The title to this post should be question really: 10 simple steps to learn a second language as an adult?
This is inspired by a language enthusiast who wonders how adults learn a new language. Apparently, children learn by diving (immersing themselves) into it! No grammar rules, no sentence construction rules, just one new word at a time.
I think there is a lot to say, on different levels, about learning a second language and I will write a bit more on the topic, now and then. So this is just an introduction
I learnt Swedish as a second language as an adult (am still learning…). According to experts, adult students need to learn the structural components of the second language if they are to learn the language i.e. by understanding the vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. Well and good, but I don’t remember that I went through the motions of learning the structure. Not consciously in any case!
What I did consciously know:
- it was a language worth learning because I was planning to live and study (maybe work in Sweden for at least 5 years)
- My need to talk, communicate was stronger than my fear to embarrass myself in a new language
- The universal challenge to try to learn something new every day? well, how about a new Swedish word every day?
- Something to motivate! There was an old woman in the family where I lived who had never spoken to an African woman and could not speak English. So she was looking forward to asking me some questions about Africa and all, bless her! She did not intend to let this go through a translator in case the questions and answers were lost in translation; so she had bought an English dictionary when I moved in so she could practice speaking English. I wanted to return the favor!
So how did I do it? well I followed a few rules of the thumb:
- When in Rome, do as the Romans: The first year, I listened to native swedes (I lived with them) speaking their language, everyday (& scare myself to death that I would never learn it. It sounded extremely difficult!)
- Everyone should listen to music and the current news: I had the radio on the local channels SR P1 or SR P2 both of which have a great deal of talk sessions throughout the day. Especially in the mornings, I had it in the background so I could hear the way sentences sounded, how words were pronounced, the melody of the language. But I still did not understand. And if I heard Cat Steven’s name, I knew the sentence had something to do with Nina Simone or Santana! right?
- Be curios and let your sense of humor take control (sometimes): After the first year I began with my limited vocabulary, took only the syntax into account, (terms, words, tokens) spoke bad Swedish with my language teacher, at the shops & with new-found friends. I translated what I wanted to say from English or Swahili (or even Meru) into Swedish in my head, and it became all wrong, sometimes. Sometimes it became all right!
- Develop a love for adventure; life can be monotonous without it: I am adventurous, so I just dived in, as children do, , said the wrong things all the time, friends had a great laugh, as did I. I had fun learning to say the wrong things. I also started to learn other Swedish activities, that have nothing & everything to do with language, like ice skating, biking (well it’s Swedish for me since I could not learn it in Africa!) making meatballs, singing mid summer songs & Christmas carols; in Swedish.
- Keep dreaming, the future is still waiting: I registered myself at the university for a degree in Computer and systems sciences; in Swedish! So far, just a few words in short sentences. By the end of the second year, I began to investigate the complex vocabulary & I included the semantics, the grammar & the structure (I began to think before I said a word). And I took the Scholastic Aptitude Test in Swedish. It was supposed to ease my way to admission into the program since I have foreign high school results (which it did).
- Fill your life with passion: One of my passions is books so in the beginning of the 3rd year, I read The city of my dreams by Per Anders Fogelström, in Swedish, and I fell in love with the language and the country. I immersed myself in learning the culture, the classic writers, the old beliefs, the hidden rules & meanings (this was hard, still is)
- Face the challenges, nothing good comes easy: 3rd year in Sweden, I began the program at the Stockholm university. In Swedish. I heard very little and understood even less at the lectures so I was forced to read my course literature and go through all the recorded lectures slowly, at home. This was the beginning of perfection.
- Make conscious choices OR choose your friends carefully: every day, I chose to work with Swedish students when we had group assignments, to party with swedes so I could speak Swedish when drunk (funny thing, it did not work! new languages disappear when we are drunk? tired? stressed?)
- Take a break from it all: Nothing is so important that we have to spend all our time on it! I had English-speaking friends who I met very often (weekly) for “just English sessions”.A well needed break
Three years into my bachelors, Swedish became my second language. Still some problems but I could write my exams and assignments in Swedish. Swedish friends put up with me because I put in an effort. I still make pronunciation misses with words that have Ä, Ö and Å which do not exist in English but in the morning, I reboot in Swedish and at night, I turn off in Swedish.
PLUS I am an African woman who can speak Swedish. And that, I think is WONDERFUL!