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It’s Never too Late to Learn a Language

First, let’s start off by me saying that it’s never too late to learn a language. Again, I repeat, it’s never too late to learn a language. Why am I saying this? A few days ago I came across an article that debated whether or not foreign languages should continue to be taught in schools. In the comment section, one person wrote that teaching a foreign language is useless if it doesn’t begin at the primary level. Their idea was that after reaching a certain age, reaching fluency was next to impossible. This is a myth and has been disproven time and time again, both through research and the experience of individuals. 

Children learn better than adults 

Exposure

Some people have the idea that children learn languages better than adults do.  They reach this conclusion because they see how children who move to different countries are able to easily pick up a language, speak fluently, and usually without any trace of a foreign accent.  An adult who spends the same amount of time in the same country usually won’t have the same amount of success. The adult might speak in a broken style with a lot of mistakes, or they may have a strong accent that makes it difficult for a listener to understand what they’re saying.  Even if the adult goes to a language school or works with a language tutor, the results of the adult will be lower than that of the child. Does that mean that the adult has started learning at an age that’s too late? Not necessarily. At least, not biologically. The amount of exposure that a child usually receives often eclipses that of the adult.  Children will find themselves surrounded by other children who only speak a certain language. For hours on end, they’re hearing the language from their classmates and their teachers. When they watch TV, they’re hearing the new language from TV shows and movies (not to mention music that might be playing on local radio stations). The adult on the other hand may only use the new language to communicate what is absolutely necessary, and nothing further.  The adult’s language might be broken, but it can be understood, so no correction is given, and the adult doesn’t have a pressing incentive to further develop their language skills. The child might be exposed to the new language for many hours per day. If we take into account only the number of hours they’re in school, then they might have anywhere from 5-8 hours of explicit (direct) language instruction each day. The adult who manages to go to a language school might be exposed to around 4-6 hours of language per week in an educational institution (unless they enroll in an intensive language program).  

Fear

There’s also the fact that children tend to have less fears of making mistakes when speaking or using the language.  As they become older, the fear of being embarrassed or of failing increases which can decrease the chance of a young person taking risks.  On the other hand, adults language learners may not have much confidence. They might be more inhibited when it comes to using the language, especially outside of a classroom.  The more shielded they become, the less likely they are to use the language and the less likely they are to use the language, the less growth they’ll experience in the language that they’re learning.  Bearing these things in mind, can we really say that it’s too late to learn a language after a certain age, or can we say that learning a language in adulthood is absolutely possible? From my perspective, it is possible to learn a language well into adulthood and success in doing that is completely achievable.  It just requires giving yourself the best chance possible.  In short, it’s never too late to learn a language.   

Your methods and commitment 

Commitment 

First things first, if you’re going to learn a new language, you have to commit to the goal.  If you decide to quit after a week or a month of trying to learn, then you’re only failing yourself.  Commit to learning a language for at least 6 months. In addition to that, make a solid plan for yourself, specifically, how much time you’re going to dedicate to learning the language each day and each week.  Be committed and be consistent in learning your target language.  

Your Methods

Secondly, you have to use methods that are effective for you in language learning.  Many adults who decide to learn a language try to learn the same way they were taught or learned in school.  This includes using flashcards, conjugation charts, and just learning words out of context. It might work for some people, but using these methods as your foundation for language learning usually won’t be very fun and effective ways to reach a good level in the language of your choice.  Nowadays there are many options available to learn languages. These include apps, audio programs, online or in-person tutors, and more. You can also try to immerse yourself in the language you’re learning from the comfort of your own home.  In some future posts, I’ll give you different strategies that you can help you to learn a different language. However, the most important thing is to use methods that are effective and helpful to you.  Don’t just do something because you’ve seen other people doing it or because you learned that way while you were in school.     

Learn about learning

One thing that’s overlooked in learning languages is the idea of learning about learning.  How does the brain work? What are the best ways to store new information into our mind or to ready ourselves to receive something completely brand new?  There are plenty of works and research in the field of neuroscience and you should consider spending some time learning about this area of research. One book I’d recommend is Make it Stick by Brown, Roediger III, and McDaniel.  You can (and should) also take some time to look into books and studies that discuss language learning and compare the different results to see how you can apply them to your own language learning journey. Learn how to learn so that your learning process is smooth and effective.  Learn and apply, learn again, and apply again.  

