May 2014

May 2014 NL

“You Want Fries With That?”

Language learning is so much more than just learning words. If you have ever listened to a robotic translation, or even to Siri on your iPhone, you can understand the role of tone, inflection and nuance.

If you have ever had communication with a heavily accented customer service representative or technical support person, you can easily understand the relevance of correct syllable stress and pronunciation to understanding. And lastly, if you have ever tried to go beyond a scripted dialogue, either as listener or as speaker, you can easily understand the importance of achieving a level of facility with a language that enables you to engage in free dialogue and expression that may develop following a scripted dialogue. The classic example is a language learner placing a detailed menu order at McDonalds yet is unable to understand or respond to:

“You want fries with that?”

Reliance on rote dialogue and phrase book knowledge can only take you so far. To be truly functional in a foreign language, immerse yourself in the culture of that language. Listen to music sung in your target language, watch or listen to news broadcasts, watch soap operas, which will clue you in to how people really speak; clearly and correctly with appropriate slang and acceptable shortcuts. Immigrants to this country have told us that they learned to become fluent in English by watching American television, easy to do in most places in the world. Through the power of the internet and the ease of accessing authentic broadcasting or recordings, you can do the same thing to enhance your learning of a modern foreign language.