Learning Your New Language
We all know that life in our adopted homeland gets easier and more rewarding when we start speaking the language well. But do we know how easy our quest for fluency can get derailed? Some experts claim that even thinking of “home” can be a significant setback.
Cultural Immersion is More Than a Bath With a “Friend”
Cultural immersion seems the most obvious approach, correct? And as expats aren't we experts at cultural immersion?
Researchers claim that when we immerse ourselves into a culture, our brains create new neural pathways and patterns and fix those permanently. So far so good?
But just glancing at photo of home or something from your “home” culture interrupts that process. According to a study done on Chinese students at Columbia University efficiency decreases as much as 16%.
So after an intensive immersion session, going home or to the pub to watch your favorite sports team may not be such a good idea. Some quality time exchanging culturally appropriate language skills with your “friend” may better.
All Those Weird Squiggles!
I had never considered that transliterations representations or spellings using the characters of one alphabet for another would be such significant stumbling blocks to learning a language. Sure, we realize that the native alphabet indicates sounds, accents and tones that a transliteration cannot. But those squiggles are so alien to our own cultural mind set our mind has to do a “reset” every time we look at them.
Maybe not! What if the “reset” is actually digression.
Living with a language learned strictly by transliteration means that you have to forever use linguistic crutches.
But I Live in Village Surrounded by Locals
- Watching the cable channel on TV?
- Talking with your expat buddies at the pub?
- Surfing the web?
- Eating pistachios or “ “pistachio” in Chinese — The simple act of using a term or reading a word in your native language can interrupt your brain’s processes happy nuts”?
A Few Recommendations for Learning Languages
- Learn from a native speaker
- Learn and use the rules of grammar
- Learn to read the language
- Avoid slang
- Listen to local newscasts
This page was motivated by a study of Chinese students conducted by researchers at Colombia University. You can read or download (free) the full study as a PDF at PNAS.