For the Love of Language
By: Anna Kogan, Support Specialist
Throughout my life, I’ve sought fellow foreign language learners and speakers in the wild. I’ve met the dedicated, all-or-nothing unicorns that have sacrificed a scant few months to immersing themselves in a foreign language, frequently coming out of the experience close to fluent. I’ve also met the apologetic Eeyore types who hang their head as they recount their tales of spending four years of high school and four years of college learning a language, nary able to string together a complete sentence in their language of choice.
While many insist that they may or may not have a natural proclivity to foreign language learning, I’ve found that the main factor to learning a language effectively and maintaining it is determined by whether you’re willing to put in the hours, steeping yourself in that language as thoroughly as possible. Those who rely on a daily (or less-than-daily) class period to learn a language rarely achieve the same level of fluency as the obsessed, hardcore learners who put in the extra work every day.
As someone who started in 1st-year French and moved on to 4th-year French the following school year, I know the value of dedicating my summer to filling my brain with nothing but French. For me, in addition to reading my French textbooks, this meant my morning omelette was accompanied by various news sources in French, listening to audiobooks like Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers in French while strolling around my neighborhood, lunching on a jambon beurre on a baguette with francophone YouTubers, followed by a generous helping of Le Petit Prince.
I set my phone, apps and computer to French, and even got myself to dream in French. To be fair, all the French I immersed myself in would have gone completely over my head had I not first learned the fundamentals in class. I’m in no way advocating replacing language classes, but rather supplementing them with a variety of sources after having internalized the basics.
Now that I’m no longer in school, and no longer in the same active language learning mode, I find reading and listening to foreign language works indispensable for maintaining and continuously improving my language skills. At this point, letting a language quietly fade into the depths of my subconscious would be tragic, like losing an essential part of my soul.
I hope that today’s students get to discover the same deep love of language I did in my school years. I suspect that they won’t discover that love through formulaic phrases and artificial scenarios, but through finding various oeuvres relevant to them. Be it through a cheeky romance novel , or a mind-blowing novel by one of the great existential thinkers of France , the more resources a student has access to, the more likely they’ll be to fall in love with and internalize a language.
I hope that if students are offered a choice between reading The Fault in Our Stars and Bajo la misma Estrella , that they’d give the Spanish version a chance. In turn, giving themselves a chance to learn new words and expressions in context.
Younger learners could be endeared to foreign languages earlier by reading some delights like La paloma encuentra un perro caliente, No dejes que la paloma conduzca el autobus or La llama llama rojo pijama in Spanish.
I’m grateful to have had the privilege of (then new) technology, excellent language learning resources and inspiring Spanish, French, Portuguese and Latin teachers on my side throughout my language learning years. Ideally, every motivated learner will appreciate the plethora of resources available at their disposal and learn to enjoy all the personal and professional benefits knowing another language well can give them. With every audiobook they listen to, and every book they read in their target language, I hope they truly feel, understand and love that language deeper in their bones.