How did I learn languages?

Often, when I meet new people and they find out that I speak five languages, they seemed to be pretty impressed. I often hear “you must have a special talent for languages”! Heh, I wish my high school teachers knew that! Actually I consider knowing 5 languages as nothing special. I know many people who know 7 or more languages and I admire them. As to myself, I consider myself being “normal”. Why? Because all languages I know, I learnt “naturally” and actually had quite a few difficulties on my way. Which ones? Continue reading 😉

First attempts: Latvian

I was born and grew up in bilingual society – Latvia, however at home and with most of my friends till the age of ca. 15 years old I always spoke Russian. As far as I remember I started learning a first new language in kindergarden, it was Latvian language and we learnt just some nouns – like rabbit, carrot etc. I do not think that helped at all. Then school began and English was added. In generally I liked studying and I grasped quite quick Latvian language.

First failureEnglish

When I was in 3rd year of school, we were given the task to learn 10 irregular verbs for the next lesson of English language. And I could not. Not because I was not studying at home, I was, but I just was not able to remember that… do-did-done, was-were-been, cut-cut-cut… etc. And then my English teacher said to my mum that I will never be able to speak English well. J This time she failed J

Next language: German

In the 5th grade we were supposed to start learning the 4th language, and usually you have a choice between German and French, but in our case we were able to learn only German. First 3-4 years of learning German language our teachers changed like weather in Latvia (check the weather forecast if you are not aware), and obviously it did not help learning the language.

In the 7th or 8th grade we finally got our “permanent” teacher for the next couple of years. I was a good pupil, always did homework and was always prepared to answer, even though my German language knowledge was still very poor. Probably 90% of dictations and other tests I was copying from previously well-prepared papers put on top of the student books (we had so many that it was impossible to notice). You might say I was cheating. Call it as you like, but it was my way of survival. I was not capable of learning the language the way it was presented. It was chaos.

Improvements: German

The last 3 years of the school we had again new German language teacher. And this time she actually managed to explain me the language, in the way that I could understand. This is what I find the most important – to understand the logic of the language. Not just grammar rules, not separate words, but the logic! If you understand it, you can learn this language. So in three years I managed to master my German to a quite high level, so that after couple of years I was able to go for a study exchange programme in German and study in German language!

Other languages in my life: Swedish, Danish, Greek, French

Probably even my closest friends do not remember that I have learnt these languages, as it was short period in my life. Swedish I learnt, because in the organization I volunteered, we had a lot of projects with Swedes. Danish, again, because I was involved in youth projects, where Danish were the leading team. Greek – I just tried to learn for couple of weeks at university. French I learnt for a month or so with a self-learners book + 6 months at university in Germany with the professor who speaks just French. The only thing I remember from these lessons was that he taught us the name of women’s lingerie.

My to do list: Arabic and Spanish

Spanish I had to learn in the last year of university. I had a choice between Spanish and French and decided that in a year’s time it’s easier to learn Spanish than French. And I think I did a right choice. There were times when I translated political articles from Spanish, read books. But since I came to Italy, I had to forget all Spanish, as I was mixing it with Italian. Now slowly, I am trying to recover it. I still understand quite a lot when I read, but I cannot speak.

Arabic is my goal nr. 1 at the moment. I am learning this language very slowly, couple of times was giving up – not because it is difficult, but because of lack of motivation, but again and again I was coming back to it, unlike to Swedish, Danish or French. Now I have a goal – to learn Arabic to a level that by 30th August 2012 I can have a normal conversation.

Completely forgot: Italian

Funny, but I completely forgot Italian. Rare friend knows, but for the first time I started learning Italian when I was 15 years old and I had a group of Italian friends. At that time I finished a book “Italian in 30 days”, but that’s it. I had to re-start learning Italian from 0 when I started doing my Masters and decided that I want to do second half of it in Italy, 3 month studying in English and 3 in Italian. So I had about 7 months to master Italian from 0 till the level that I can understand lectures and write essays. And you know what? I managed! How? Just by using Living Language (the same series I am using for Arabic). I find this being the best if your really want to learn language. It combines everything but speaking.

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