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Acquiring a New Language: a Task for the Elites Or a Hobby for Teens

Student Life

March 11, 2023

Do you want to learn a new language but don't know where to begin? Learning a new language can be a daunting task which takes years and years of constant hard work and resilience. In this article, I will break down the ways that will make learning a new language as fun and delightful as eating your grandma's delicious cookies.

Going Back To Our Roots

Before we jump into our new language, let's look back on how we learned our primary language as a toddler.

First, we saw our parents speaking that language around us, which subconsciously made us aware of when and where to use particular words, i.e constant listening.

Second, we used to imitate our parents and try to speak as much as possible with our parents correcting our mistakes along the way, i.e constant repetition and correction on the way.

Third, when we started going to school, we first learned how to write the alphabet, then words, then how to use those words with the proper verbs, prepositions, adjectives etc. In the end, we learned how to form correct sentences and write our hearts out.

Converting the Old Roots Into a New Tree

There is a saying in cricket, "Why should you change the batting lineup that is not broken yet?" In other words, why should we hyper-focus on how to learn a language rather than focusing on actually learning it? Therefore, we will use the same strategy toddlers have been using since the dawn of time with some tweaks and innovations along the way, so that we can be as fluent in our new language as we are in our mother tongue.

Letting the subconscious mind do the heavy lifting

Laurence Steinberg, a PhD specializing in adolescent psychological development suggested that people between the ages of 12 to 25 show extraordinary neuroplasticity. A phenomenon of changing neural networks in the brain through growth and reorganization that converts our short-term memory to long-term!

It also means that we are all in a golden age of our lives for learning a new language. So congratulations! You have already taken the first right step by choosing to learn a new language in your teen years.

First of all, we'll start by making our subconscious mind do all the hard work in the back so that it doesn't sound all gibberish to us during our learning process. How can we do that? Well, your favourite sitcom that you have seen a lot more times than you admit holds the key to it.

For some, it could be the classic 90s sitcom Friends (which, even after so many rewatches, you may still have mixed feelings about whether or not Ross and Rachel were actually on a break). For others, it could be the nerdy sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which revolves around four socially awkward scientist friends (except Howard, who's just an Engineer...). All in all, it could be any sitcom that you like!

So coming back to our original question, how can we effortlessly start learning a new language? Well, my friend, we can achieve that by rewatching Friends or any other sitcom in the language that we want to be fluent in. I personally prefer Friends because they don't use too many complex words, which might be too difficult to understand in the first go.

Here are a few steps one should follow to implement this method effectively:

  1. Start by watching the show in the new language with subtitles turned ON in your primary language. Sure, for the first 20 episodes, you might not understand most of it and would have to read the subtitles instead. But this will get easier to understand soon enough!

  2. The next step is turning off the subtitles and focusing on your listening skills. This might be a long jump for a few of us, so try coming to this step only after you start grasping the gist of the conversations.

  3. The final step comes after we can more or less understand the show in the new language. Now, we are going to turn on subtitles in the new language. What that will do is improve your reading and listening skills simultaneously.

Remember: The main reason for watching this show is to learn a new language, not to ogle over Jennifer Aniston or Matt LeBlanc.

Repetition with consistency

Consistency is key. John Maxwell says, “Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.” Similarly, we will also be using consistent repetition to form new nerve connections in our brain, i.e converting our newfound language into a long-term memory instead of just mugging it up like a lamb. We can achieve that by following the 5-5-5 technique:

  1. Write 5 new words every day consistently along with their meanings, and then revisit them with a fresh mind in the morning. What this step will do is increase your vocabulary ever so slightly that it won't be a burden for you, but will still amount to exponential improvement in your journey.

  2. Read 5 pages every day. This will increase your understanding of how to use the appropriate verbs, adjectives etc. and also improve your understanding of how to form grammatically correct sentences. This step will help you get in-depth knowledge of the language and its correct usage, and also reduce the stammering that you might experience while speaking a new language.

  3. Speak for 5 minutes every day in front of a mirror or a camera on any random topic. You should start this step after garnering basic knowledge of the language since it is a crucial step to increasing your fluency and confidence.

My personal Experience

As an ordinary teenage boy, I was opposing everything that was put in front of me, like learning my fourth (officially third) language. And it wasn't until class 9th that I understood that not learning English was impacting my other subjects too, and that was a light bulb moment for me.

I have always been a good student in school and was considered to have a great command of English, but the reality was that I was only mugging it up for grades rather than learning it. To flip the table and not waste my old man's money on some course as it is illegal to work even part-time in India if you are under-16 (in some cases the min. age to even apply is 18 or 21yrs). Therefore, I made the above plan by amalgamating all the useful techniques shared by scholars in their field, be it psychology or English literature.

I started by watching The Big Bang Theory but soon realized that the English used was too advanced for me. So I decided to switch to Friends and slowly but steadily improved. I only felt the shifting dynamics from mugging up English to understanding it when I scored a whopping 91% in grade 10th and 93% in grade 12th conducted by a common national board, like the SATs in the USA.

Of course, I still have a lot to learn and there's one quote which helps me keep going, a quote from an old kid's movie - Kung fu panda, which goes like

"If you only do what you can do, you'll NEVER BE MORE than what you are now" ~ Master Shifu

Some problems that might come along your way

Now the thing to look out for, which most students suffer while learning a new language, is translating that language in your head. Remember your main objective is to LEARN that language, not TRANSLATE it in your head before speaking/writing. Translating the words in your head before speaking is going to cost you valuable time when you are having a conversation with someone who is a native speaker and it would be a strenuous thing to do all the time.

In the end, we should also keep in mind that learning a language is an endless process. One may even have a PhD in a particular language but still won't know everything that there is to know about it. The key is to have a learning attitude and keep at it unless we are happy with our current level.

Himanshu Kumar
1,000+ pageviews

Writer since Feb, 2023 · 3 published articles

Himanshu Kumar is an aspiring young writer who wants to present his views in a simple and surreal manner. He enjoys spending his free time writing poems in Hindi and reading Sci-fi books.