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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of Dont Try to Walk before You Can Crawl (without using the actual phrase or literal example). (01/17/08)

TITLE: Advice for language learners
By Suzanne R


(Apologies for the nonsense script which will likely appear below. Should you wish to view it as is should be seen, change your text encoding to Chinese simplified, then it will make sense ... or at least look more impressive.)

So you want to speak һ (a smooth flowing mouthful) of your new language, do you? You hope to one day be as fluent as an educated citizen of that land, right? You dream of being as comfortable in your adopted culture as you are in that of the land of your passport, correct?

Join the club. Once I naively assumed that this goal could be achieved within a few years. Now I realize that without having started as a child, it's possibly an unachievable goal. Nevertheless, it's a good goal.

The good news is that we CAN make tremendous progress towards achieving our aim. The bad news is that it may take a lifetime.

As one language learner to another, I'd like to share a few steps learned from experience that can move us along the path to our dream of fluency.

Make mistakes
I have an unfortunate tendency to be proud. Newly arrived in the country, I briefly walked along with my nose in the air until I fell flat on my face and squashed that large western appendage. (Most local people in my 'adopted land' have tiny noses.) In learning a foreign language, the first important skill to master is to willingly fail. Mistakes are a tool for learning. And they are a source of entertainment to those around us. That perfect stranger I asked to kiss wasn't quite sure how to respond, but my friends had a good laugh, anyhow. 'Ask' and 'kiss' sound uncannily similar in my target language.

Ask questions
The pride has to take a battering in order for us to move towards our goal of fluency and cultural adaption. This holds true for general knowledge about life too. Don't assume anything. Face it - we are ignorant aliens at times. Why do men wear flimsy stocking socks and thick knitted red long underwear? What is the meaning of that black badge some people wear on their sleeve? How do you pull noodles? Get over the 'I'm a theologically trained professional' and admit it - we're real dummies in this new world.

Do it again ... and again ... and again
Repetition is the key to learning. Not mindless repetition, but exposure to key vocabulary and structures in a variety of mediums is vital. Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Memorize, memorize, memorize. Listen, listen, listen. And finally, speak. Then speak some more. Focus on receptive skills (reading and listening) initially, then move to productive skills a little later.

I used to write new vocabulary words on cards which I then threaded onto a key ring. As I waited for the bus, went for a walk, used the bathroom etc, I'd flip through those cards. I'd doodle new vocabulary on a pad. Before sleeping, I'd switch on the CD of the recording for the current lesson I was studying, and would quickly slip into an exhausted slumber with the contents of my textbook my last conscious thought for the day. Not terribly spiritual, that practice, but exceptionally helpful for language learning.

Measurable goals
Where I lived, educated people take exams all the time, all through their careers. They powers-that-be offer similar challenges to we foreigners, but westerners too often pass up this opportunity. Oh, we have good reasons. It's too far to travel. We disdain the heavy emphasis on literacy in the standardized examinations. Fine. If such an exam is going to discourage you and send you scuttling back to your passport country with your figurative tail between your legs, don't take it. But find an alternative. Many organizations offer language evaluations in more 'western' ways in order to chart progress. Know where you're headed, measure your progress and be encouraged.

Love covers a multitude of language blunders
Fluency isn't everything. Let's not lose sight of the reason for our struggle to master this language. Besides, there is a communicative force far more powerful than mere language. It is called love . And yet how much more powerful is love combined with good language skills?

Finally, let me share with you a piece of ancient wisdom which has been passed down for countless generations. ֻվ . Don't be afraid of making slow progress, but fear a lack of progress. One day, in God's strength and after much sanctification through suffering, sort of like a local, you'll also have your mouth full of smooth flowing language. Just keep on ploughing ahead. (Slowly, slowly come.)

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Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 01/24/08
Working in another language is a sure way to stay humble! Good advice.
Catrina Bradley 01/26/08
You not only illustrated the topic, you gave us good instructions in how to "crawl". I often feel sorry for people trying to learn American English with its odd colloquialisms. Nicely done.
Karen Wilber01/27/08
Interesting - reading an article instead of story or poem here. A nice change of pace today. Good advice - especially the need to make mistakes and practice. I also liked your lessons on how to crawl.
LauraLee Shaw01/30/08
This is a very well-written article. I loved your disclaimer at the beginning and your use of the keyboard characters to add personality. Very good read.