Here in The Netherlands, I pick up the occasional tutoring gig for young children who are bilingual, and who are too young to learn English in school. These are normally the children of Nederlanders who moved to English speaking countries and have since moved back here. Since I have started becoming serious about learning Nederlands, I can´t help but compare the relative ease of being bilingual in my charges, to the struggles I face everyday as an adult. I have pinpointed 7 habits that I see in my young bilingual students that I think will help me, and other adult language learners in their strife to become bilingual.
- Brush off mistakes/embarrassment: I am not quite sure when in our lives it becomes embarrassing to make a mistake, but it is really a terrible habit we develop. With my kids, if they make a mistake with their grammar or pronunciation, it doesn't phase them at all, they just keep going. In reverse, when my inburgering teacher calls upon people to read the text out loud, I don't think I could make myself smaller in my seat. The don't call on me because there is this word I am unsure of how to pronounce mentality is a real antagonist to my ability to learn. What I and other adults need to realize is that no one is perfect 100% of the time, if we were there would be no reason to be in a class because we would already be fluent. Be proud of your mistakes, they mean you are actually learning.
- Set apart time to learn: While I think that you should be open to learning your new language whenever it presents itself, having a set time that you know is dedicated to learning is really helpful. For example, my students know that when they see me, we will be speaking in English. We try to make it at the same time each week, that way the kids are already in the mindset that on Thursdays at noon, they can not play with their friends, they have their lessons. Conversely, I know when I have my inburgering lessons each week, but when I get to my homework is anyone's guess. I think that next week, I will have set study times for my homework, that way all of it will actually get done.
- Have a designated place to learn: Each time I see my kids, we go to the same spot in their house to have our lessons, this is the same place they do their homework. Most of the time it is a dining room table. When I was in high school, my space was on the floor of my best friend Christy's bedroom. In college it was a local coffee shop. I do not do well at home, too many distractions. Here in Utrecht, I think I will try the beautiful Utrecht Centraal Library, since I have a love affair with the building anyway. My point is, find a place free of distractions to make it easier to learn.
- Just do it: Children have teachers and parents to hold them accountable for their learning. As adults, we are accountable to ourselves, but sometimes having a partner in our learning can help.If that is not possible, then you are going to have to just grin and do it. No excuses, you have already set apart this time to learn. But at the same time...
- Know when you have hit a wall: With my students it is easy to tell when they have hit a wall. It is when they suddenly lose all interest in what we are doing. If you have read the same page four times and still are not comprehending it, it is time to try a new tactic.
- Try something else: When we are learning our first language, we watch movies, we sing songs, we read stories. Why do we not utilize the tools when trying to learn our second? When you have hit a wall with your grammar books, try doing something fun with the language. Watch a movie in the language, listen to local artists, it is good to remind yourself why you wanted to learn it.
- Don't get discouraged: This goes along with the mistakes thing, think about how long it took you to become really proficient in your language. Now compare that to how long you have been trying to learn your second. See, you are doing better than you thought. Keep it up!
Do you have any language learning tips?