Talk your way into another language
Need to learn another language for a job abroad?
Textbooks and tutors may be the worst approach.
Go into a coffee bar, sit down, relax and try to talk to someone. It may look to others as though you are wasting your time. It may even feel that way to you. But so long as you are doing this in a foreign country, where you speak the language badly or not at all, you are probably acquiring a new language better than you ever could by formal study with a teacher and a textbook.
The social situation, properly used, beats the classroom hollow. It is full of native speakers asking you questions, telling you to do things, urging you to take an active part in conversation, and using gestures freely to make their intentions clearer – just like your parents did when you were an infant. So plunge in. All you have to do it talk back.
The proposition that infants can acquire languages by prolonged exposure to them is self-evidently true: it is the only way available to them. Older children and teenagers who move to a different country can pick up a new language with a speed that baffles their parents. But in adulthood we find ourselves envying our rare contemporaries who can still acquire languages easily.
There may be biological reasons why the capacity to learn languages falls away with age, even more than the capacity to learn other things. The brain may be designed to do its best language-learning in infancy, and then to redeploy its resources at puberty. But psychological factors play a big part too. As we get older, we get more self-conscious, more inhibited, more dependent on other people’s judgements. This process may undermine our capacity to acquire a new language, because language underpins our sense of personality and identity. We fear to make mistakes in it.
Stephen Krashen, an expert on second-language acquisition, makes a strong case for the dominance of psychological factors. According to Mr Krashen, people with outgoing personalities do best at learning a new language because ‘they have the ego to make the necessary mistakes involved in learning’.
When we want to learn a new language in mid-life for reasons of career or curiosity, we commonly but wrongly tackle it with the sense of doing something difficult and unnatural. We turn to grammar books and compact discs expecting a fight. We are going to ‘struggle’ with the language. We will ‘master’ it, unless it defeats us. And with that sort of attitude, it probably will.
All other things being equal, the best learner will be the person who is most relaxed in conversation, and the most self-confident.
2. It is obviously the case that children learn languages as a result of H
3. Adults who have a natural talent for new languages are generally B
4. Confident people learn languages fast because they are not afraid of F
5. Middle-aged language learners are often unaware that they are A
A. Taking a negative approach.
B. Demonstrating an unusual ability.
C. Worrying about the views of others.
D. Being in a classroom situation.
E. Losing all sense of identity.
F. Producing errors in front of others.
G. Moving to another country.
H. Living with other speakers of the language
- The sentences are in passage order.
- Grammatically, all the sentence beginnings match all the endings. There are some extra endings that you don’t need to use.