Learning Language in Liberal

How hard is it to learn a new language? Most of us have taken foreign language classes in high school. But I bet for most of us, those languages remain just that–very foreign. We start by learning numbers and colors and the alphabet, then progress to basic phrases like saying our name, asking how someone is doing, and locating the bathroom. I think with one of my foreign language courses we actually progressed all the way to asking which train went to which foreign city, before the school year was over.

After three years, I still struggled with basic sentences. It was like I could understand intellectually what needed to happen, but somehow it never made it to my tongue. Learning a new language in the sterile environment of the classroom does work for some. My sister became quite good at German after only a year. When they got lost on a trip to Germany, she managed to get a cab and get her group to the right city.

Is she smarter than me? I admit. She probably is. But she was clever enough to do something I wasn’t. She was chatting on IRC (am I dating myself?) with German speakers who were more than ready to correct her phrasing and word usage via text. She also took to watching TV shows from Germany on YouTube, with the subtitles off. She learned more in that one year than I did in all of high school.

As I have said before, one of the reasons I came to Liberal was for the challenge of learning Spanish. I came knowing a little, mostly those embarrassing lessons from Spanish class that never really stuck in my head, and seemed to make me more anxious than anything. I have been taking lessons from my sister, I listen to the Spanish radio station to and from. The library. I keep an ear in on every conversation with our front desk staff and our Spanish speaking patrons. I have recently gotten teenagers to help me with very basic Spanish. No, not those phrases about finding the bathroom. We have been reading baby books.

I figured, babies have to learn somewhere, right? They learn from their parents’ voices what the sound of their culture is, even before they learn the words. And then slowly they begin to associate images or actions with words. It could work for me too, right?

I can say, right now I am very solid on my vegetables and circus animals. And soon I may be ready to move up from the library’s collection of Spanish baby board books to picture books for three year olds. I can understand parts of Spanish conversations in the library, and I can read over Spanish books enough to (mostly) be able to figure out what they are about. I still keep up with the DVDs and audio books I am using to learn, but I can say diving straight in has been far more effective than all of the classroom time in the world.

I have a lot of respect for anyone, anywhere, who goes to a new place for a visit or to live, if they don’t know the language. It is difficult to get around. I also have respect for those who have learned second or third languages on their own. It isn’t as easy as it looks to incorporate yourself into a new culture with a whole new language.

There are those of us for whom learning a new language isn’t second nature, even with immersion. But we are all trying. So I hope you will be patient with me, and them. Our brains will eventually wrap around it.

Also, I am sorry I have two of the Spanish language DVD sets checked out right now, if you are looking for them. I will return them as soon as possible. However, if you are interested in learning German or Portuguese…

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