As those of you who read my previous post will know, I have recently started learning Hungarian at work. This has turned out to be a lot more challenging than I had realised, though not for the reasons you might think – though I’m still struggling with postpositions and definite and indefinite conjugation of verbs. No, the main problem that I’m facing at the moment is to how to stop myself from drifting off target and just learning any language I fancy, as I’ve been doing for years – as you can see on the thumbnail image for this entry, which is my personal collection of language books. Even that is massively outdated now, and I’ve spread onto two shelves.
Hungarian is an incredibly demanding language, and it requires a lot of time given over to dedicated study. I haven’t been in a situation for a long time where I’ve had any sort of real incentive to learn a language – and, god help me, I honestly thought that that would be enough. Earlier on in my studying process, I had been making Swadesh lists of Hungarian with Swedish and Finnish vocabulary that I knew, as a way of relating it to the languages I’d already learned – that didn’t work, because it ended up with me losing a week reorganising my Finnish resources and bullying my various Finnish friends into practicing with me. A few days ago, I listened to a documentary about the cultural revolution in China, and was convinced for the following 48 hours that I was going to learn to read and write in fluent Mandarin. Someone mentioned Lithuania on the bus and I ended up missing my stop because I was too engrossed in the Wikipedia article about the Baltic languages.
So how do I get around this? I can’t be the only one with this problem – I know a lot of my polyglot-to-be friends struggle to focus on one language at a time. I wish I had a magic cure-all, but here are a few tips I have for getting the most out of your language learning.
As it happens, it isn’t possible to pick up a language that’s completely isolated from everything you’ve ever tried to learn before by getting 20 Duolingo experience points every day. I know, it was a shock to me too. To learn a language, you have to be using it as much as humanly possible. That’s why I doodle pretty much everywhere, even when I’m trying to relax. By doodling, I don’t mean drawing pictures – I mean writing sample sentences in your target language. These could be as basic as taking an example sentence from, say, Duolingo or a textbook that you’re using, and trying to swap out words for other vocabulary you know. I’ve been known to watch films with friends or family with a notebook and pen in my lap, and by the end of it I’ve got four pages of language practice that otherwise I wouldn’t have. If you take absolutely nothing else from this post, please take that. It’s my most useful tip and it’s the most effective way of practicing a language if you don’t know a native speaker yourself.
There are of course websites out there where you can find native speakers to practice with. Even Tumblr has a thriving language learner community (‘langblrs’) with people who would be more than happy to give you hints and tips, or even embark upon a language exchange with you.
My final tip is perhaps the most fun, and works for most modern languages, so I’m sorry if you happen to be learning Medieval Welsh or Ancient Greek – this isn’t for you. Disney. Disney musicals have been translated into almost every language under the sun, and it’s so easy to find your favourites on YouTube (that’s a personal favourite of mine over to the left – click it to go to the video). Obviously this works with any music, but there is a very dedicated core of people who upload foreign language Disney songs with subtitles and direct translations – so you can learn new vocabulary while you’re singing along to your favourites!
I hope you’ve found something here that you can get some use out of, but please feel free to leave some of your own tips in the comments section! It’s always nice to hear from you guys. And until next time, which will actually be coming to you live from Copenhagen, Denmark! Thanks for reading,