The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.Ludwig Wittgenstein
I’m en route to the South of France, and all I can think about is my journey through the world of learning a new language. I must admit that I feel a little silly writing about being bilingual, since I’ve yet to master anything but English (and sometimes, that’s even questionable). However, about six years ago, I was sitting in a restaurant at the port in Monte Carlo with a table full of multilingual people. French, Italian, German, Russian and, of course, English, was floating around the table in this beautiful symphony.
Because I don’t like to feel excluded, especially when it’s due to lack of savoir faire, I decided in that moment that I would at least attempt to become bilingual.
Enter la français.
For the past six years, I have been immersing myself in the French culture and language. And while I can navigate the streets of Paris and ask for les toilettes and a bouteille de vin (what more does a girl need to know?), I am far from fluent. However, if you’re interested in learning a new language, it is my pleasure to offer you some of the ways I continue to strive towards becoming a bilingual woman.
First, choose your language. What cultures inspire you? What sound makes your heart melt? Don’t worry about practicality. Aim for passion. Once you’ve chosen your language, proceed to the following suggestions.
1. Listen to music. George Brassens, Madeleine Peyroux and Zaz are just some of the artists that infuse my home on a daily basis. I don’t always understand the lyrics, but something’s happening at a cellular level. I can feel it. Or, at least that’s what I keep telling myself as I dance around sipping my cafe.
2. Learn the basics. Vocabulary. Grammar. Verbs. Don’t worry about putting it all together just yet. Just learn what you can and one day the ingredients will meld and you’ll be speaking a new language.
3. The 10 Rule: 10 Minutes Listening/10 Minutes Speaking/10 Minutes Writing/10 words a day. Each day, I choose 10 flashcards. I study them. Use them. Say them. Write them. At the end of the day, I am 10 words smarter.
4. Watch movies with subtitles. Sure, the subtitles are distracting, but you’ll begin to understand how your new language works. Plus, you’ll understand a little more about the culture of the language through story telling. Plus, foreign films are nothing like Hollywood, a reason alone to watch more of them. Some of my favorite French movies are: Amélie, The Artist, and The Intouchables.
5. Make friends. My French friends have taught me more about the language than I could have possibly learned from French for Dummies. There’s nothing quite like immediate correction and learning a little slang that your college professor refused to teach you.
6. Hire a tutor. Each week, I show up at my tutor’s office, books in hand, homework completed and ready to dive into another lesson. Having a teacher who understands how your mind works and how it needs to work to master the language is invaluable.
7. Think in your new language. Even if you just know a few words, whenever you see that thing (noun) or take that action (verb), think of it in your new language. For example, when I see my dog, I no longer think dog. I think le chien. Whenever I drink, I don’t think “I am drinking,” I think, “Je bois.”
8. Speak as often as you can. I’m sure my daughter is tired of her maman asking her questions that she doesn’t understand or telling her je t’aime. But, maybe one day she’ll see that her being my sounding board was critical to my success in becoming a bilingual woman.
9. Go beyond the language. Enjoy the food, history, fashion, food and wine and art of the culture of where your new language originates. You can begin to understand the language by appreciating its culture.
10. Read books. I started with Le Petit Prince and now I’m pretending to read Madame Bovary. Even though I understand about every third or fourth word, something’s happening. I swear.
11. Use a pen and paper – send a love note, create your grocery list, write a poem – in your new language. Involving as much of your brain as possible in this new quest will prove to speed up the process.
12. Go to School. Four years ago, I packed my bags and headed off to a two week immersion program at the Coeur de France in Sancerre, about 2 hours south of France. Total immersion was evidenced by no English being spoken from the time I was picked up from the train station until the time I returned home. It’s never too late to go back to school. And, if French food and wine’s involved, all the better!
13. Immerse yourself. Buy a ticket, pack your bags and step off the plane and immerse yourself in the language and culture. Sure, you’ll feel lost. Yet, there’s nothing like needing something and being forced to communicate to help you step outside of your comfort zone. And, don’t be alarmed when you develop that deer in headlights look when someone speaks to you. It’s normal. You’re okay. Just remember that kindness and a smile is a universal language.
Who wants to join me in becoming a bilingual woman? I’d love to hear what language you’re passionate about learning and why. If you’re already bilingual, please share your tips to help us fellow friends who have a deep desire to expand our language repertoire in the comments below.
Tonya (a struggling French speaker)
(P.S. Whether it’s learning a new language, starting a business or finding love, it’s all about desire. I have one more spot left for my upcoming French Kiss Life Immersion, a 3-month mentorship program starting in August. This is for the woman who’s ready to ignite her desires . . . in style, of course! If you’re interested, go here, fill out the application and let’s plan some time to chat.)
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