Commentary Language learning in information age is incredibly accessible
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High schools and colleges often require foreign language study for students to receive a diploma. For many students – me included when I was young – this means doing the bare minimum. Once the final is taken and the course passed, all the irregular conjugations and declensions whither and blow away in the breeze, never to appear or be needed again.
This was how I treated Spanish classes, which were a beautiful gift bestowed upon me by the Texas public school system and then something I later paid six credit hours for. I kicked myself for this when I got the itch to read Spanish and had to start over.
For the Army, there are a number of reasons to learn a new language. Soldiers must learn a language for the sake of their job. Soldiers, families and civilians sometimes find it advantageous to learn a new language because of a new duty station (German, Japanese, Korean and Italian prove especially useful for this reason). For others, there is the thrill of international travel. English is widely spoken throughout the world due in large part to historical English imperialism, but having another language learned can open the world beyond the tourist circuit.
Starting over, and even starting a new language, is fairly simple for practically anyone.
Of the most obvious paths to learning a new language, visiting a bookstore or online to purchase a language learning book or program is a relatively inexpensive way to start. I can’t knock this method; I have used it and found it effective as a basis for more enterprising learning. Structured programs are, however, a starting point only. From there, the world holds many free, fun options to pick up new languages.
The Internet, for starters, is full of people that want to give away knowledge. For any major language, there are going to be several different free podcasts to teach it to you. It’s especially important to get a grasp of the sonic quality of the languages, and podcasts will help in this regard.
Also useful are online radio stations. Input the name of a country and the word “radio” (both preferably in the country’s language) into an Internet search engine and often there will be a radio station streaming over the Internet to listen to.
Most people, whether they realize it or not, also have a terrific auditory and visual resource in their home video collection. DVDs and Blu-rays of wide-release films often include secondary audio tracks of foreign language-dubbed dialogue and foreign language subtitles. There are, however, drawbacks. Home videos are limited to their market, which is usually North America, which means that this is an option that best works for people learning either Spanish or French. There are exceptions. If the film is an international hit, a Blu-ray, which has considerably more disc space than a DVD, can include – as an example – Spanish, French, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, Flemish, German, Italian, Japanese and Swedish audio tracks and subtitles. Also, subtitles and dubs rarely contain the same wording, but this is a good way to learn synonymous expressions.
Children’s and popular literature is also a good way to begin reading the language. Many Texas libraries will have a Spanish language section, which, more often than not, will have children’s literature and translations of bestselling English language novels. Texas libraries also participate in an interlibrary loan program. If they don’t have the book in the language you are looking for – and if it’s not in Spanish they might not – they can look it up to see if another library has it.
Copyright-free books can also be found online at sites like Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org). Project Gutenberg is a free site and books can be browsed according to language.
There are also language-learning chat rooms on the Internet. Of course a standard rule of caution applies when interacting with strangers on the Internet.
And finally, Fort Bliss has a terrific resource for those who wish to learn Spanish. El Paso is home to many people who can speak Spanish fluently, and conversing person-to-person is one of the best possible resources to be had. Additionally, neighboring Juarez, Mexico – though off limits to the military to visit – broadcasts television and radio into El Paso, making that another viable resource.
To learn more, seek out any of the above resources.
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