When people hear how many languages I speak, they always ask me how I’ve been studying. The thing is, I learned each language differently. Some I was taught at school, others I learned by living in the country, others just because I was curious (and later solidified my curiosity by spending some time in the respective country). Take modern technology and all the fantastic resources one can find for free or very little money, and you can drown in an ocean of ways to learn.
But what is at the bottom of this? What lies beneath the hundreds of resources I’ve tried, the thousands of hours I’ve poured my heart and soul in and studied diligently.
Last night I had a thought. I was clicking onto a random YouTube video because I couldn’t figure from the title whether it was in Spanish or Portuguese – the latter which I’m still focusing on these days. And it turned out to be in Spanish. Even though it was not what I was expecting, I suddenly got this feeling of excitement. It was a feeling of familiarity. Hearing the sound made me genuinely happy. Truth be told, I didn’t understand most of it (it was a philosophical analysis of a song, in case you’re wondering), but I still felt connected to the sound and the person who spoke it.
Later that evening, I found some old Japanese notes. Whenever I look back at those, I usually feel all the pain and struggle I went through learning this language (it was the most’ painful process’ in language learning I had been through). I also remembered how I had friends with whom I could connect by speaking solely Japanese and how much I enjoyed it. It wasn’t only that I was proud to communicate in that language but also that I simply felt happy hearing and producing those sounds.
They sounded familiar.
And that’s the thought I had this morning again. The reason why I have endless motivation to work on a language is because of the emotions these languages bring up in me. When I hear them, they make me feel at home. And precisely because I feel “comfortable’ speaking and especially hearing these languages, I end up immersing myself more and more in them. That means that when I’m not in the respective country, I will find podcasts to listen to and YouTube videos and Netflix shows to watch. Often, this is only to hear that language again, to feel some sort of connection to it, even if I don’t understand what is said entirely.
My point is, I think if you genuinely want to learn a language, the sound of that language needs to start sounding familiar, as if it belongs into your life. When I first started learning Japanese, I struggled immensely, as to my ears, the sounds did not sound like a language, rather just some sort of ‘noise’. It was the first time I studied an Asian language, which was remarkably different from the Roman or Germanic languages and sounds I knew.
Once I had been in Japan for a while, it became normal for me to hear the language. I got excited once I was able to make out my first few words in the ocean of sounds that I seemed to be swimming through. One or two words per sentence were often enough for me to get the gist of the conversation and gave me the necessary push to keep going.
So how do you get there?
What do you do, especially now that traveling is either impossible or greatly limited?
Well back to the vast ocean of resources on the internet. There is no shortage these days regarding videos in any language. Podcasts are another great way to dive into the foreign sounds of another language.
And of course, music! Nothing gets me more excited about learning more Portuguese by putting on some good old Bossa Nova dancing through my apartment.
I have found that podcasts or videos made by native speakers, FOR native speakers, tend to create this feeling of excitement for the language and culture in me.
Podcasts or videos for language learners don’t convey the same feeling to me as they tackle my intellectual and logical side of my brain and not necessarily the one who just wants to indulge in the language. (That doesn’t mean that I don’t use them – just that they don’t trigger those good feelings for me as much.)
So if you’re learning a language and notice how you’re losing motivation, surround yourself with the language’s sound so much until you feel like it sounds so typical to you that you have no choice but figure out how to understand it. Once you return to your language learning practice, you will feel more energetic working on it, which will speed up your progress.
It doesn’t help if you have negative feelings towards a language because that won’t help you learn it. Try to find anything positive to associate with the language and go from there. Google the most popular songs in your favorite genre. Ask people to give you their recommendations (online and offline). Find a language tandem partner. Find a local group that speaks the language you’re learning. Be with the language and let it become a regular part of life to you.
I’ll soon post resources in each of the respective languages that I speak so that you can hopefully find something that motivates you along your journey! Keep going!