I failed Spanish but can speak 4 languages now: If you have ever tried to learn a foreign language in school or through language books you buy at the book store, then you understand the great difficulties that exist in learning a new language this way.
I took two years of Spanish in school, and at the end of the two years I could barely say "the book is on the table.
" The best grade I ever got from 8 terms of Spanish was a C-.
It seemed like learning a foreign language was just not my thing.
After high school graduation and five years later, I was able to speak four different languages and understand five.
The languages I now speak: English, Chinese, Portuguese, French, and I can understand Spanish (because of Portuguese).
I don't mean to say that all of the languages I speak are perfectly fluent, some are and some not, but I am able to make conversation, and get around in each of them.
During the five years I did a lot of traveling and met a lot of people trying to learn other languages as well.
This is what I learned which I hope can help those struggling to master another language.
Reading Comics and Watching Cartoons: Immediately after high school graduation I moved to Brazil for six months.
Before I went I couldn't speak any Portuguese.
To get around, I carried a phrase book and read from it.
I made some Brazilian friends who all spoke English, so I didn't learn a lot of Portuguese from them.
Instead what I did to learn was go to the book store and buy comic books.
The ones I read were the "Cascao" comics (the most popular ones in Brazil).
Also, every morning I would watch a TV program called "Bom dia e Cia.
" During the day I would go around and practice the phrases that I learned.
After four months I was making friends that didn't speak English, only Portuguese, and having conversations with them.
As my Portuguese improved, I would read more difficult books, and watch more difficult TV programs.
A vivid turning point for me during my Brazil trip: I was on my way to visit a beautiful waterfall called "Foz do Iguacu" via Curitiba.
When I got to the city of Curitiba I had to change planes, but my transfer was at another airport.
In short, I missed my plane and was stuck in this unknown city until the next day.
I called my friend back in the town I was staying.
She had a friend I could meet up with.
When I met her, she was very cordial and asked me if I wanted to speak in English or Portuguese.
I told her I wanted to practice Portuguese.
She began talking to me non-stop.
I didn't have any clue what she was saying because she was speaking so fast.
A few minutes later she asked me if I couldn't understand what she was saying.
I said "Not really, but it is okay you can keep talking.
" She did just that, and as far as I remember she never stopped talking for the remainder of that day.
I spent the entire day with this girl, and by the end of the day I was actually able to understand what she was saying to me.
It seemed like a miracle, but I was able to get accustomed to her accent and rate of speech during those several hours of non-stop talking.
Learning French: To learn French I spent two months in a language training school.
French came to me quickly because I could already speak Portuguese, which there are many similarities between the two languages.
I learned French in a little bit different way than Portuguese.
I did do a lot of reading in French, but also, I had a roommate who was from France.
Like with the Brazilian girl, we only spoke in French.
After two months of living with my French roommate, I could speak pretty good French.
Portuguese: I don't get to speak either language very often now, because I live in the United States.
But if I had to say which language I speak better, I would have to say Portuguese.
Even though I have had a lot more conversational experience with French than with Portuguese.
I even would teach lessons in French to French people.
But I will have to admit that my Portuguese is better than my French.
The reason is because I listen to a lot of Brazilian music.
Six months of studying Chinese from a language book= I still can't speak Chinese: When I lived in Canada, I tried to learn Chinese.
I tried all different kinds of learning materials: Colloquial Chinese, Barrons, Teach Yourself Chinese, Read and Write Chinese, I have a whole book shelf dedicated to these type of books.
After going through all of these books I could barely speak even the simplest Chinese.
I felt a little embarrassed at this.
I was supposed to be a language genius.
But Chinese is a whole different kind of language.
For me, the most difficult thing about the language was that the writing system is not phonetic.
Up until that point, I had relied heavily on reading comics or novels to improve my language skill.
Since the Chinese language is entirely based on symbols, there was no way for me to learn the language this way.
Help from a friend: I had a friend that had lived in Taiwan and spoke great Chinese.
He moved to Canada while I was staying there.
It was through him that I was able to find the key to learning Chinese.
Most important, keep it simple.
Don't try to make to language more complicated than it already is.
We began by learning the basic grammar structure.
From there I learned the most common words and phrases to fill in the blanks of the sentence structure I learned.
(I won't go into any more details about this, because it is not the purpose of the article) I practiced what I learned by talking to Chinese people that I met on the streets.
Within three months I had all of the introductory Chinese stuff covered: how are you, where are you from, how long have you been here, how do you like it here, and so on.
Back to basics: I got to a point where I wanted to learn faster than I was at that moment.
I felt that the only way to do this was to be able to read Chinese.
I sat down with a list of 500 common Chinese characters and started to memorize them.
By the end of the first week, I was able to read simple reading material.
(That is the great thing about languages, the range of vocabulary words used is very small).
From that point on I felt a lot more comfortable with my Chinese, and improved at a greater rate.
From there, I started listening to Chinese music and watching movies and cartoons in Chinese, just like how I had done with Portuguese.
I have continued to learn Chinese in this way and now Chinese, although the most difficult to learn, is my most fluent language.
Lessons Learned: The most important thing when learning a language is exposure.
Create for yourself an immersion-like atmosphere that gives you constant opportunities to pick up the language.
This can be done in a variety of ways, which variety is also an important tool to learning.
The methods I used to learn the languages I know being: making conversation with people (which is not always possible if you don't live abroad), reading books, listening to music, and watching TV or movies.
These are things that everybody does everyday anyways, why not take the opportunity to make these activities a time to learn another language? This might seem like an obvious concept, but many people don't understand this.
That is why you have people who buy books like "Learn Chinese in 10 minutes a day" or "Speak in a Week.
" If you want to learn a foreign language, you need to have exposure, immersion, you need to surround yourself with the language.
For me, the best way to do this was to convert my everyday activities into another language.
Read in Chinese, listen to Chinese music, watch Chinese TV or movies.
At first it is difficult, but all that exposure will catch up to you.
You learned your first language the same way.