).
Here is how I deal with languages on a daily basis ; how do I maintain my level:
- I have tandem partners ; there are even apps to meet some
- I call my friends abroad, we have fun while improving our language skills
- I listen to the radio (Rai Uno, BBC…) / watch the TV or tv shows
- I read the news and funny/interesting texts in those languages
To sum up, in order to succeed you need to have a reason, to set you goals and stick to it. Doing so, you willl achieve your goals, more or less slowly, but you will. You have to LIVE the language, you have to be persistent (something I have always been). If you want to speak a foreign language, you should go for it, dare to speak it, fail, improve yourself and NEVER GIVE UP! When I was younger, one of my life-goals was to speak quite a good English by the age of 20 -> I was fluent in English and Italian by the age of 20 (you probably know how bad are French and French schools when it comes to languages). Still, I did it, not because I am more clever than others, but because I wanted it so bad and never gave up.
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