Learning a language in France
By: Patrick Riley (justin) 2011.12.14
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So teachers, textbooks and pop quizzes aren't your thing and you want to learn a foreign language via the most direct, authentic method possible-going native. But wrapping your head-and-tongue-around the local lingo demands constant effort, and if you want to get fluent quickly, an almost militant diligence. Here then are the keys to learning a language commando-style, in country:
FEED YOUR HEAD: Learn something new everyday. "If you can learn one phrase and 10 vocab words a day, you're doing well," says Laura Downhower, who learned German doing post-grad fellowship work in Cologne and Munich and is now perfecting her French in Geneva, Switzerland. Keep a notebook of new words, or make flash cards, and read them while waiting for the bus. Expect the occasional pitfall, however: Once, when an old lady in Cologne asked her for directions, Downhower mistakenly advised her to "take off all your clothe"? instead of "change trains."
MINGLE WITH THE LOCALS: Converse with the folks at the market (resisting slipping into English when they burst into it), post flyers to find a partner for a formal language exchange (a conversation held half the time in one language and half in the other), or explore the nightlife. Matt Lyberg, who studied Russian at college in the U.S. and picked up Ukrainian while in Kiev on a Fulbright scholarship, says that "bar studies"? is the way to go. "Winks and smiles can get you a long way," he says. "There's a Russian saying: The best way to learn the language is through the tongue."?
NIX THE OTHER EXPATS: Restrict time with fellow English speakers to one day a week. Hanging around with other Americans can be comforting, but it's murder on the foreign language skills. "It's kind of a very shielded environment,"? says Lyberg.
TUNE IN: Skip the International Herald Tribune and read the local papers. Tune in only to native-language TV and radio, recording the headlines and replaying them until you understand. I was once pleased to discover that a French radio report which at first seemed to be about melons ("cavaillons") was actually about trucks ("úcamions"?). See movies in your target language or dubbed into it and don't forget about pop music; a single hip-hop song can provide a wealth of slang.
IMMERSION ON THE JOB: Working in a language while you're still trying to learn it is a baptism of fire but can prove pivotal. "That's when I really grasped the language," says Paul Schumacher, who put in time in France at a hot-air balloon company, a ski resort, and a beach while rising to fluency "There were times where I could just not express myself and it was very, very frustrating, but you start learning ways around how to describe things, instead of knowing the exact vocabulary."?