Learning Languages, Part I: Your Teacher

jmiller_web1I’m a lousy language learner. I’m probably not supposed to say that if I want to learn a language. But the fact is, I’ve had life-long problems with memorization that have affected my ability to learn music as well as languages. I suspect that I have a truncated phonological loop. Basically, I may have a unusually limited short-term memory capacity and, therefore, a lesser ability to shift things from short- to long-term memory. Nonetheless, here I am ten successful months into learning Welsh.

I tried to learn languages many times before – and failed. But I’m finally succeeding. I’ll post a few tips and principles explaining how I now seem to be succeeding.

Principle 1: Unless you’re a baby, no one but you is going to teach you a new language.

I have a Welsh tutor. We meet online once a week for an hour. He gives us homework, corrects us, encourages us, answers our questions, and gives us an opportunity to engage in conversation. But if I relied on him, I’d never learn Welsh – and that’s not a criticism of him as a teacher.  It’s just a fact of life. When you’re a baby, your family may be willing to spend hours every day teaching you your first language, but no teacher can do that. You’re on your own.

I use my tutor as just one part of my self-directed learning. Along with his homework, I spend another hour every day studying. I use flashcards for memorizing vocabulary. I use various online tools. And I study additional grammar books. I also listen to Welsh music and television nearly every day to submerge myself in the sounds of the language.

You are your own language teacher. You have to take responsibility for your own learning.

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