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Christine Giacalone recording a student in Spanish while teaching at the University of Jordan. Courtesy photo.




Speaking of
How to learn a language

04/02/15
By Angie Sykeny asykeny@hippopress.com



If you’ve wanted to learn a new language but don’t have the time to slave over textbooks or take a class, have no fear. Christine Giacalone, assistant professor of modern languages at Rivier University, says the best way to learn a language is simply having exposure to it.

“Think of what a child does when they are learning their native language,” said Giacalone. “The first thing they do is listen. Their mouths aren’t developed enough to speak, so they’re just taking in a sound inventory.”
To start, immerse yourself in the culture of the language you are trying to learn. You can do this while still maintaining your daily routine. When you watch a TV show, put the language subtitles on. When you go out to buy food, go to an international market instead. Listen to a podcast in that language during your morning commute.
“If you try to separate the culture from the language and just look at the words, it will take longer to learn because you won’t have context,” said Giacalone. “If you dive into the culture and the food and the music, you’ll naturally absorb it.”
Another way to start learning a language is to find things that interest you and incorporate those into your learning. Giacalone gives the example of cooking. If you enjoy cooking and you want to learn Spanish, try to cook with recipes in Spanish.
“Explore real things you are passionate about,” she said. “The more you can combine your interests with the language, the more you are going to retain it.”
Finally, if possible, try to have conversations with people who speak the language you are trying to learn. There are language conversation groups where people get together and practice speaking in that language, or you can ask local churches, libraries, and nonprofits if they have ESL volunteer opportunities. That way, you can help someone learn English while also learning his or her language.
“The best teacher is a native speaker,” Giacalone said. “You can go the textbook route, and that complements your language learning, but ultimately if you can find someone who speaks that language, that is key.” 
 
As seen in the April 2, 2015 issue of the Hippo.





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