When we go to Europe next year, one of our biggest barriers to smooth sailing will be the language barrier. True, many people in Europe speak English, and will probably be willing to help us out if we get lost or need help with something. But it would be great if we didn’t have to rely entirely on the kindness and cooperation of others.
Unfortunately, the only foreign language I know at all is Spanish (I took lessons in school for 9 years but never had occasion to speak it outside of class) – and we won’t be going through Spain on this trip. We will spend the majority of our time in three countries – France, Italy, and Poland. That’s three languages we won’t know – it’ll make reading signs, ordering food, or coordinating train tickets and flights all that more difficult.
So I had the idea to learn the basics of some foreign languages to help ease our way. I went down to the local library and asked about their language lessons on CD. I have a roughly 20 minute ride to work every morning, and another 20 minutes back home – normally I just listen to the radio and get frustrated by other drivers. But I thought I could use that time instead to learn a new language!
The CDs I checked out of the library are the Pimsleur language lessons for French and Polish. I got the Short Course CDs- 8 lessons that last 30 minutes each. It might be an outdated version, because I couldn’t find the exact one I’m using on their website. But it still works well!
So far I’m about 5 or 6 lessons in (just over halfway), and I’m surprised to say I can understand a little French (Je comprends un peu le français!)… My accent is terrible but slowly improving. After learning Spanish growing up (in which all letters are pronounced), the silent letters in French really trip me up. The ‘location in the mouth’ is also very difficult to master. By that, I mean that the pronunciation of certain letters (like ‘R’) is forced through a different place in my mouth. In Spanish, the letters roll off the tip of my tongue. In French, however, some of the letters are focused near the roof of my mouth. Remembering to form the “R” sound in a different location is challenging, and sometimes my French words start to sound more like Spanish words.
Each lesson is introduced by a conversation between two speakers in French. They go through the conversation (which sounds like gobbley-gook at first), and then the ‘narrator’ breaks it down into specific statements and tells you to repeat what they say. The new phrases and words are repeated several times, with a pause in between to give you time to pronounce the vocabulary. If it is a phrase you learned in a previous lesson, they only repeat it once or twice as a refresher.
It helps that I drive myself to work – I think it would be weird to repeat the words and phrases out loud if you carpooled or took public transportation!
I really do like the verbal nature of the lessons. When I was younger and was learning Spanish in school, we focused a lot on vocabulary and grammar. As a result, I always understood Spanish much more easily than I could speak it. With this method, however, I’ll be able to speak basic French pretty quickly. Spelling and grammar are still completely foreign to me (there are silent “S” and “T”s everywhere!), but are less important for basic conversation.
The only real drawback to these lessons is the price. Granted, I got it for free from the library, but the amount of time I can keep the CD is limited by the library loan times. Once that time runs out, or once I reach the end of the 16 lessons, I’ll have to pay an arm and a leg ($22 USD per 5 lessons or several hundred dollars for a full course) to continue learning.
I might decide to look into other learning options at that point – I’ve heard of some good language websites that allow people around the world to connect up and speak with each other in various languages.
How do you learn new languages? Do you have any language learning websites that you recommend?