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    A Shortcut to Learning a Language: The Right Attitude

    A Shortcut to Learning a Language: The Right Attitude
    March 14, 2013
    Brent Van Arsdell

    I remember trying to tell my Russian teacher, “I’ll call you tomorrow.” What I actually said was, “I’ll kiss you tomorrow!” She corrected me, we laughed, and I learned from my mistake.

    Of course, it’s easy to laugh things off in a fun situation like that. Keep that in mind next time you make an embarrassing mistake. Having a sense of humor and a positive attitude are the keys to fast, fun learning.

    After all, laughing about your mistakes is much better than the alternative—sulking, clamming up, or beating yourself up about it.

    Enjoy Your Mistakes: Learn Faster!

    Let’s say you just made a mistake—again. I know it’s frustrating, but try this: this time, decide to act a bit differently. Tell yourself, “Let’s make this fun instead. Let’s see if I can get my tongue and mouth to make that sound.” Pucker up your lips, make gorilla noises, babble like a baby, or sing it if you have to!

    Try anything you need to do to say that foreign word. Don’t take yourself too seriously; just play with it. If you can make it fun, even when you make a mistake, learning will be a lot easier.

    You Can Learn How to Make Any Possible Human Sound

    Imagine you’re visiting a strange land where they have a world-famous way of kissing. I mean, these people practically invented the kiss, right? You’ve signed up for a course in kissing, you’ve packed your bags, and you’re flying over there now.

    OK, so your plane is landing, and you know you’ll be met by your chosen tutor. Should you be nervous? No way! In that country, people have lips and tongues and mouths just like the rest of us. What’s so special about “The Special Kiss” that you can’t learn? Now replace “The Special Kiss” with Spanish, French, Russian . . . see what I mean?

    There is nothing a Spaniard or Russian can do with their mouths that you can’t learn to do with yours. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to be a native in order to learn to talk like one.

    If you have the right attitude—one where learning is a fun and exciting adventure—you can learn to do exactly what they do. This won’t come easily at first, but practice it. I guarantee that you will develop the perfect attitude for learning how to kiss—I mean speak a foreign language.

    Leave a comment to gravesmc2003

    29 Comments to “ A Shortcut to Learning a Language: The Right Attitude”

    1. Emily

      You bring up a good point–that every human is capable of imitating the sounds of any human language–but aren’t there limitations to how well people can make those sounds?

      For instance, popular culture pokes fun at how native speakers of many Asian languages often mix up their “R”s and their “L”s when speaking English. This is not for lack of trying!

       
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    2. Brent Van Arsdell

      Fortunately there are NOT limitations on how well you can learn to speak and understand a new language.

      However different languages use different sounds. These sounds are called phonemes. The phonemes that are in the languages that you already know will be easy for you. The new ones will take some work.

      For example, Japanese people often have a hard time saying the word lollipop. It comes out sounding like “wowiepop.”

      It easy to learn new phonemes if you slow them down a lot and listen carefully. Our software slows the words down for you, but you still have to listen very carefully, until you learn how to hear and say the new phonemes.

      I’ve worked with foreigners trying to reduce their accents in English and I can always get them to sound like a native born American if they want to.

      The right attitude, plus effective learning methods are the keys to success.

      Using the right methods, without the right attitude, is just another path to failure.

       
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    3. Eva

      I don’t feel totally agree with the above comments on making your second or third language sound like natives speaking. Sometimes it just won’t work, ever. Just because we’re adults,our vocal cords and brain structures are not as plastic as very young children’s.

      For example, there are some glottal sounds so difficult that I just couldn’t make it right when I was learning Arabic. I know probably nobody could do as well unless he or she is a native speaker. I don’t think it’ll significantly impede general understanding in most situations though, even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect. You just won’t be recognized as a native speaker. That’s it!

       
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      • Brent Van Arsdell

        In most cases it’s not worth trying to sound like a native. Accents are fine as long as you can be understood.

        However the brains of adults can be very plastic if we do our study in the right way. Read “The Brain that Changes Itself” by Norman Diodge for details on how this works.

