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Learning a language without an instructor or course, or skill.

Updated on August 24, 2012

Writing in symbols is challenging.

Do you start with reading writing or speaking?

When I first determined to go to a third world country learning the language was my first priority. I had sought out every search engine possible to find some type of course that would help me to get a jump start on language acquisition. To my dismay, there was nothing! No Rosetta Stone of any type of serious language learning process. The best I could find was a CD-ROM that taught some basic tourist words in game form. This actually did help me quite a bit and is still some of the basic language that I remember today.

So to get to the question, how should one begin to learn a language, reading writing or speaking? My answer to that is, I’m not really sure, but my experience will no doubt direct you in your language learning adventure. After mastering the CD-ROM game I went on to find an amateur course on writing the symbolic language. When I first looked at some of the characters I thought I was immediately ready to give up. They all resembled scribbles and mistakes to me. Yet, the short video courses turned that mess into understanding within only a few weeks. Those videos actually helped me to be able to read and write the language. It is probably one of the most impressive things I can do with the language; I have met very few other foreigners that could do as much. It was fun to impress my family with being able to read and pronounce the road signs as we drove by.

Reading in a language you do not understand is virtually useless. I could pronounce words that I had no idea what they meant. Not really very useful as you might imagine. This brought me to the realization that all of the books that I had read, all of the studying and writing that I had accomplished, had not brought me one step closer to being efficient in the language. I needed an instructor.

By now I had arrived in the country and was in the search for a language instructor. Here is a great piece of advice for all would be language instructors, knowing how to speak your language does not make you proficient at teaching it. Everyone I talked to said, “It is easy, I can teach you.” I was willing to let each of them, I would sit down to have them teach me and they would begin teaching be the basics that I already knew. Then they immediately anted to speak in English to brush up on their language learning. The fact is they had no idea how to take someone through a language learning process.

I knew I would have to find a real instructor. I hired a university professor to come to my house and teach my family. He said He had taught many to speak the language. Essentially after 3 months he had taught my family how to write some words. The second piece of advice, just because someone says they know how to teach language doesn’t mean that they do.

I struggled for a couple years, learning enough to make the nationals nervous about speaking in front of me, which was always fun. Yet their speaking was so fast and my understanding was so slow that I never really could pick up what they were saying. I have heard that it is best to learn to hear and understand what others are saying before you begin to learn to speak it yourself. Of course I have had others say just keep trying to speak it even if you say it wrong. I will certainly say my tactic of learning to read and write it first was fun but not very productive.

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