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Personalizing Yourself to a Foreign Language

Stephanie Bachman on May 22, 2017 8:24:00 AM

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Learning a new language is much like taking apart a computer. In the process, you manage to jumble up all the importance stuff, break something essential, and baffle yourself when there are extra pieces that have to fit in somewhere. This will then be followed by you stomping out of the room in frustration, cursing in your own native tongue at the impossibility of what you need to perform.

The good thing about these types of situations is that there are courses available that teach the essentials as well as the tricks of the trade. When we first learn a new language, sure we sign up for classes, post sticky notes labeling items in the foreign language in our living room, and practice speaking it an hour each day.

Yet this doesn’t always work. Sometimes we try to learn a new language because we have to or because it’ll look good on a resume. The issue then stems from a lack—not of commitment—but of interest.

We need to be interested in the language we are learning. We need to learn to understand the culture of the language. We need to personalize ourselves to it.

While I was in Wales, all the signposts looked drunk. There were doubled letters, a lack of vowels, and consonances intermingling where I very much thought they should not intermingling. Here’s just a few words from the Welsh language like this: Bwlchgwyn. Cwmtwrch. Ynysybwl.

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It was only when I began to understand the culture of the language that these words began to make sense. W and Y are vowels, and many Welsh names are descriptively literal in their meaning. For example, Bwlchgwyn, a town, can be divided up by “bwlch”, meaning “Pass” and “gwyn” meaning “white”. So the town means “White Pass” which is in reference to its white limestone cliffs located nearby.

This language’s way with description and vowels interested me, and although I still can’t speak the language, I will forever remember these details so it will help me should I continue to pursue learning the language.

Another good way to personalize the language to yourself is to create a your own phrasebook. While it is always important to memorize the vocabulary and understand the grammar structure, I would argue that it is also important to know how to express yourself in the language, as it allows your personality to shine through. For example, you could say:

I am a fourteen-foot dinosaur who loves rollerblading and lawn tennis

or

Saturday is my favorite day because I like to sleep in till noon and spend the rest of the day taking naps.

When you learn ways to express yourself and give details about your life, it helps you engage better with the language (because who doesn’t like to talk about themselves?) and gives you more access to talk with native speakers the way you want.

Learning a new language is tough, and it does take time. But by allowing yourself to see the interesting portions of it and allowing room to express yourself, it will help you retain more information and succeed in your pursuit of learning foreign tongues.

For anyone interested in learning a new language, CEWT is offering a class in Spanish in this summer catalogue. You can find more information at cetrain.isu.edu or call (208) 282-3372.

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