Becoming Bilingual – Or How To Learn Any Language Without Pulling Your Hair Out In The Process

by Suw on March 12, 2005

I've put a lot of effort into attempting to learn languages over the years, ever since I realised that there were languages other than English just sitting there ready to be learnt. I remember at middle school learning to sing carols in German, learning to count in French, and trying to make up my own language which no one but me would speak (which, ok, would be slightly less than useful, but the idea of having a secret language was so romantic).
At upper school I learnt French and Latin. French I gave up at the first opportunity, much against the advice of my teacher who was convinced I had an innate talent for languages. Due to changing schools, I had had a year less tuition than everyone else in my class and felt completely out of my depth in every lesson. I thought my teacher was barking mad to say I had a 'talent' for languages.
Latin, however, was great – particularly the racy poetry. You've never seen so many teenagers clustered around their Latin text books, dictionary held close, as when someone figured out that some of Catullus' poems – the ones that weren't in the syllabus – were a bit 'interesting'.
Since school, I've tried with varying levels of success (and effort) to learn Swahili, Norwegian, Dutch, Russian, Polish, Cornish. I've pretty much failed at all of them.
I did, however, learn to speak Welsh, and I spent two years running my own business providing people with Welsh practice material. In fact, you can still buy it if you're interested, at Get Fluent.
That's not a bad feat, really, considering that I learnt the hardest way, from books and dictionaries and friends. I had a few lessons and a have been on a couple of courses, but primarily I've learnt through friends emailing me in Welsh, and me having to translate in order to find out what the hell they were babbling on about.
For the last few years I've been thinking about pulling together all the stuff I've learnt about learning languages, all the research I've done into linguistics, memory and language processing. I guess now is as good a time as any to do it – after all, it's not like I'm doing anything more interesting with this blog at the moment.
This stuff isn't going to take over the blog – I am still going to be posting the usual ol' crap here – but I am going to try to write up some of the techniques that I've learnt, including even some exercises that people can do. I'll tackle grammar, vocabulary, memory, motivation and anything else I can think of as and when I think of it.
I'll bring together a whole variety of techniques too – so many language learning courses are a one horse race, relying on one technique which 'worked like a dream' for the author, but which may not suit everyone. Personally, I have the attention span of a gnat, and I've always found myself quick to get bored, so much of what I will suggest will be ways to try to keep you interested, to keep your motivation going.
Learning a language can potentially take years, and you need to figure out how your brain works, how you learn best, and what techniques work for you. But most of all, you need to have fun whilst you're learning. There's no reason why language learning should be a boring slog, and I'm going to do my best to ensure that whichever language you're learning, you have fun doing it.

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