         
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    4. Ian T Webber

      It is good to strike a balance between the fixed in stone by age 6 and the you can learn to bean acrobat at any age if you really want to. One should always be a little humble about generalizing, especially from one’s own experience, because human brains do not all have equal capacity in all fields. It is true that all can learn, but clearly individuals do differ in the time and effort it takes for particular things, and sometimes that difference is crucial in determining whether it is worth your while to undertake the challenge. It is my own experience, realizing others my be different, that it is harder to learn new languages as I get into late middle age. Or is it just not having the time?

       
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      • Brent Van Arsdell

        Aww, but I really want to be an acrobat! (smile) Seriously thank you for your comments.

        I don’t think you are doing this Ian, but a lot of people use their age as an excuse for not doing what they want to do.

        What if you changed your mental description of your age from some number to the word “whatever”. Then you could say, “I’m whatever years old.” As a person who is now “whatever years old” you could then cheerfully ignore the fact that you are “whatever years old” and dive right into finding the method for learning French that will work the best for you today!

        Bon Chance!

         
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    5. Jane

      Your course looks very interesting but I am a “perfectionistic” learner who gets easily frustrated. I would buy your course but, desafortunatamente, I already own levels one and two of Pimsleur and am now struggling through level 2. However, had I seen your course first I think I would have bought it.

       
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      • thomas

        Jane –

        I appreciate your sentiment of struggling through Pimsleur. This is the unfortunate sharing that many of Pimsleur’s students come to Language101.com with. Even more so Pimsleur does not offer the opportunity to learn to read the language, only speak it. Since you’ve already invested in Pimsleur I suggest taking a look at our scholarship page. It’s provided through generous donations of members who have found Language101.com invaluable to them and want to be able to help others in a place of need learn their desired language more efficiently and joyfully.

        https://language101.com/scholarships

        Thomas

         
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    6. Mary

      I moved here from South Korea with my mom and brother when I was 6. I first learned English with a tutor from England. Although I spoke Korean, I began to speak English with an English accent. That seemed to confuse people. “Why don’t you speak English with a Korean accent?” they would wonder. Now I speak English like an American, but can flip to an English accent (and actually do it subconsciously if I’m talking to an English person). Growing up I’ve been fascinated in languages, studying Spanish and even Middle English. For over 30 yrs my mom has claimed she’s too old to learn, and to this day most people can barely understand her English. Meanwhile, I’m pushing 40 and happy to say I’ve just started to learn Norwegian. I think it has a lot to do with attitude. I guess it’s true, “if you think you can’t, then you’re right.”

       
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      • thomas

        Mary –

        Absolutely! Attitude and belief structuring shape our confidence and ability to achieve outlandish goals. Great job with learning an American accent! You can do anything you choose to.

        Thomas

         
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    7. ccshanteau

      Mary-

      It is always a good time to whip out a James Allen quote! We are absolutely capable of anything we want to do, especially taking on a foreign language. Congratulations to your achievement. I’m inspired by your abilities and story. Thank you.

       
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    8. ccshanteau

      Rather, a Ford quote with James Allen sentiment. My bad.

       
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    9. gravesmc2003

      I am 69 years old, and just beginning Russian, and found that it like Spanish has a “rolloed, or trilled, R”. I have studied Spanish for years, and could not really make the rolled R sound. I use tricks, such as “buenos totterdays” for “buenos tardes.”

      Will I ever learn to make the Russian R sound?

       
      Reply
      • thomas

        That’s a great way of shortcutting the rolled R sound. I don’t have any great tips on the Russian trilling of r’s. Here’s a youtube video that I have found exceptionally useful in guiding many people to rolling their tongues more effectively:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NZ3cOKvB84

        Thomas

         
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    10. Allen Robnett

      It is extremely rare to find anyone who learned a language after age 10 who can speak it like a native. I like your observation that it is not necessary to speak like a native. I think the Pimsleur ads are deceitful along those lines.

