Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A childish way to learn (a language)

Children don’t learn, they absorb. They can’t help but take in languages and new skills because their curiosity cannot be contained. A child learns with all their senses. A child will put an object in its mouth, feel it, look at it, smell it, and put it up to its ear to hear it. Yet, as adults we often forget to engage all our senses. We think that we must be serious all the time and that this is the best way to learn. We feel that we will look silly if we chew on our Lego blocks. But really, we are only holding ourselves back.

A child learns languages non-stop. They don’t just go to English class for an hour a week; they are immersed in learning their first language. They have to learn it otherwise they can’t communicate. So they will point at objects and say the sounds, and they do not worry (yet) about grammar. Actually, they will never really worry about it. To communicate vocabulary at first is far more important than grammar. A child also doesn’t have any idea that their language is easy or difficult. A child learning Chinese as their first language will not say that it is difficult because they have nothing to compare it to, but an English speaker will be convinced that Chinese is the most difficult language in the world. For adults this is the problem: we start comparing things and our first language gets in the way of our second language, or third and so on. We lose the direct connection with words that we had as children. We say that another language is difficult, hard, complicated, and yet we are only giving ourselves excuses not to learn at our best.

My suggestion: change your attitude! Language is easy. Yes, people will come to you from time to time and say that language is difficult, but just smile politely and say, “maybe it is for you, but for me learning another language is easy.” Even if you don’t believe it say it anyway. This is a mantra. English is easy. English is easy. English is easy. Say it over and over again and you will change your thinking pattern. Learning should be fun. At the start of learning any language, throw grammar out the window. It’s boring. I hear you! Point at objects, and don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself trying to write and speak. A child doesn’t worry about how they look, they just do. They point at words. They ask questions. They immerse themselves in the language. We all know how to be a child. We’ve all been one. Tell yourself it’s easy. Don’t worry what other people say. Use all your senses. Look, listen, touch, smell, feel and most of all have fun!

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