09 December 2009

Learning a language is hard

I think if you don't feel completely humiliated and incapable after a language lesson, you aren't trying hard enough. Let me explain.

The last time I was in a language classroom where I wasn't the teacher has been something like 13 years, when I was studying Spanish back in high school. And somehow, in the course of studying Spanish, I managed to hardly ever speak any of it, just memorize stupid grammar rules.

Between then and now, I have taught a load of English, learned Japanese, and learned a bit about language acquisition. All that to say, I have a lot of opinions about how to teach and learn languages, and more importantly, how I want to learn a language.

Tonight was my first French tutorial and since I did well on my first homework, I was thinking, well, this shouldn't be too bad. I realized, however, that there is quite a lot of difference between what you do by yourself at home and what you have to do when you and three people are trying to reproduce something in the spur of the moment. Oh man. I was nervous, I had the I-don't-know-how-to-say-that panic. Japanese was coming out. It was a mess.  A big, wet, silly mess.

Japanese, for as difficult as it is, is a very, very easy language to pronounce. You have all the sounds in you already if you are an English speaker. Also, because the alphabet is different. you learn all the new letters as new concepts tied to new sounds. With French, the pronunciation is more nuanced and because you have sounds linked to letters ingrained in you, it's very hard (for me at least) to look at the French particle 'de' and not pronounce it as I would in Spanish or English or even Japanese for that matter. You have to really force yourself to stay on track.

Anyway, it was fun, especially the last group I was in tonight as they were really, really trying to get around with no English.

Thoughts on teaching from the point of view of the student in a later blog, I think.