In ending

This post could definitely have been a lot longer because there’s so much information on this topic, but I wanted to keep it short and sweet and drive the point home that it’s never too late to learn a language.  Don’t listen to people who don’t know what they’re talking about and who probably never even tried to learn a language as an adult. If you have the desire and the will to learn a new language, then go ahead and learn the language(s) of your choice.  You’ll be happy with the worlds that will open up to you as a result.  

What languages are you learning?  What languages would you like to learn?  We’d love to hear about your experiences, so share them with us below in the comment section

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Have you ever dealt with or even heard of culture shock before? Today we’ll be discussing it and we’ll also have a special guest from the Philippines who will be sharing a traditional story with us from her country.

In our very first episode of the Words and Bridges podcast you’ll learn about us and what we’re about!

Culture Shock! 

This phrase is thrown around often enough and that has been the case for years on end.  Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation that a person may develop when they enter into a culture that isn’t similar to their own.  The further away from their own culture, the more severe the case of culture shock might be. In short, they are shocked by the things they see in the new culture that they’re encountering.  Culture shock is said to consist of 4 phases.  

The Honeymoon Period

During this phase, the traveler is enamored with the new culture that they have entered.  They are thrilled to try new food, traditional clothing attracts their attention, the sound of a different language is exotic, the people are different.  It’s a new experience for a person who’s traveling and they’re taking it all in. However, if they stay long enough, the traveler may find him or herself transitioning to the second phase of culture shock.  

Frustration

As the name says, the traveler now suffers from frustration.  The language that was so exotic becomes an annoyance. It’s difficult to communicate, and who knows, the locals might very well be making fun of the poor traveler.  The food is too spicy (or too bland, or too sweet). There aren’t any “regular” clothes. People don’t honor their commitments, others are too fastidious when it comes to time. Travelers lament “why can’t these people just be normal???”  There’s a lot of anger, irritation, and the traveler may wonder why they are still in the country. Given enough time, the traveler (if he or she is lucky) may move on to the next phase of culture shock.  

Adjustment

When the traveler adjusts, they become used to the way of life in the new country.  They might make friends, learn the language (even if only passingly), and start to have an active life.  It may become easier for them to find the things that they need (like “regular” clothes) and they may start to feel comfortable in the place they’re currently living in.  

Adaptation or acceptance

At this point, the traveler has absorbed the culture and might even be a part of the culture.  They rarely question why people do things the way they do or why things aren’t “normal” like they are at home.  In fact, for some travelers, this place that caused them so much grief, confusion, and shock might become their home while their original home becomes a little more foreign to them day after day.  Now, they’ve become fully immersed in the society and they can function in it nearly as well as a local (some even become more local than the locals).  

Is Culture Shock Necessary?

The idea of experiencing culture shock when traveling has been around for ages and it was a guaranteed part of the traveling experience in the past.  When communications between countries (and even villages) was limited, there weren’t many ways for a person to know what to expect when going abroad except by word of mouth and maybe through reading.  However, with globalization and mass communication that reaches every corner of the Earth in this day and age, is it really necessary for culture shock to occur? Is it possible for travelers (or even expats and immigrants) to prepare themselves for traveling beforehand so thoroughly that they don’t experience culture shock or that the experience is at the absolute minimum?  This is an idea to think about and one that we’ll revisit a little bit later.  

Is Culture Shock a Bad Thing?

Often when people talk about culture shock, there is the idea that it’s not necessarily a good thing.  Culture shock is to be expected, but it has to be overcome in order to truly enjoy one’s experience in a new land, so they imply.  Becoming disoriented, frustrated, and feeling lonely are definitely not good things, but culture shock doesn’t have to be that way and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing either.  If anything, a traveler can reorient his or her mindset and accept culture shock (if it happens) as just another part of the traveling experience. Just as they might expect to eat different foods, take different modes of transportation, and watch different kinds of television shows, the traveler can just as easily expect to deal with the highs and lows of being in a different culture and embrace the experience just as that; not as a good or a bad thing, but just as an experience.    

