Words are powerful tools. Not only can they communicate nuanced thoughts and complex feelings, but they can actually influence our thoughts and feelings, too. Consider, for example, the profound difference between “have to” and “get to” when coupled with the phrase “study Japanese today”…
We’ve all been there. We find ourselves standing in the language section of Barnes and Noble staring lustfully at the colorful rows of shiny new books, thinking naïvely to ourselves, “This is the missing resource. If I just buy this book, I can finally make some real progress!” It’s a perfectly naturally instinct and I admit that I have succumbed to it an embarrassing number of times. I’ve excitedly purchased language learning books that ended up sitting on my shelf unopened. I’ve joined online membership sites, bought apps, or made in-app purchases, only to rarely if ever open the sites or apps. It saddens me to think of how many trips I could now take using the money I have wasted on language learning tools and resources I never ended up using. You would think I would have learned my lesson by now, but the frustrating truth is that I will likely do the same thing again. Why do so many of us fall into this trap again and again?
Repetition is a fundamental part of successful language learning. Until you hear or read the same vocabulary or structures again and again enough times within meaningful contexts, they just won’t commit to long-term, procedural memory no matter how much you may want to remember. A love for repetition is perhaps one of the biggest advantages children have when learning their first language. I am simply amazed how my nephews can watch the same Sesame Street video or read the same Dr. Seuss book a zillion times without getting bored. We adults aren’t quite so patient. We tend to view such repetition as punishment, not pleasure. Fortunately, there are two ways to eat our “repetition cake” without having to eat the “boredom broccoli”. Read on to see what they are.
It is interesting to read claims on the web that the traditional grammar-based language teaching model is “under attack”, when nearly everyone still subscribes to this archaic approach. The vast majority of language classrooms, whether in high schools, universities, or private language schools, still spend most class hours teaching and testing explicit information such as grammar rules and lexical items out of context. I read on a blog a few years back that: “Anything students need to know has to be taught, not caught.” This soundbite seems logical, but it underpins the major misconception widely on display in traditional language classrooms and programs: the notion that languages can be taught. The truth is that languages can only be “acquired”, not taught.
If you will visiting or moving to China, you would do yourself—and those you meet—a big favor by memorizing the ten tips in this infographic from Learn Mandarin Now: 1) Learn at least a little Mandarin. 2) Avoid fake taxis. 3) Prepare yourself to use squatty potties. 4) Avoid taboo topics: politics, Tibet, Taiwan, human rights, and Internet censorship. 5) Learn to bargain (the national sport!) 6) Cash is king. 7) Don’t refer to elderly individuals by their name. 8) Never stick chopsticks in your rice bowl. 9) The number 4 is bad luck. 10) Avoid bad luck gifts like clocks, white wrapping, and green hats. Read on to learn more about each.