By Daniel Arnold – Collegiate Staff
As a child, I was obsessed with expanding my knowledge, even before I knew it could be beneficial. My parents often bought me globes, atlases, travel guides, and maps in order to expand my view of the world.
I would ask family members about where they had traveled, and they would reply with what was their most prominent instance of culture shock. During get-togethers, I would watch two cousins speak German to each other. The whole time I was hoping to catch something from the incomprehensible gibberish.
Since then, I have seen both cousins excel with their foreign languages. One of them is comfortable speaking six, while the other is comfortable speaking three. After seeing the progress of people close to me, I decided to, quite simply, learn another language. The whole time I thought to myself “How hard can it be? I have learned plenty in my life already.”
My first attempts of foreign language study didn’t go well. I gave German a try when I was about 15, but after about three weeks of studying, I found it too difficult and moved on to French. Then after about a month, I gave up on French, too. After a slight hiatus in language learning, I decided to begin learning Russian a little less than a year ago.
At that point, I was not feeling very confident. I had previously failed at learning two Latin-alphabet languages, and learning an entirely different alphabet seemed impossible. However, I became aware of the many resources available to help me learn another language.
So, with no knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet, punctuation, grammar, or vocabulary, I began learning on my own.
Since beginning to learn Russian last July, I have yet to discover why it has been an interest of mine. Still, coming from a family with a gift for language-learning, I decided to pursue it. While I find Russian to be very valuable, West Michigan has very little resources to help.
At first, learning Russian was intimidating because I didn’t know where to start. Most people learning a foreign language feel the same way, so I thought it was normal and continued on. Instead of thinking about where to start, I simply began taking random steps towards learning
Russian. I downloaded dozens of apps, software, podcasts, books, and videos in order to learn. The most effective way to do this is to complete each of the resources one-by-one. That way, I don’t feel overwhelmed with many unfinished segments.
Today, I have completed most of these resources. So, where does my Russian stand now? Well, I know very little Russian, but I certainly have come a long way on my own. I study daily and have plans to study Russian at a university, get a tutor, and travel abroad.
So, how does this apply to others? It is completely possible for anyone, any age, to learn any language. Today’s resources make it easier than ever, still quite difficult and slow. Any progress should be praised.
There are easier languages to learn than Russian and you will be most likely to follow through with learning a language if you are truly passionate about it. No matter the difficulty, learning a language that is interesting to you will spark lifelong hobbies in culture, and people from that part of the world.
Learning another language offers opportunities that are not available to most of America’s monolingual population.
People often justify not learning another language with excuses like, “I’m not talented with languages.” If someone has the drive to learn a language, then the chance for success increases especially if they have the right motivation level.
Aleta Anderson, professor of German and Spanish at Grand Rapids Community College, believes anyone can find a language right for them, despite the difficulties of learning.
“Learning a language can be intimidating because your mistakes are visible to everyone,” said Anderson. “However, I always tell students that without making mistakes, you won’t make any progress. The most important thing is that you speak up and try. You will learn.”
Anderson believes interest in a language does not mean it will be easy to learn, but it will help.
“Being interested is certainly key in learning anything,” said Anderson. “If you have no interest in it, you will not be as eager to learn, and that motivator is always helpful in the learning process.”
Dawn Cheikh, an adjunct instructor of French and Arabic, also believes that learning a second language can be accomplished by anyone willing to put in the time and effort.
“The proof is in the fact that you learned your native tongue,” said Cheikh. “So the key is never giving up, never stopping the learning process. Keep taking the next level, even if it means you need to switch colleges or travel abroad. Eventually you will become fluent, and how cool is that?”
Many students equally agree that learning a foreign language is key in worldwide success. GRCC students Khup Thang and Zam Khup can speak English, Burmese and Zomi, which are languages commonly found in the Southeast Asian country Myanmar, formerly Burma.
“It is important to know the language of where you are planning to travel,” Khup said.
Thang believes that, by learning another language, “you (can) go to a different country where there are people to converse with” and learning that language will help them “understand you much easier.”
Both Thang and Khup have an open mind when it comes to learning languages.
“I am learning Spanish right now,” Thang said. “I have a friend who speaks Spanish and does not know much English, so I am trying to learn Spanish so we can (communicate.)”
GRCC currently offers a range of foreign language courses, including: American Sign Language, Arabic, Chinese, French, German and Spanish.
If GRCC does not offer a particular language, there are many resources that can aid in foreign language growth.
This free language learning app is available on both iOS and Android devices. Memrise has courses for more than 200 languages, including many minority languages. After learning words and phrases, the app will send a notification that reminds users to review what they have already learned, as well as continue learning. If students do not own a compatible device, the courses can also be accessed through Memrise’s website. Visit memrise.com for further information or to create an account.
This is yet another unique and free language-learning application, which is available on iOS and Android. HelloTalk matches users with people from around the world who want to learn English, and will teach their native language in return. Users can either type or speak to others for practice. HelloTalk offers a unique service that allows users to correct the grammar of their language partners, so users can learn as accurately as possible.
If someone decides on learning another language, the Google Translate application can be a fantastic mobile resource. Not only is Google Translate free and extremely fast, but the program can translate 90 different languages. Although the program is not trusted to translate text with extreme fluency, Google Translate is a tool that can decipher words that learners do not yet know. The app is available on both iOS and Android devices. In addition to the programs above, other apps like Duolingo and Busuu have also been praised for their effectiveness.
This is a website owned by Rosetta Stone, and is currently the largest online language community. Livemocha dreams of globalization, where people around the world can be fluent in multiple languages. The website offers 35 different languages to choose from and people around the world help each other by correcting grammatical mistakes in order to reach full comprehension. Visit livemocha.com to explore their free online language learning site.