Eid Saalim (Witty Learning Author) - 01/04/2017

Advice for learning languages

Why do we forget foreign languages quickly?

To begin, I would like to mention that learning languages is one of the most coveted things for many people, just as it represents the most beautiful of challenges for everyone else. However, what cannot be doubted is that everyone suffers at the beginning of learning any language, especially Arabic, and in my capacity as someone experienced in Arabic I will talk about my experience in this matter. Then you will be able to apply my words to the Arabic language in particular or languages in general.

The question that has already been asked in a general fashion is: why do we quickly forget second languages, and this increases with the passing of time if there is no effective practice?

Before answering this question, let us first understand: how do we learn languages? In order to understand this, we can conceive the matter if we compare it to our native language.

When a child is born, he is not aware of anything and he is not able to communicate. Gradually, he starts to connect with this world by way of perception.

Perception is random in the beginning and not defined, and this is visible in many things.

For example, when the child wants his father or mother, he moves his entire body, then his upper half and then just his hands. You can notice this yourself! Likewise, in the beginning, every man is “Dad” and every mother is “Mom”. After that comes listening.

Listening is when the child listens to the conversations of his father, his mother, the rest of the family and those around him and he starts to imitate. This is the first stage of learning languages. Sometimes he makes mistakes and other times he is correct. He hears people laughing at his words and the way he says them, and despite that he continues to rectify his mistakes until he arrives at the desired sound.

Correction: After that comes correction from the father and the mother, and it is by way of, ‘Say this’, ‘Don’t say this’, ‘Do that’, ‘Don’t do that’, and so forth.

Multiplicity of sources: In the beginning, the child’s only source is his father and mother, and sometimes the rest of the immediate family. Then the matter expands to include the extended family and acquaintances and then it expands to include the environment that surrounds him, especially friends.

Sentences and phrases: One of the things that are established and not differed over is the way of learning through sentences and phrases.

It is true that we learn words and verbs but it is more important that we learn sentences and phrases, and they are what form our native languages and they form our personalities as well.

These phrases can come within a comedic framework, a social one, a scientific one, and so forth.

Deliberate imitation: Deliberate imitation starts in a late stage of learning a language, and this is by way of the learner showing his delight or his scorn or his desire to learn a dialect different to his own, and thus he starts by acquiring expressions and phrases that could be somewhat different or very different from his native dialect. In this stage there will also be mistakes, and likewise laughs here and there, and the response will be one of two opposing types:

  • 1) Despair at mastering this new dialect
  • 2) Hastening to master this new dialect

Sequence imaging: In all of the previous stages we find that the language passed through several different stages until it arrived at its known maturity.

It is of the utmost importance that all of these stages, without exception, have participated in having a background of sequence imaging.

This means that all the expressions, phrases, postures, sentences and responses have gone through images that are firmly established in the mind of the learner. Thus, there is one question but its answers are varied, and that depends on the image that exists in the mind. Without this image, there is no clear vision.

From the discussion above about the story of a language we can extract several important things, and they are:

Diversify the ways you learn a language:

This means that when you learn something new in the language, try to diversify the way you learn this thing. Stop trying to repeat the word ten times or even a hundred times as that will not reap anything but feelings of boredom and maybe a headache.

Learn the sentence in the following ways:

Image: For example, when you study expressions for greeting, as an example, call to mind an image or images that give the same meaning and practice them by explaining the images to a teacher or colleagues or even yourself.

Roleplay: Don’t be shy! Act out these expressions with your colleagues under the supervision of the teacher or even with your friends more than once, or even in the surrounding environment if the opportunity presents itself.

You can find the evidence for what I’m saying in abundance when you look at the teachers who follow the traditional ways, such as dictation, memorisation and gathering information. As soon as the class ends, if the teacher asks his student about greetings (the subject of the lesson), such as ‘Goodbye’, ‘See you soon’ and so forth, you will find the student standing and thinking about what to say, as if he hadn’t studied anything!

Observation: Observe this conversation that you have studied, either by way of videos or observing your colleagues in class. All of this will firmly establish the language within you.

The hand: Absolutely, one of the most important things in learning languages is the use of the hand. Allow me to demonstrate this through an example.

For example, when studying pronouns in any language, such as ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘you’, ‘he’, ‘she’ and so forth, don’t sit there with your hands folded while you repeat these pronouns after your teacher. Instead, use your hands, such that if the teacher asks you to repeat them, you do so by showing it with your hands. This means that you say ‘I’ and you point to yourself, you say ‘you’ and you point to someone in front of you, and so forth.

There is a lot of beneficial advice when it comes to learning languages in general and Arabic in particular.

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