Ever wondered why some people live abroad for months or even years without picking up any more advanced language beyond simple greetings, “how much is this?” and “Chicken please?” I’ve met quite a few of them in my teacher-backpacking days. Are some people naturally more talented language learners than others? I don’t think so. In fact, we’re hardwired to learn foreign languages regardless of age, our brains being a perfectly equipped language-acquisition machine. In fact, scientists talk about the so-called LAD or language-acquisition device as a metaphor for something or other inside our skulls that’s responsible for human language learning.
Still, what about those poor folks who have to pay twice the local prices for almost everything they try to buy outside grocery stores just because they can’t speak the local language? Here’s what Rootless Kosmopolit thinks about this: love is the answer.
Even if your case is not as severe and you’re just kinda struggling with your foreign language course back home grinding through yet another textbook while regurgitating today’s chunk of fill-in-the-gaps worksheets, here’s what I have to say to you: love is the answer.
No, it’s not about picking up a girl at a bar in downtown Sarajevo or getting married to a Russian guy (although that could definitely help). Kosmopolit is preaching about love for something else, and that could be absolutely anything to do with the country whose language you’re learning at the moment.
The most successful language learners I’ve ever met in my life were like that. And you don’t even have to love the country or its people or its culture. Instead find something small and get absolutely excited about it – a celebrity you secretly and shamefully admire, a writer whose stories you loved reading as a child, some quirky aboriginal habit – anything will do, as long as it stirs your imagination, fires up your emotions and ultimately makes you fall in love with the language.
I got enthusiastic about Spanish when I worked my 70-hour weeks on a cruise ship, where I met a whole lot of Peruvians who turned out to be the friendliest, gentlest and most helpful Latin Americans of the entire crew. I know it was probably luck, and there are equally great Ecuadoreans, Haitians and Russians, but as a hardboiled empiricist I prefer to draw my conclusions from real life, not abstract ideas of universal brotherhood and equality.
There was no going back. I had to learn Spanish, Peruvian Spanish that is – because I fell in love with them all. Yes, even Rootless Kosmopolit gets mushy sometimes.
Every nationality and every language has something exciting going on for them. So don’t just plod through textbooks, don’t pretend you’re learning in your language classes when all you actually do is “language-learning activities”. You just can’t trick your brain like that, sorry.
Now, go FIND something wonderful about the language you want to know and stick with it!
This is what my sermon boils down to: stop being cynical, stop endlessly analyzing the language, dare to love it, some of it, and tell everyone about your new passion.
And that’s when the fun will really begin. You can take Kosmopolit’s word for it. This random internet guy surely knows what he’s talking about.