Lighten up

More than most fields of learning, language learning is a matter of attitude. In a way it is an escape from reality. Reality is your native language. The new language is make believe, at least at first. You are pretending to be something you are not, a natural speaker of another language. You are imitating the behaviour of another culture. You become an actor, so you need to let go of your inhibitions.

As a university student in France 40 years ago I had to give a speech in class. Every time I went to say the word “responsable” in French, I said it wrong. I said “responsible” as in English. Every time I said it, the whole class laughed. I used that word many times. I could not understand why everyone would just burst out laughing each time. Afterwards I was told. I did not mind, but I never made that mistake again. By making mistakes, and sometimes through repeatedly making the same mistakes, we eventually learn.

When I lived and worked in Japan I was frequently in meetings where I was the only non-Japanese. Once I became fluent in Japanese, I was never conscious of not being Japanese. I felt as if I were part of the same group as I saw around the table from me. You do not just try to imitate the people of the target language, you almost try to become one of them. The barriers are removed and you leave the real world of your native language behind to join the new world of the other language.

People who resist the new language, who ask “why do they say it that way?”, these people have trouble. People who are happy joining the new group will find that they are able to absorb the new language with much less effort. So lighten up and enjoy it.

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