By Library Staff
There are many reasons and benefits to learning a foreign language. It could help you achieve some career or traveling goals. It may also improve academic skills, aid in brain development, and slow aging.
So, why not start this joyous project this holiday season to prepare for the new year? It’s a good time no matter what your goal is. If you’re thinking of traveling abroad next summer, start now to be ready. For your job and school, you always have to work to get better. If you’re an older adult, keep your brain fit as well as your body. Also, it’ll give you something to do and the pure pleasure of learning.
Fortunately for us all, the library provides free first-class language learning resources. They come in various formats: book, CDs, databases, DVDs and, of course, E-books, E-audio and streaming videos. You start at the library’s online catalog. Type “learn [insert language of your choice]” in the search box. Here‘s an example if your language is Spanish. While there are many free resources available on the Web, it can be troublesome to find good ones. To save you time, here are three popular library lists for Spanish, French and Chinese.
Keep in mind there are many more great resources available from the library and on the Web. If you don’t like the ones on the lists, or if you are trying to learn other languages, check the library catalog. For example, Pimsleur language CDs are excellent and are often the first thing you hear about from librarians. But try searching the Web to find free online lessons if your language is, say, Korean or Italian. Many sites provide free videos or audios with scripts that you can follow and learn. So search the Web and pick out the one(s) that match your level and style!
Finally, based on my experience and advice from other bi- or tri-linguals, here are two tips on learning foreign languages:
First, be persistent and consistent. Find material you like and practice daily for at least 30 minutes. Along the way you will have (many) moments when you are too busy and tired or not seeing or feeling progress and therefore doubting the effort. It may be a gradual process. The benefits are obvious and glorious, so you may be anxious to taste them and feel the sense of accomplishment. However, dreaming about the benefits will not help you be persistent. So make the process a part of your daily routine — something you do (or try to do) every day, like reading a book or the newspaper. You can skip or take a (short) vacation from it, but soon make it every day again. Along the way, try to enjoy occasional victories like recognizing some words from signs in French, understanding a few words from a question by a Chinese tourist, or exchanging greetings in Spanish. Those are the tangible signs of progress.
Second, learn the grammar. I have seen advertisements saying “Grammar is not necessary. Just repeat things and you will learn the language.” This is true only if you want to memorize popular phrases. Learning grammar gives you a foundation. It tells you the relationship between words and the rules of proper conjugation. It takes effort, but doing so helps you learn the language more quickly and easily. For beginners, find a book with CDs so you get a structured start covering vocabulary, grammar, reading, listening and pronunciation. The library’s language databases are great for beginners, but push yourself beyond them to learn the grammar.
Learning a new language is a long-term project. However, don’t be discouraged by the size of the mountain ahead of you. Enjoy the journey and take in the scenery! With all the free resources available, you have nothing to lose. Even if you quit it after a while, the experience will be yours to pick up again any time with even better, free resources in the future.