Learning a new language is a complicated affair which requires dedication and commitment. But it’s not something that should stop us. When we learn a language, we also learn about that culture, the people, the food, the art, etc., which enriches our own experiences.
We normally start learning our mother tongue and/or English from the time we start speaking our first words. We get so used to these languages that after a certain point, we don’t even need to remember the grammatical concepts and definitions, we just know if the usage is correct or not. But when we begin to learn a new language, we have to learn it from scratch, we have to remember and associate the grammar of the new language with the one we know, so the learning process is faster.
In my case it is French. It is a beautiful language and it sounds very elegant. But it is equally complicated. The grammar sometimes confuses and confounds; there are so many rules and every rule has an exception. On many occasions the grammar is a conundrum, it is nerve-wracking, you would be inclined to pull your hair and you would wonder why the language has evolved in a certain way or why a particular rule even exists. For e.g. In English, there are three genders, masculine, feminine and neutral. In French, there are only two genders, masculine and feminine. So even inanimate objects like a pen and a chair can be described as a “he” or a “she” respectively; which creates some amount of confusion till you learn how to differentiate. Or the usages of the past tenses, which past tense needs to be used where, is another huge mountain to climb. It’s very confusing and only practice will give you any edge over it.
After a certain point, when your vocabulary is quite well equipped, your grammar is good enough and you are in a place where you can actually begin conversing, you get in most trouble. In your mind, you have the perfect conversations, your grammar is impeccable and you can really talk in French. But then when you actually start talking, your mind goes numb; all that conversation you had in your mind goes out of the window, you forget your vocabulary, you forget the basic grammar and basic rules of sentence formation. All that comes out of your mouth is gibberish. At that moment, it’s both, hilarious as well as disconcerting. But then if you determine to practice more and more, you will definitely get better at it. The same problems occur for other languages as well.
I was very lucky to have had really great professors, they had so much patience to deal with beginners struggling with French. I remember once a professor even jokingly pleaded to my class to pronounce a word correctly as it was the last class of that level. We laughed and managed to nail the pronunciation which made him happy. I respect my professors so much. Just like learning, it’s not easy teaching a language either. I have my own students now and I know how much dedication and patience is needed to teach a language, I have had to plead to my students as well on certain occasions. But it’s a part and parcel of teaching, we need to calmly ensure our students learn everything correctly.
Best way to learn any language is practice! Practice maketh a man (or a woman as well in today’s politically correct world) perfect. Practice reading; read books, blogs, newspaper articles etc. Practice listening; watch movies and TV shows, and listen to the songs or the radio to get the phonetics and the spoken word clearly. Write as much as you can; summarize what you read or listen. Practice all the grammar and incorporate it in your writing, improve the orthography. Practice speaking in front of the mirror, no matter how broken it sounds at first, just keep on practicing till you get the hang of it.
And in spite of all the challenges that it poses, learning a language also gives a sense of accomplishment. All that hard work and practice that we put in, it is all very worthwhile. It expands the horizon, helps in exploring the various arenas where the language skills can be used; either in language specific fields or any other fields where language is used for communication or documentation. Or at least it ameliorates our knowledge and understanding of other cultures and people, it makes us more open-minded and gives us a lot of exposure outside our own circle. With all the stress in our day-to-day lives, it can also give us a much-needed distraction, it can act as a stress buster.
Bonne chance as the French say for good luck!