Preventing Culture Shock

If, on the other hand, we look at culture shock as a jarring experience for a person, is there a way to prevent it from happening altogether?  In the past, it may have been a next to impossible task. Nowadays, the situation is entirely different and I think culture shock can be completely eliminated, or at least mostly eliminated.  Unless a trip is unplanned and happens suddenly, any person who is traveling can easily acclimate themselves to a new cultural environment before even purchasing their plane tickets. Nowadays, we can watch an endless amount of videos on YouTube or other sites and see the people of a culture, their regular routines, their norms, and so forth.  We can meet people online and have language or cultural exchanges with them. We can read forums on traveler websites about what it’s like to go around in the country, how transportation is, what the negative sides of the society are, and more. For the majority of the places in the world, we can get a wealth of information about what to expect and how to prepare for it beforehand.  This is not to say that doing all of this work will totally erase the disorientation and stress that a foreigner might feel from being in a different society. However, once something is expected, the occurrence might not be as harsh as it would have been had it occurred unexpectedly. In short, the more preparations and precautions a person takes, the less likely they are to deal with culture shock.  This is especially the case with a person who has an adaptable nature and is able to go with the flow. Knowledge plus flexibility goes a long way.  

Final thoughts

Traveling can be a wonderful thing.  Culture shock does occur, but it doesn’t have to be a given.  Learn a bit of the language, know what to expect of the people, get some idea of what is considered normal, read “official” information from the big magazines and sites coupled with the experience of visitors from traveler sites and blogs and your shock is sure to be minimized (in most cases anyway).  

Have you ever dealt with culture shock before?  Was it an acute case or mild? Did you go through all four stages, or did you leave halfway through?  Let’s hear your stories in the comment section below!  

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Talking Bubble

Language teachers often lament about how difficult it is to get their students to speak in class.  Their complaints can range from students relying on their native language all the way to individual students being silent when called upon, or even having a class that is completely quiet unless they have to answer a question.  In this article, we’ll look at 5 ways to get your EFL/ESL students to speak more in class.  Since part of learning a language is learning how to speak, oral communication must be used and practiced often if your students can hope to develop into well-rounded language users. Continue reading below for 5 ways to get your EFL/ESL students to speak more in class.

Get to know your students, ask what keeps them so quiet

The first of the 5 ways to get your EFL/ESL students to speak more in class is getting to know them.  If your students are reticent to talk in class, the first approach you can take is to get to know them.  At the start, you are a stranger to them and, in the best case scenario, only a teacher. Neither of these leaves the door open for them to feel comfortable enough around you to talk and possibly make mistakes.  Likewise, with the exception of a handful, the students in the class may not all be friends. This puts even more pressure on them, makes them more nervous, and decreases the likelihood of them speaking freely in the class.  Getting to know your students and allowing them to know one another can build the rapport between everyone in the classroom and the more comfortable the teacher and students are with each other, the easier it will be for students to express themselves openly.  

After you’ve built rapport with your students (and they have done the same with each other), you can also take the next step and ask them why they’re so quiet in the classroom.  Are they shy? Have they had bad experiences with teachers in the past? Are they lacking in self-confidence in their language skills? Whatever the problems are, once you understand it clearly, you’ll know how to tackle it effectively and hopefully, you (and your students) will be able to overcome that hurdle and speaking in the classroom will become a normal part of the experience.  

Encourage making mistakes

Encouraging your students to make mistakes is the second way to get your EFL/ESL students to speak more in class.  Before these learners came to your classroom, they might have been the students of someone else.  In their previous classroom environment, they may have dealt with teachers who constantly criticized them, made them feel incapable of being successful, and essentially placed them in a box that limited how far the student was willing to allow themselves to go.  As a teacher who wants his or her students to speak more, you’ll have to undo the damage that was done before. Encourage your students to make mistakes. Let them know that making mistakes is part of the learning process and that by making mistakes, it means that they are trying something new.  Furthermore, tell your students that it’s okay if they forget sometimes. Words, tenses, anything. In general, when it comes to learning, we have to be exposed to a thing multiple times in different settings before it finally sticks, so if they forget something, let them know that it’s natural. Encourage them to make mistakes and encourage them to try.  

