Today I’m taking a break from the daily August Break topics because today’s is “secret,” and I just don’t feel like I have anything good to share here. Unless, of course, come to think about it, I could package what I do want to write about as “the secret to learning a new language.”
Yes, maybe that works! In any case, it has been almost exactly a year since I wrote my blog post On Learning a New Language. Last summer found me in Jerusalem taking an intensive immersion course in Hebrew, and I want to celebrate the fact that, a year later, I’m still at it. I kept up my studies by committing to a weekly long-distance learning session with Ulpan Or (my Hebrew school), and I also fit in a week of in-person study when I was in Israel again this past March. While those intensive programs are great at catapulting my learning forward, it is really the weekly sessions that have helped me progress because they mean I have made space in my life for this project. And that’s part one of the secret: anything you want to achieve needs to have a regular time slot in your life.
That’s not to say I speak fluent Hebrew now, far from it. But I speak a little! Way more than when I started last summer, at which time I could only greet people and utter the one sentence, “I don’t speak Hebrew.” Ha! I have come a long way! I have to keep telling myself that because most days, when I’m studying, and during most Skype sessions with my teachers when I struggle to express myself with my minuscule vocabulary, I am keenly aware of all that I don’t know. Then the mountain of actually mastering the language seems insurmountable. But my teachers keep reminding me that, “le’at, le’at” (slowly, slowly), I am making progress, and that’s what counts.
Like any other bigger accomplishment in life, learning a new language is achieved in small steps, over a long period of time. I have to keep telling myself that as well. The whole project has been a lesson in learning to do a little bit every day rather than one big chunk once in a while. After 30-45 minutes, my brain simply grows tired of wrestling with Hebrew, and then it’s time to leave it and pick it up again the next day. So that’s part two of the secret of learning a new language: doing a little bit every day. Unless, of course, you can move to the country where that language is spoken, and then you’re wrestling with it every day, big time, no breaks.
I think learning a new language comes easier when we're kids- and of course when the languages have some similarities as opposed to having radically different looks and alphabets.
You're right! Which is why I'm so thankful that I grew up bilingually. These days, learning a language that is totally unrelated to English, German or French, the three languages I do speak, is hard, but it is possible. In a masochistic way I love the workout my brain is getting!