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Learning Languages

Being an expat goes hand in hand with learning languages. Which are the methods, schools and tools to shortcut learning a new language or retaining a known one?

The importance of learning a language can never be underestimated, although learning a language is perceived as a challenge and a stressor by most adults.

Children and Languages

Children may have a different attitude and a way of learning a new language and they will do well if the adults around them do not hinder this learning process by creating  the  wrong atmosphere. Do not influence the children with a feeling  of resistance towards learning the language of the country of residence (... "we are only here for a year why bother", ... "most people understand my language I do not need to learn theirs", etc.)

In fact, parents should be more concerned on how to retain their child mother-tongue if they are attending a school in a foreign language.

For any of you who have never functioned in more then one language, remember that bilinguism at an early age is of great help to prime the brain to add other languages later on. How the bilingual brain works is still a matter of debate. A lot of research is yet to be done to clarify many questions around bilingualism, although it is clear that it confers an advantage to people who possess it.

Furthermore, ours is no longer a mono-linguistic world. In the past we had to phisically travel to encounter a new language, however our mind today can travel by acquiring information and ideas from other people, who do not necessarily sit next to us in the same room, have the same language, the same culture or society! 

Phones, TV, radio, internet have all expanded the sphere of influence of all languages, extending their reach beyond their original, geographical boundaries.

Our children more than us will be confronted by this new multilingual world and they will be better off knowing more one language.

Adults and Languages

While children learn their alphabet in a new language, is the parents who have to come to term with a new world where communications from school officials, parent-teacher conferences, and even report cards will be in a language they may not read or understand.

Parents who are determined to master the new language, will achieve the double goal of improving their children's results as well as their own.

It can be most difficult to learn a language when it is perceived as a duty or an obligation, rather than a joy.  Resistance to learning a language can reflects the hostility  towards the move abroad. Recognizing this invisible barrier will add much to your 'capacity' to learn a language.

When learning a language, we all have different methods and approaches The purpose the language needs to fulfill in everyone's life is also different.  Some are content knowing enough for day-to-day exchanges in shops and doctors' offices, others need to be capable to use the language at an higher level of communicatin and may be even in its written form.

The objective seems simple enough, but achieving it is not so simple. In fact for the vast majority of adults, learning a new language is a challenge nearly as daunting as the move to the new country. Saying that something is difficult though, does not mean that it is impossible and starting as soon as possible with the firm intention to go on, is essential to achieving sunstantial results.

What do you need to look for when selecting a school or a language tool? It depends on you as well as your need and there are many to choose from!

First of all consider which is the best way for you to learn a language:

- through conversation?
- through academic exposure?
- through fun?
- through full immersion with native speakers etc.?

Once you are sure you know what makes you tick and how much you want  and need to learn a language, set to work and find which options available to you:

- an informal conversation group run locally in the expatriate community;

- a language schools that carry a program in line with your expectations. Make sure the teacher has an understanding of your native language, as it can make learning a much easier process. When the structure of the two languages are known to the teacher, it is then possible to focus on the differences and underline the similarities. 

- if time is a problem and travel a distance to get to school is not an option there are many trial to online courses or language tools that are sold as a kit. For these options to work what is necessary is to be disciplines. It helps if you try organize with someone else to take the same course with you and create a "classroom" atmosphere;

- sign up for a course in a topic that interests you: cooking classes, art classes, history classes etc.. As a rule of thumb is best to choose activities where the hands on experience is present, as it can be easier understanding through looking and understand the meaning of words from your observation;

- full immersion. You have the advantage of being surrounded by native speakers, do take advantege of it. Enroll in a volunteer program locally where you have to deal with native speakers at all times.

Whatever you choose to do, you stand to gain an introduction to other people. Remember that often meeting the right person at the right time is what open the doors to a new understanding of the value of learning the language of the country where you are residing. A neighbour or a collegue or a parent at the school your children go to, can be the inspiration or key to finding the best place to learn the new language as well as the force to keep at it. 

Whatever that inspiration is, do not let the opportunity pass you by, to open up to, and get to know, the local people. Such an opportunity should not be ignored, because you never know what you will miss out on! 

It could be your next best friend or vocation! 

Language Resources:

English

http://www.globalenglish.com
http://ec.europa.eu/education/programmes/socrates/socrates_en.html
http://www.cilt.org.uk/edl/challenge_atoz.htm
http://www.solvit.org.uk/

Italian

The Machiavelli school of Italian for foreigners was founded in 1978 in response to the growing world-wide interest in Italian language and culture. It is situated in one of the most beautiful piazzas in the historical centre of Florence, Italy and is specialised in method research for the learning of Italian as a second language, in the organisation of language and cultural exchanges called "Tandem", in language and singing courses for opera lovers and singers, in artisan art and craft (including jewelry-making) courses in the workshops of the Florentine artists and craftsmen and in courses, apprenticeships and workshops of Italian cooking. http://www.centromachiavelli.it/