Learning Language – How Do I Do It?

Everyone is wired differently. Everyone views the world and its building blocks differently. When I was in college, my best/roommate/heterosexual life partner and I would study for the same genetics exam. She would study for three hours and get an A while I would study for three nights and maybe scrape by with a C.

I’m not stupid, not at all. I have a tendency to over think things academically and miss the connection. But that way of thinking has really helped me with languages. While I studied aggressively in biology, I found languages to be a game.

I have a degree in Spanish (along with my Biology), but I also studied German, French, and Russian while attending my Alma Mater. I also studied at least two languages at a time. It made things more interesting. I loved it.

People always look at me weird when I tell them this. I’m not that extraordinary. My brain is just wired a little differently.

But how do I do it?

Well, they say that once you’ve learned your second language, the others become easier. For me this is true. But at the same time, I did have an advantage.

I grew up speaking two languages in the home. My mother came from Peru and insisted on speaking Spanish to me while my American father support this notion all the while speaking to me in English. Apparently, when I was young I spoke a weird mix of the two languages. As I got older, while I understood Spanish, I mostly spoke English.

Then I started formally studying Spanish when I was in 7th grade. The following summer, my parents sent me to Peru by myself to help solidify what I learned at that time.

The funny thing is that while most kids tried to use the grammatical rules to discern how to speak Spanish, I usually thought, ‘how would my mom say this?’ It worked 85% of the time. But I still did learn the rules and they stuck with me even today.

Then when I started taking German while in college, I already knew the layout of how they were going to teach me a language so then I do what I always do: look for connections.

All languages have connections to another in some way, shape, or form. Knowing Spanish has helped me understand some Latin and in turn helped me with those big English words. Here’s an example.

I love the show Pushing Daisies. There is a moment when Olive Snook is talking about how she once thought ‘masturbation meant chewing your food.’

She meant mastication. Of course I laughed but and it was definitely one of those jokes aimed towards those who were familiar with this word. I know this because in Spanish, ‘masticar’ means to chew your food.

Now with German, since English is considered one of ‘Germanic’ descent there are plenty of words in both languages that are similar. I compiled a brief list in an earlier post here.

A nice thing about German is that once you get a lot of the basics, a lot of the bigger German words are actually compound words. This is not the case with everything in this language, but you’d be surprised with how far it gets you.  Here’s an example:

Arzt means doctor

Zahn means tooth

Zahnarzt means dentist or literally tooth doctor

Or you can change the Zahn to Tier (which means Animal) you get Tierarzt which is a veterinarian or literally an animal doctor.

But then you can get some really fun words like Handschuh.

Hand is hand while schuh means shoe……what is a hand shoe? It’s a glove.  How awesome is that?

Anyway, that’s one of my tricks in learning a language….or at least the vocabulary.   Do you have any tricks?

2 thoughts on “Learning Language – How Do I Do It?

  1. Have you read “Babel No More” by Michael Erard? It’s about hyper-polyglots (people who are fluent in many languages) and the people who aspire to hyper-polyglotdom! I have an ear for languages too- I am conversational in Italian and Spanish without ever having studied either language. My biggest tip is simply having no shame! Immerse yourself in the language, don’t fall back on English or on body language and try out new words in an inquisitive tone so the other person can correct you if you’re wrong.

    1. I have not read that book, but I’ll definitely look into it! I agree, my biggest tip is no shame. I have always found that if you at least try then the locals appreciate it and try to meet you half way.

      My boyfriend leanred that as well when we met. He was very self concious about his English but he quickly found that even if he made mistakes, I would still understand him just fine. It encouraged him to keep speaking.

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