This is a transcript of one of my YouTube Videos – To keep up with my latest thoughts on language learning, subscribe to my YouTube Channel.
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. As you know, I like to talk about language learning. If you enjoy my channel, please subscribe. I try to put out a video at least once a week on tips or experience that I have had in learning up to 15 languages. Today, I’m going to talk about what I think is a very important quality in any language learner and that is patience. Patience and, unfortunately, most language learners don’t have patience, they want quick results.
Learning a language is actually changing habits in your brain, it takes time. I sometimes think these techniques that people use like spaced repetition systems or studying long vocabulary lists, even to some extent this focus on grammar, is an attempt to short circuit a process which actually takes a long time. It takes a lot of exposure, a lot of reading and listening and, eventually, speaking in order to create new habits and it is a matter of habits.
I was talking to an American who has been teaching English in China and I asked, what are the main difficulties that Chinese people have in English and he said three. First of all, the third person singular in the present tense, like “he goes” instead of “he go”. That’s common not only for Chinese speakers, but for lots of people. Particularly if it’s “the car that was parked beside the school is?” You have to remember that, in fact, it’s the only call it ending with an ‘s’. In other words, “I go”, “you go”, “he goes”, “we go”, “they go”, “you go”. Even though that’s easy to explain, it takes so long to get used to.
The second difficulty Chinese people had was “he” and “she” because in spoken Chinese there’s no difference between “he” and “she”, you just pick it up from the context, but in English there is. Easy concept, easily explained, everybody understands it and after five-10 years Chinese people will still get about a 50% success rate. “My husband, she.” No, “my husband he” because you have to create that habit.
The other difficulty Chinese people had was with plurals because they don’t really have plurals in their nouns, but it’s the same for English speakers speaking languages where they have gender. We don’t have gender in English, so it takes a long time to get used to getting the gender right. We just default to _____ in French. People who have gender in their own languages have an easier time learning the gender of nouns in other languages where they have gender. People who speak languages where they have no articles, they have all kinds of trouble with articles in English or in French or Spanish, languages which have articles. It just takes time.
In fact, I put a link. There was a Russian program called Easy Russian, where the teacher there says throw away the grammar book. I wouldn’t go that far, but don’t rely on the ability to kind of deduce the grammar as a shortcut to learning the language. Even if you understand the explanation, which is not always a given, you still have to put in the time of listening and reading to create some new habits so that, gradually, the brain starts to create these patterns, which enable the brain then on the fly while you’re speaking to product the language correctly.
The same is true for people who say I still don’t understand. I don’t understand movies. I don’t understand this. I was with a group of people last night and I didn’t feel that I spoke as well as I should, all this kind of stuff. It takes time, the language remains fuzzy. You’re still stuck in old habits and it’s only through a lot of exposure that you’re going to form new habits.
There’s nothing wrong with some of these other aids to learning if you enjoy doing them, but if you think that’s going to short circuit the system and enable you to suddenly speak well or understand well I don’t think so. Perhaps some people, but that’s certainly not my experience. So I recommend that people be patient when they learn languages. Keep at it and you will eventually improve.
If you enjoy hearing about language learning, please subscribe to my channel. Bye and thanks for listening.