Make speaking a regular part of your class.  Stress it!

If you want your EFL/ESL students to speak more in class, you absolutely have to make speaking a part of your class.  For a period of time, you’ll present an idea or lecture some point. You might then ask your students to do a written task.  Maybe afterwards you’ll have them either answer questions orally or give you the answers that they have for their tasks. However, you have to also include a period of time where your students are engaged in continuous oral communication.  Ideally, speaking should be included everyday to the point where it is normal in the eyes of the students and they’ll know that it’s an expected component in the class.  

Regular short reports with Q&A

Another way to increase the speaking in the classroom is to have students regularly give reports.  You can choose different students for particular days and rotate through the week or month until all students have had a chance to do this.  How can these reports be done? Perhaps you’ll have your students focus on current affairs. The night or a few nights before, the student who has to give the report will read a news article (or watch a broadcast) and take notes on the information that was presented.  The student will give a report to the class on their assigned day and a Q&A session can follow afterwards. However, it doesn’t have to always be something related to the news. For example, your student can watch their favorite TV show and report on what happened in that episode and what they think will happen with the characters in the coming episode.  Allow flexibility. The focus of this is to have the students speak in the language that they’re learning and the more they enjoy the topic, the more involved they’ll become.  

Anonymous topic box

Your students may be very creative, innovative, and ready to try new things or talk about exciting topics.  You’ll want to give them a chance to voice their opinions and to feel as if they have a role in structuring the class.  Having an anonymous topic box is a good way to do that. On the last class of the week, you can have your students write down topics or speaking activities that they’d like to try in the upcoming week.  They can put these topics in a box (anonymously of course) and after class, you (the teacher) can choose two or three topics or activities to do in the coming week. This is especially good for those students who may be quite shy or afraid of criticism, but who have great ideas, are creative, and would like to speak more in class.  

These are only 5 ways to get your EFL/ESL students to speak in class.  Of course there are many more available and the more you try, the more you’ll find.  Hopefully, at least one of these tips will be useful to you (although it would be much better if all 5 are).  If you’d like more ideas on speaking activities that you can do in class, then enroll in my free Udemy course “5 Speaking Activities you can do in your ESL/EFL Classroom.

