So I’m learning languages, with my toddler, but as we visit each country then eventually leave, I’m realizing: right, I have to keep studying these languages… forever.
That’s the thing. If you don’t use it, language slips away faster than New Year’s resolutions. It’s a never ending battle. You have to be constantly persistent! It’s — hey wait, a second.
That’s a really negative way of looking at it, no?
Anyway that was me before. I had a really bad internalized attitude about language learning. Whether I picked that up from growing up in a monolingual culture or because the deeper I go, the greater the challenges (and sometimes the frustrations) — it occurred to me in the past year that my conversation with myself about studying languages was all wrong. I don’t “have to keep studying these languages forever”. I get to study them. In fact, I decided to stop using the word “study” which had become so tied up with guilt and obligation that it wasn’t the joyful, amazing, interesting thing that had drawn me to want to learn language in the first place.
I used to watch movies in Spanish or Arabic or Mandarin, but I don’t know about you, but that’s way too passive for me. I don’t translate as much as I should and if I encounter something I don’t understand I’m less likely to look it up. Plus, watching a movie means sitting down for 2.5 hours. Which rarely happens anymore with a three year old and an infant. So I decided to change things up. It’s been absolutely brilliant.
I made one big switch: I chose something I loved to do, something that relaxed me, something that I would do no matter what, even if it happened to be in another language.
For me that meant my guilty pleasures: I switched a good portion of my leisure reading… magazines, blogs and news from English to Spanish.
It’s a little embarrassing my choice of free-time reading but often I like to curl up with a glossy mag that is totally packed full of beautiful photos of things I won’t buy or do or make, and just read the soothing, ever-so-helpful advice — even if it’s designed to sell ad space.
Now I read it in Spanish.
I find out about celebrity baby bumps and the latest fashion, but completely en Español. If I’m surfing online, just taking a little break, I get my news from a Spanish-language newspaper online. It’s really awesome and strange to read about Jessica Simpson’s baby in Spanish, just as much as it’s weird to catch up on the situation in North Korea in Spanish as well.
But here’s the thing: I’m COMBINING my “studies” with something I’d do anyway. I’ve added no extra time to my day. And I’m incentivized to read in Spanish not because of some high-minded goal to become fluent but because, “OMG, What does that article on People Español say about Leonardo DiCaprio?”
It totally works.
Take the things you love, the things you’ll do anyway, then permanently switch them to the language you’re learning, so you’re passively picking it up as you go. The key: something you really miss if you don’t make the effort. In the beginning it’ll be slow, but even if you’re just skimming sometimes, translating other times, the net positive is that you’ll be using the language on a daily basis without the mental baggage of it feeling like “work”. In fact, at this point, for me, it feels like goofing off. I’m like, “Okay I have to stop reading Spanish celebrity gossip and get back to work!”
Okay this is now officially embarrassing. But it’s been amazing. Guilty pleasure? Do it in a foreign language.