Editor’s Note: “Ever Since I Was” is a bi-weekly column detailing the genesis and growth of passions of members of the UW and U-District community.
For years, I tried to learn Korean, my family’s native language. Every summer I found a new tool or resource – a beginner’s workbook, Duolingo, an archaic version of my dad’s Rosetta Stone software – and told myself I would commit to studying every day. During this time, I kept refusing my family members’ advice that “you just have to start speaking Korean to grandfather and grandmother.” I need some sort of grammar instruction first, I reasoned. But it was more embarrassing and the horribly American accent that I knew I had that kept me from jumping with both feet.
What makes it difficult to learn and maintain a foreign language? How to persevere? We need a change of perspective, seeing language learning as a journey that involves others and not just ourselves.
Mingrui “Ray” Zhang holds a doctorate. candidate for the School of Information and currently following his second year of Japanese lessons.
Zhang said that having a companion while learning a foreign language was a big motivation for him. Last year, he and his roommate, another PhD student, were both taking language lessons for a rewarding experience outside of research and practicing on the Duolingo app.
“When I know he’s doing this, I will feel, very naturally, [the desire] to open the app to learn a few, and when I do, it is also influenced, ”Zhang said. “We can see [each] the progress of others on the app. And I think that’s a whole factor that motivated me to keep up to date in this cycle of language learning.
Joel Wiegner, a sophomore who is also learning Japanese, said one of his favorite things about speaking a foreign language is the reaction he gets from native speakers when he demonstrates his abilities.
“The cheerful look – it’s like a kid at Christmas, almost, coming into their eyes – when you start talking to them in their native language is really cool and I really like that,” Wiegner said.
Wiegner said that because he doesn’t watch Japanese at all, no one expects him to speak the language and he finds it fun to catch people off guard. In addition to training with his Japanese-speaking friends, Wiegner also tried speaking only in Japanese to waiters in Japanese restaurants to force himself to think on his toes in a more natural setting than the classroom.
Wiegner’s daily use of language brings up an important point about the incompleteness of language learning if it remains confined to the classroom, an app or a textbook.
Russell Hugo, Deputy Director of the UW Language Learning Center and Affiliate Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics, said one of the key foundations of language learning is meaningful social engagement with a community of speakers.
Hugo said significant research has been done on teletandem, an educational model of language learning that has proven to be effective.
Teletandem is a joint language learning effort via online meetings with a partner and it enables people to “take responsibility for learning and socialize reciprocally and autonomously,” according to the Teletandem Brasil project of the UNESP – Universidade Estadual Paulista, Brazil. The Portuguese program at UW is currently a partner in the project to give students the opportunity to converse with Brazilian university students during live classroom sessions.
In the chapter of their book “Collaborative Language Learning Strategies in Tandem Email Exchange”, Ursula Stickler and Tim Lewis explain that a key aspect of tandem learning is the dual role played by teachers. participants as learners and experts in their own cultures and languages. The model encourages learners to think for themselves as they assess their own progress and that of their partner and correct each other’s mistakes.
If you need a place to make a video call with a language partner, you can enter Denny Hall 158, which houses the Language Learning Center, during opening hours. The walk-in computer lab is equipped with headsets, tiles and various language learning software and also provides an excellent quiet study space.
When you are able to engage with a language community, explained Hugo, you can experience the real value of language learning.
“As I learn a language, I learn more about what I don’t know,” Hugo said. “And not just what I don’t know about an external culture or an external language, but what I know about my own culture in my own language. There is a reflective value.
Unfortunately, not all languages have an easily accessible community in which learners can get involved. As a graduate student, Hugo focused his thesis on the relationship between technology and the teaching of indigenous or less commonly taught languages. Hugo found that language learning companies trying to create technological tools to revitalize local Indigenous languages often made promises they couldn’t keep.
“Ask these people to self-study from a CD-ROM … or on a website or an application or something that has no genuine commitment and that there is no community for support him, they can’t do everything, ”says Hugo. “It may have additional value in supporting a language learning classroom, but it will not save [the language]. ”
For those of us who speak languages that are spoken by a large majority in the world, it is important to remember our privileges and take a position of humility.
“I have the impression that native English speakers have almost in some ways a language superiority complex and [are] like, “Yes, you should speak my language, because everyone speaks my language,” Wiegner said. “And everyone is learning it… I always felt that other cultures should show me that kind of respect, which doesn’t really deserve it. I didn’t do anything really worth it, I just grew up speaking this language. And then I wanted [give respect back]. “
So if you feel guilty every time you get a notification that you haven’t studied with the Duolingo Owl today, consider finding a new way to engage. You could make some amazing connections along the way.
Contact writer Julia Park at [email protected] Twitter: @thejuliastory
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