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Studying Languages

Posted on Saturday, February 3, 2007 in Humanities

I love to learn new languages or work on the ones I already know a little. Unfortunately, apart from Swedish (naturally) and English, it’s quite hard to get practice. You really should go to the country where the language is spoken, and preferably for a long time – six months, a year, or more. If you can’t do that – and I can’t and I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to – there are some other things you can do.

Almost every day I read the news online. Not just ordinary daily news, but about all the other things I’m interested in. When it’s possible, I try to read the news in as many languages as possible. For instance, I get my daily news stories from a site called EuroNews. There I can read the same news story in French, Spanish, Italian and German. That helps a lot and if I need more help, I use an online service, like Altavista Babelfish.

Technology news and ecology news are trickier. Those are just two of the things I’m interested. Usually, I can only get those news stories in my two first languages. When I can, I try to get those stories in French and possibly Spanish – my two “second best” languages. That doesn’t mean I like some languages more than others. It’s just that these are the ones I’m a little better at, than German and Italian.

Another thing I do, is read books. So far, that’s only in French. I try to get a good book I’d like to read and then I buy it in French. In fact, I don’t think the series of mysteries I’m into now have even been translated into Swedish, and most likely not into English either.

Last year or the year before, I found out that a Chinese book I wanted to read was only available in one Western language. Fortunately for me, that language was French. That gave me the opportunity to read the book and practice one of my languages at the same time.

One of the best things you can do – other than staying in the country where the language is spoken or talking to a native speaker – is chatting or emailing with a native speaker, or posting at some online message board or forum or in an internet group. For a while, I had the opportunity to chat with a Frenchman. That was really useful. I could use expressions that were a little more difficult than I usually dared to, because I got instant feedback. If I was searching for a word, I could ask him. Of course, emailing is good too. You’ll need to use a dictionary, but it’s probably best if you can express yourself at least on a basic level without help. It’s more difficult if you need to use the dictionary all the time.

Of course, you might ask yourself what possible use I could have for my studies. In strictly utilitarian/economical terms probably not. I’m not planning on moving to another country, though I used to think about that a lot, some years ago. It’s possible that I might get a job here in Sweden, where I’d get to use some of my languages. Of course, I’d need to be completely fluent. I’m only fluent in English (and Swedish), not any of the other languages. Not yet anyway.

What I’d really like is to become a translator, but that’s not going to happen. I write books in Swedish and English, but I doubt if I’ll ever be able to write that well in any of the other languages.

Despite that, I think my language studies are ‘useful’. At least it keeps my brain active. Besides, it’s a lot of fun. Nowadays, there isn’t much I find ‘fun’, but reading, writing and using languages in some way, really are.

Reading about history is another thing I enjoy. Reading – not studying. Music is another of my interests, but the only reason I mention that here, is that listening to music can actually help you with your language studies.

When you listen to a song, you can try to translate the lyrics inside your head. Music is an aspect of a country’s culture, so by listening, you might learn something about the country where the language is spoken.

These are just a few things you can do to practice your languages. None of this is very expensive. If you can’t afford to or don’t have the time to travel, you can try doing what I do. Of course, that only works when you’re not a complete beginner. On the other hand, there are supposed to be excellent online courses or courses on CD:s and DVD:s, but that will be a lot more expensive.

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