Talking Bubble.jpg  

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As of this writing, it is estimated that there are over 7,000 languages that are spoken around the world and of those many thousands, over 50% of the world’s population speak only 23 of those languages (Eberhard, Simons, and Fennig, 2019).  The top 5 languages in the world are currently Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi, and Arabic which in total have nearly 3 billion native speakers (keep in mind that the total world population now stands at around 7.5 billion people). Although there are 7,000 languages in the world, if a person were able to speak the top five languages, they would be able to communicate with nearly half of the people in the world.  Nowadays it’s much easier to learn a language than it was in the past. More foreign language books have been published, language centers are found in every corner of the globe, teachers can be found through various platforms (including yours truly), and we can do language exchanges either online or by meeting up with foreigners who live in our countries. The options are endless. Although there is more ease when it comes to language learning today, it still takes a bit of work to reach a good or even advanced level.  Is the time, effort, and money spent on learning a second language worth it? Without a doubt, it is, and for a great many reasons, three of which will be discussed below.
Reason One: Connecting with others and building relationships.
When we travel to another country on vacation, the locals might speak our language, which of course would make things easier for us.  However, if we speak the language of the locals, we’ll be able to get a better insight into their culture, history, and also understand people that we come across on a more personal level.  Nothing is lost in translation, and we communicate directly with them without walls. The same is true with immigrants who might come to our countries. We’re able to befriend them and teach them about the country they’re becoming a part of and we’re also able to learn from them and hear their stories directly from their mouths.  By the same token, immigrants who learn the language of their adopted country will find it easier to adapt to the place they’re living in. Instead being isolated from the rest of the population, they might find it easier to interact with their new neighbors, colleagues, and classmates among others. In addition to traveling and immigration, speaking another language can allow us to make international friends based on things such as hobbies, specialty groups, and so forth.  A person who is interested in diving might join groups on social media and get advice from people who speak the language that he or she has learned. A person who loves fashion might connect with groups of Italians and French people to learn about new fashion trends in those countries and if they speak Italian or French, they may be able to go more into depth when they have discussions with group members.
Reason Two (and maybe the most discussed): Work and Professional Reasons
The world is a globalized one and many workers find themselves interacting with clients from different countries and regions.  This is especially true now that so much marketing is occurring online at a greater rate than ever before. The wider your language base, the wider your reach will be to potential consumers.  Language and culture tend to be intertwined; when you learn a second language, you often pick up parts of the culture related to that language as well. People who pick up a second language may have a deeper understanding about the culture that they’ll be interacting with professionally.  Having this understanding will enable a businesswoman or a company chairman to be sensitive to specific parts of the culture they’re dealing with and this can engender a deeper level of respect between two (or more) parties that have to work together. Additionally, taking the time to learn a language to a high degree will show others that you care about their culture and can make them more receptive to you when you’re dealing with each other.
Reason Three: Access to Information
True, there are many books and works of literature that are translated into other languages, so you might be able to read works by international authors in your own language.  However, imagine being able to read Dostoevsky in Russian, Coehlo in Portuguese, or Garcia Marquez in Spanish. How much of their style, emotion, depth of meaning, and more would you get by reading directly from the words of these writers compared to having to first go through the “wall” of a translator?  Nowadays, it’s about even more than just books. Reading is great, and of course, can’t be stressed enough, but the explosive growth of media globally has been and continues to be immense. Consider streaming movie and TV platforms such as Netflix. Once, it was known mainly for American or mainly English language programming.  Now, original content is being produced from and for other regions in the world in the languages of these regions. As with books, translations are available as well as subtitles, but how different is it to hear an actor or actress speak in their own language? Their passion in an emotional debate, their energy when filled with anger, their speech when they’re out of breath during a fight scene, all of these (and more) are things that carry over more strongly when they come from the original actor rather than the voice actor.
Although I’ve only mentioned three, there are a myriad of reasons why learning a second language isn’t only a good idea, but a great one.   What are some other reasons you can think of? Comment down below and let’s get a discussion started.
In the previous article, I wrote about immersion, why it’s important and how immersion can be done both in your country as well as when you travel overseas to learn. In this article, I’ll give 6 ways that you can immerse yourself in a language while you still live in your country.
1. Read novels in the language that you’re learning.
How often do you read? Do you have a book in your hand when you use public transportation on your way to work? Maybe when you’re waiting at a doctor’s office or for some service, you do a bit of quick reading until your time comes to be served. Perhaps you read in the evenings or on the weekends at home or in a cafe. If you’re a reader in your native language, why not try to read in the language you’re learning? You can even read the translated versions of the same books that you’re already a fan of.
2. Commit yourself to using the target language (the language that you’re trying to learn) for a certain amount of time each day.
For example, you might say that your commitment is to speak the target language 2 hours a day each day. You can also use the language when talking with friends in real life, as well as over the phone or online. Some might recommend a language exchange, but since we’re focused on immersion, an exchange might not be the best option. Working with a private tutor would be better.
3. Netflix!
Netflix is an excellent way to add to the immersive experience. Due to Netflix being an international company, many of their programs are dubbed into one language or another. If a show you’re interested in is dubbed into the language you want learn, then take advantage and watch the show.
4. Create a community of speakers
One of the difficulties that can be faced by a language learner is to have people with whom he or she can speak and do activities with. If you’re facing this issue, why not consider creating a community of speakers? Through the internet and social media, you can find people who are like you and engage in activities together. Trips to the museum, a night at the movies, time together at a café, game night, the options are endless. With everyone in your group speaking the target language during the entire time of your activity, you’ll find regular occasions where you’re actually immersed in the language. In fact, your community will be like a bubble in the world around you.
5. Go to events where the language will be used
In addition to creating your own community, you can also be active in seeking out events where the language you’re learning is being used. Does an embassy host events for their citizens? Are there any holidays or cultural affairs happening that you can attend? Maybe a prominent person from that culture will be coming to give a talk to his/her compatriots. Search and find a way to join these events. You’ll be able to listen, speak, and fully interact with the individuals who attend these events and who knows, maybe even strike up a friendship or two.
6. Regularly organize events where the language can be used
Maybe you couldn’t create a community of speakers. Maybe you couldn’t go to events where the language is being used because it’s too far or because you simply couldn’t get access. Don’t worry, the next best thing is to organize your own events. Can you create a meet and greet or a networking event for speakers and/or learners? Could there be a cultural exchange, where all participants use the language, but each speaks with a partner to talk about their respective culture? Maybe you could talk to a local cinema owner or manager and ask if they’d be willing to screen a movie in that language and then have a discussion afterward. Whatever you do, the possibilities are endless.
These are some ideas of ways to immerse yourself in a language while you are in your home country. The point of this article is to give you suggestions for creating an immersive environment. You shouldn’t feel helpless when it comes to your language learning journey. More things are in your control than aren’t, so give it a shot and try to create your ideal language immersion today.
 
