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Do You Want to Learn a Foreign Language?

Do You Want to Learn a Foreign Language?

 Do You Want to Learn a Foreign Language?


“Easier said than done!” That is what many say about learning a foreign language, especially after giving it a try. Granted, learning another language is challenging, to say the least. But those who have succeeded say that it is well worth the effort.

THERE are many different reasons for learning a new language. Andrew, for example, planned to spend a vacation in France, and he wanted to be able to converse with the local people in their own tongue. Guido was born in England, but his family background is Italian. “I was only familiar with a dialect,” he says, “so I wanted to learn to speak Italian properly.” Jonathan’s brother recently moved abroad and married a Spanish girl. “I wanted to speak with my new relatives in their native tongue when I visited my brother,” Jonathan says.

But learning a foreign language can have other benefits. “It taught me to have empathy,” says Louise. “Now I understand how foreigners feel when they arrive in a country where the language spoken is different from their own.” For Pamela the benefits hit closer to home. Raised in England, she knew little Chinese—the language of her family. As a result, Pamela and her mother grew apart. “There wasn’t much communication between us,” Pamela confesses. “But now that I can speak Chinese, we are closer and our relationship has improved.”

Aids to Success

What will you need in order to succeed in learning a foreign language? Many who have done so stress the following.

Motivation. You need an incentive—a reason to pursue your goal. Students with high motivation generally do best.

Humility. Don’t expect too much of yourself—mistakes are inevitable, especially at first. “People are going to laugh,” Alison says, “so keep your sense of humor!” Valerie agrees: “You’re like a child learning to walk. Often you stumble, but you just have to get up and try again.”

Patience. “For me, the first two years were difficult, and at times I felt like giving up,” admits David. Still, he acknowledges: “It gets easier!” Jill feels much the same way. “You don’t think you’ve made progress until you look back,” she says.

 Practice. A regular routine will help you to become fluent in the new language. Try to practice every day, even if for just a few minutes. As one textbook puts it, “‘a little and often’ is preferable to ‘a lot but seldom.’”

Helpful Tools

Are you ready to accept the challenge of learning a foreign language? If so, the following tools can enhance your progress.

Flash cards. Each one has a word or a phrase on the front and the translation on the back. If these are not available where you live, you could make your own set, using file cards.

Instructional audiocassettes and videocassettes. These can help you to hear the language spoken correctly. For example, while driving in his car, David learned the rudiments of Japanese by listening to an audiocassette of a tourist phrase book.

Interactive computer programs. Some of these allow you to record your voice and compare your pronunciation with that of native speakers of the language.

Radio and television. If there are radio or television programs broadcast in your area that use the language you are learning, why not tune in and see how much you can understand?

Magazines and books. Try reading printed material in the new language, making sure that the comprehension level is neither too high nor too low. *

Mastering the Language

Of course, sooner or later you will have to converse with those who speak the language. This does not require that you travel to a distant land. Instead, perhaps you can visit a foreign-language congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in your own country.

In any event, your goal should be to learn to think in the new language, rather than simply to translate words and phrases from your mother tongue. Likely it will also help if you try to learn something about the customs and habits of the people who speak your new language. “There can be no real learning of a language without understanding something of the patterns and values of the culture of which it is a part,” says language expert Robert Lado.

A final thought: Do not be discouraged when your progress seems slow. Learning a new language is, after all, a continual process. “I never stop learning,” says Jill, who learned sign language 20 years ago. “The language is always developing.”

So do you want to learn a foreign language? If you do, be ready to embark on a most challenging—yet richly rewarding—endeavor.


^ par. 18 Awake! is now available in 83 languages, and its companion, The Watchtower, is printed in 132 languages. Many have found the clear writing in these journals to be helpful when learning a new language.

[Pictures on page 12, 13]

You can increase your vocabulary by . . .

. . . comparing your native language with the one you are learning