Editor’s Note: “Ever Since I Was” is a bi-weekly column that details the genesis and growth of the passions of members of the UW and U District community.
For years I have been trying to learn Korean, the native language of my family. Every summer I found a new tool or resource – a beginner’s workbook, Duolingo, an outdated version of my father’s Rosetta Stone software – and told myself I would commit to study every day. In the meantime, I refused my family members’ advice that “you just have to start speaking in Korean to grandpa and grandma.” I need some kind of grammar class first, I thought. But it was more embarrassing and the awful American accent I knew kept me from jumping in with both legs.
What makes learning and sticking to a foreign language difficult? How can we hold out? We need a change of perspective and see language learning as a journey that involves others and not just ourselves.
Mingrui “Ray” Zhang is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Information School and is currently in his sophomore year of Japanese classes.
Zhang said that having a companion while learning a foreign language is an important motivation for him. Last year, he and his roommate, another student working toward a PhD, both took language classes for a meaningful experience outside of research and practice with the Duolingo app.
“When I know that he is doing this, I feel very natural, [the desire] open the app to learn something, and if I do that, he has influence, ”said Zhang. “We see [each] the progress of others in the app. And I think that’s quite a factor that motivated me to keep myself up to date on this language learning cycle. ”
Joel Wiegner, a sophomore student who is also studying Japanese, said one of his favorite things to do while speaking a foreign language is the reaction of native speakers when he shows his skills.
“The joyful look – almost like a child at Christmas who comes into their eyes – when you start talking to them in their mother tongue is really cool and I like it a lot,” said Wiegner.
Wiegner said that no one expects him to speak the language because he doesn’t look at all of Japanese, and he finds it amusing to surprise people. In addition to practicing with his Japanese-speaking friends, Wiegner also tried speaking only in Japanese to waiters in Japanese restaurants, forcing himself to come upside down in a more natural context than in the classroom.
Wiegner’s everyday use of the language brings up an important point about the incompleteness of language learning when it is confined to the classroom, an app, or a textbook.
Russell Hugo, deputy director of the UW language learning center and Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics, said one of the most important foundations of language learning is meaningful social engagement with a community of speakers.
Hugo said extensive research has gone into Teletandem, an educational model for language learning that has proven effective.
Teletandem is a collaborative effort to learn languages through online meetings with a partner and enables people to “take responsibility for learning and socialize learning in a mutual and autonomous way,” according to the Teletandem Brasil project of the UNESP – Universidade Estadual Paulista, Brasil. the UW Portuguese program is currently working with the project to give students the opportunity to chat with Brazilian university students through live classrooms.
In their book chapter “Collaborative Language Learning Strategies in an Email Tandem Exchange”, Ursula Stickler and Tim Lewis explain that an essential aspect of tandem learning is the dual role of the participants as learners and experts in their own culture and language. The model encourages learners to think for themselves as they assess their own and their partners’ progress and correct each other’s mistakes.
If you need a place to video call a language partner, you can go to Denny Hall 158, which is the Language Learning Center, during opening hours. the Drop-in computer lab is equipped with headsets, carrels and various language learning software and also offers a great quiet study space.
When you are able to connect with a language community, explains Hugo, you can experience the real value of language learning.
“When I learn a language, I learn more about what I don’t know,” said Hugo. “And not just about what I don’t know about a foreign culture or language, but what I know about my own culture in my own language. There is a reflexive value. ”
Unfortunately, not every language has an easily accessible community for learners to participate in. As a PhD student, Hugo’s dissertation focused on the relationship between technology and indigenous or less common language teaching. Hugo found that language learning companies trying to develop technological tools to revitalize local indigenous languages often made promises they couldn’t keep.
“Asking these people to self-study from a CD-ROM … or on a website or an app or something that has no authentic commitment and there is no community to support it, they can do only limited,” said Hugo. “It can have added value to aid a language learning class, but it won’t save [the language]. ”
For those of us who speak languages spoken by great majorities in the world, it is important to remember our privileges and to take a position of humility.
“I have a feeling that native English speakers have, in some ways, almost a complex of superiority when it comes to language and [are] “Yes, you should speak my language, because everyone speaks my language,” said Wiegner. “And everyone learns … I always had the feeling that other cultures have to show me this respect that doesn’t really deserve it. I haven’t done anything really valuable, I just grew up with this language. And then I wanted to [give respect back]. “
So, if you feel guilty every time you get a notification that you didn’t study the Duolingo Owl today, find a new way to get involved. You can make amazing connections on the go.
Contact author Julia Park at [email protected] Twitter: @thejuliastory
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