       
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      • thomas

        Allen –

        The phrase ‘speaking like a native’ could be interpreted many ways. On some levels it could simply mean having a natural dialect instead of learning to speak from a foreign understanding of the words. Where I am from I hear a lot of foreigner’s speaking English that have hard times with letters or sounds that are unfamiliar to their native tongue. Many German speaking people have trouble pronouncing W’s properly. Spanish speaking people have trouble with the two L sounds (like yellow) having a hard L instead of a Y sound. If they were able to pronounce those letters properly they might ‘speak like a native’ English speaker. It is not necessary to speak like a native to be heard or understood. The problem with Pimsleur is that there is no way to grade yourself on how well you are reproducing the phrase being offered and therefore may just discontinue a whole lesson in order to move forwards instead of working on one or two single phrases within that lesson just to perfect them. Being forced to listen and repeat the entire lesson is a bit of a downer when the struggle is with a phrase somewhere and moving forwards becomes a real chore of repeating otherwise perfectly understood phrases just to practice the one. This reason is one of the key differences that stands Language101.com out from the crowd of language softwares.

        Thomas

         
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    11. William

      I am something of a language enthusiast, and have tried many times to learn various languages over the course of my teen and adult life. Unfortunately, I have never been able to stick with any of them long enough to get very good. I often get frustrated with my inability to grasp certain sounds. A prime example is when I was studying German. I’ve never been able to roll my r’s. No matter how hard I try, I can’t do it, and it seems to me that a good deal of their words seem to require this sound in order to pronounce it correctly. Any advice for these issues?

       
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      • Brent Van Arsdell

        We have an article on how to roll your R’s.

        It probably will help you.

        Brent

         
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      • Hello

        Hello William (far above),
        You don’t have to roll your r in Germany with your tongue. I’m in Hamburg the only one who does so, and I’m often as where I come from. The only r used in Germany is in the beginning of words, something between a ch-Sound and a sound some people make when clearing their throat😊
        But in the middle and the end of a word it’s often substituted by an /a/, “Vater”(Father) is pronunciated as [fa:ta].

         
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    12. Warren Keene

      I originally learned Swedish at the Navy language school in 1952. After five and a half months in a group of four students with a native speaker, we could speak and understand the spoken language – within the limits of our approximately 8000 word vocabulary. In 1958 I travelled in Scandinavia and was able to understand and be understood acceptably well. I have kept up my reading and regularly read books in Swedish, with only occasional resort to a dictionary. I recently returned from a month in Scandinavia, mostly in Sweden. I found that my comprehension of the spoken language was very poor. In the major cities, where English is taught continuously from the third grade, when I would attempt to speak Swedish, they would usually reply in English. In the smaller cities and towns, this rarely happened and communication would continue with my struggling Swedish.

      Sorry to be so long-winded, but do you have any suggestion for preparing myself to spend two months in a small Swedish town during the summer of 2014?

      I also read Spanish and French rather well. I used Rosetta Stone prior to spending two months in Argentina. It was somewhat helpful, but I agree with your adverse comments about it.

       
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    13. Kaitlyn

      Thank you for writing this! I agree with you, 100%. While it’s true that children are much faster when learning language, every person regardless of age can still master any language. Including pronunciation. I’m a high school student, currently studying French, and my teacher ( who is from Romania ) told me that in France people often thought she was a native because she managed to speak the language like a native French speaker. She got past the accent barrier that so many people seem to be stuck on. I’m about to start my fourth year of French, and I still have a very long way to go, but I often get complemented on my French accent not only by my peers, but my teacher and other French speakers as well. Now, I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but what I mean is that I practiced French non-stop. In French 1, I would sit in my room and practice rolling the back of my tongue until I eventually figured out how. Granted, I was 14 when I started. Regardless, I got past the tongue rolling fairly quickly, and speak to the best of my ability.
      Also, your articles are very interesting :) I am a fellow language enthusiast, and I find them very informative. This past year I took a year of Chinese ( Mandarin ), and next year I will start my German education while self-teaching a little Korean. I’m glad there are so many like minded people! Thank you so much :)

       
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      • Brent Van Arsdell

        Congratulations on your excellent French accent! Yes, the more you immerse yourself in it the better you do. Keep up the good work.

