Summer goals and language learning

I’ve been obsessed with learning languages since I was a kid, but have had a difficult time keeping up momentum on any of them. I think this started when I was about six or seven and my grandparents gave me a Hebrew letters book from their trip to Israel. Considering none of us spoke Hebrew, it was more of a novelty. When I was twelve I tried teaching myself French and learned a few words. I did the usual French and forget in high school and college. And by the time I was in college I had switched to stumbling along in Russian. Much to the sadness of my Russian professor, the only one I kept up with was Croatian, but that was mainly because I lived in Croatia. So, I have passing familiarity with several languages, speak none of them, and have forgotten than I have remembered.

As the Assistant Director of International & Global Studies it is a crying shame that I require students to learn languages and yet I still struggle to learn myself. Now that the semester is over, I have time to try and get back up to speed. My French is pretty good as I’ve been studying every day for a year, but I still can’t hold a conversation. (But I can read Harry Potter books in French.) I’m visiting Poland in August so I figure that I can try to re-learn basic Polish to get around. But both of these tasks require I be able to hold at least a basic conversation, which I honestly struggle with because I am shy.

So what’s the best of approach? The world of learning languages has changed so much since I was a kid too. When I studied in Poland, the only book I could find on Polish was a grammar library book from the 1970s. Never mind finding actual Polish speakers in North Carolina.Most of my time learning languages has been spent sitting in a classroom learning grammar and to be honest it was always a struggle to keep my interest up. While I wish there was a less social way, I’m pretty convinced by the argument that the way to learn a language is to speak it. Yes, starting as a kid is great, but I am no longer a kid and I’m not giving up. So, last week I took the plunge and joined a few language convo sites like italki and HelloTalk. I strongly encourage any language student to try to take advantage of these sites. While there have been some awkward moments (think chatting with a Polish teenager), everyone there really wants to learn languages and almost everyone has been very gracious to my attempts to speak or chat.

Italki is a networking site that connects people who want formal instruction as well as informal language exchanges. Most of the actual instruction/exchange goes on in Skype. HelloTalk allows you to have informal chat conversations through the app. I have both on my phone and the more you use them, the more language partners you will get. Today I was having a long conversation with a Polish speaker and I ended up with quite a few additional attempts at conversation. Many people want to learn English so native English speakers will certainly find chances to learn.

Of course, use your discretion about giving out information and maybe avoid anyone without profile information. You can block anyone and HelloTalk blocks inappropriate content automatically. I would also set up a Skype account just for language conversations if you tend to use Skype for work. That way you don’t have language exchange calls trying to come through when you are talking to your boss through Skype, which happened to me.

In addition to the convo apps, there are lots of great free language learning apps out there like Memrise and DuoLingo. Truly there is no excuse NOT to learn languages. And in the world we live in, learning languages and cultures is almost an act of resistance.

Go forth my friends and speak the world! Hvala za čitanje! Merci d’avoir lu!