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Learning another language

Brooke Lake
Brooke Lake

Learning a foreign language, without a doubt, is a life-changing decision. I look back on the short three years spent studying Arabic as a second language and cannot believe how all-consuming the endeavor has been.

You have to get wet if you want to go swimming. Comparably, if you want to learn a foreign language, you must immerse yourself within the context of the culture. So much of language is the culture in which it operates that gaining fluency simply cannot be achieved within the confines of a classroom.

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Unfortunately, packing up and moving to a foreign country for an extended period of time in order to learn a language is not feasible for most people. If you are like most people, do not fret, as I have handful of alternative and helpful suggestions for anyone looking to learn a foreign language.

Colorado State University as well as greater Fort Collins has some of the top international programs in the country, not to mention a colorful community of people from all over the globe eager to practice their English and help you with your quest of language fluency.

Cooking classes and conversation partners are a great way to experience a different culture, practice the language and stay within a budget. CSU’s Office of International Programs and INTO are always looking for conversation partners and offer a variety of different languages to choose from. Additionally, cooking classes are held on a monthly basis and prove to be an excellent place to forge friendships with native speakers.

Whether it is sitting down for a cup of tea, sharing a meal or driving around town, be sure to make every situation a learning opportunity when spending time with your foreign friends by asking questions, practicing conversation skills and collecting as much vocabulary as possible.

Challenge yourself to learn at least one new word or phrase with every situation. Keep in mind that learning can be achieved even in the most peculiar situations. For example, I learned more than a handful of useful phrases related to traffic while being stuck in a car for six hours with my Jordanian friend due to bad weather. Phrases like “get out of my way,”  in Arabic will forever be burned in my memory as I was forced to listen to my friend scream this about every five minutes.

Little changes make a world of difference when it comes to learning a language. For me, listening to Arabic music, writing sticky-notes with vocabulary and placing them around my apartment and even watching YouTube videos with subtitles have made my fluency in a foreign language possible.  I make a habit of listening to short five-minute Arabic podcasts whenever I find extra time in between classes or on the bus. You can download a plethora of podcasts in a multitude of language from iTunes, and the best part of it all — they’re free and not to mention immeasurably more interesting than cracking open a textbook.

Most crucial to learning a foreign language is spending time with native speakers — a point I cannot stress enough. Starting up a friendship with someone from a different country may seem daunting and awkward, but feeling uncomfortable once and awhile just goes along with the territory. I cannot even begin to describe the hours upon hours I spent listening to people speak in Arabic while trying to figure out the meaning from the context and vocabulary I already knew.

Listening to the language and practicing with native speakers is a great way to ditch your flagrant accent and learn the cultural aspect of the language.

While learning Arabic at times seemed like a part-time job, I can say with confidence that my success with the language is due to years of just practicing and absorbing as much knowledge as I could fit in my brain day to day. Of course I had moments of frustration, confusion and even embarrassment, but I made a point to keep getting back on that horse after I fell off. Rest assured you will have days where you feel like gaining fluency is a far away dream. With perseverance, practice and time, however, your dreams might start talking back to you in whatever language being learned.

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Brooke Lake loves being bilingual, and can vouch for the experience. Feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

In Brief:

If you want to learn a new language, you have to immerse yourself in the culture.

Use new experiences in everyday life to continue to learn new phrases.

There will be frustration and embarrassment, but keep at it.

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