         
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    14. Ron Knill

      (from a native of rural Wisconsin, transplanted elsewhere)
      I have had the occasion to need to be able to speak French, but soon realized that my real problem was understanding native French speakers. The occasion was a year living in a distant suburb of Paris, Bures-sur-Evette, in order to study and do research. It was then 1969-70 and Bures, as we called it then, was a very small town of maybe 1500. But it was the localle of a monthly open farmer’s market, it had a barber shop, a tiny church, grocers, and a little “river”, all that remained of which seemed to me to be a ditch with water running in it.
      The marvelous thing about it, was that, unlike Paris, the people of Bures were generally very patient with an American struggling to to speak their language.
      Perhaps one reason for this was the fact that the French, especially those some distance from Paris, had suffered greatly during the German occupation of France, and the 25 intervening years from WW II had not softened their memories. There several monuments in Bures commemorating events of WW I, but none commemorating the horrors of WW II.
      Please excuse the digression. I have a soft spot for Bures.
      I should get to my point. Having made some effort, with the help of four weeks of one-on-one tutoring in French, and a subsequent year speaking it with natives, about all that remains of my French is my abilityy with pronunciation. The ability to speak the language has just about left me, living as I do, back in the States.
      However, I have had the good fortune to return to Paris for a few short visits, and on those occasions the most marvelous miracle never failed me: my ability to speak it came back as if in a flood tide, but it remained only briefly on my return home.
      For me, that is the true meaning of the words,
      “Total Immersion”.

      —New Orleans, Louisiana: la Nouvelle Orleans

       
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      • thomas

        Ron –

        Thanks for sharing your story!

        Thomas

         
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    15. Andrew Frechtman

      I work as a musician on cruise ships (many languages spoken onboard!)I am 58 years old and my last language study was High School (Castiliano) Spanish.

      I need to learn both Tagalog/Filipino (the other members of my band are Filipino) and Mandarin Chinese (my fiancée is Taiwanese) simultaneously. I will be starting another six-month contract onboard in January and would like to learn both while onboard. Partial immersion in Tagalog is possible/likely, however immersion in Mandarin is not going to happen at that time. Any recommendations or suggestions? How much time should I give to each every day?

       
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      • thomas

        Andrew –

        The best bet for you seems like it’s going to be with the Pimsleur team:

        http://www.pimsleur.com

        Don’t be fooled by all those other ‘pimsleur’ methods and websites out there reselling the official Pimsleur products for a profit.

        Thomas

         
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    16. Jemma

      I think a good way to answer the “Am I too old to learn a language?” question is to look at hyper-polyglots (People who speak a large number of languages). Statistically it is very rare for a person to have mastered three or more languages at a young age, most hyper-polyglots are older and they have found a system of learning language that works for them even without the plasticity of childhood.
      It’s true that everyone is different but I think the main limitation people have in language is focusing on what they aren’t ‘good at’. Don’t give up until you try, any polyglot will tell you that dedication is a great way to break down your perceived barriers.

      Cant do it now? Keep trying until you can and if it’s really not happening for you, find another way to get by without that certain diphthong you can’t pronounce. I have rhotocism (An inability to properly pronounce the letter r) I was born in Scotland with very pronounced Rs as a national feature and I’m learning Finnish. I have found that as long as I’m close there’s no confusion.

       
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      • thomas

        Jemma –

        Thanks for the great information! We love to hear how our suggestions help or are modified to help others learn! My experience with learning language as been focused mostly on English etymology and discovering the roots of English as Greek, Latin, Roman and many other languages are fused. Recently studying French and Spanish has been quite exciting. Learning many languages is certainly a feat though as most computer programmers will attest to it does become easier as you learn more – you just start thinking in the expression that is most precise and go from there into translating it into the most useful form.

        I had never heard of rhotocism before. It’s good to learn about how that particular feature of yours can be worked around to still provide effective communication results.

        Thomas

         
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