We often hear that one of the best ways to learn a foreign language is by traveling overseas and living in a country for a period of time so we can become immersed. The idea is that if we live in the country where the language that we want to learn is spoken, we’ll be surrounded by the language whether it’s by seeing signs, hearing people talk, maybe having to write using the language, and of course speaking the language with people we come across. It’s true that when we travel, we’re surrounded by a different culture as well as a different language, but can being surrounded by a different language always be called immersion?
According to the Google definition, to immerse means to “involve oneself deeply in a particular activity”. Working with that definition, simply being in a place where we’re surrounded by a language doesn’t automatically mean that we’re immersed in the language. Consider, for example, the student who goes to study abroad for three or four months in Tunisia. This student takes intensive language classes five days a week for four hours each day. Outside of the classroom, they do homework and study. However, the student hasn’t made any friends and in fact, barely talks with the locals. The conversations between the student and the locals are limited only to shopping and services: “I need…” or “Can you give me…?” or “Where is the nearest…?” Maybe the student watches TV shows in their native language, maybe they listen to music from their home country. The point I’m making here is that being in a country doesn’t mean that one has immersed themselves. By the same token, if we are students and we want to immerse ourselves, it’s not always necessary to leave our countries. Yes, the last part is true, you can actually immerse (or at least semi-immerse) yourself while you’re in your home country.
Using the definition that was mentioned above “involving oneself deeply in a particular activity” how can we immerse ourselves when it comes to language learning? How can we involve ourselves in the activity of learning a language? Let’s take a Brazilian student who’s learning English as an example. She lives in Rio de Janeiro and around her, the vast majority of people speak Portuguese. No problem, she has some friends who speak English. Some of them are expats from English speaking countries, others are fellow Brazilians who have learned the language very well. When she’s with these friends, she only speaks English. She texts these friends and others that she met online in English. She also sends emails and comments in English while online so her writing can improve. She watches movies and TV shows (especially on Netflix) and listens to music in English. She also has a nice collection of novels, magazines, and poetry written in the English language. Although this student is a Brazilian living in Brazil, she might spend at least a couple of hours each day using the English language and she has succeeded in partially immersing herself in the language that she’s learning. Rather than using the language only in textbooks and to answer homework assignments (like our first student), this student is living and breathing the language that she wishes to learn. She has involved herself deeply in learning English, she has immersed herself.
Although location can play a role, at the end of the day, immersion is less about place and more about action. The action that you take, and the constant and consistent effort that you exert when learning your new language is what determines the level of immersion that you’ll experience. If you’re interested in learning a language so you can get the immersive experience, but you don’t have the time and/or money to do travel abroad, don’t fret, you can get close to the same kind of benefit while you’re living in your home country. In fact, this might even be a better situation, because the more you learn while you’re in your home country, the more you’ll be able to do and experience when you’re finally able to travel abroad. With a little bit a creativity and a lot of hard work, the immersive experience can be right in the palm of your hands.
Question of the day: What steps can you take this week to make an immersive environment for yourself in your home country?