For most of us, language class during high school was a chore. I took two years of Spanish while I was in high school, during which I felt like I was mastering the language. Fast forward five to six years and I feel like I can only remember about 20% of what I learned. How could so much time studying a language result in such a small vocabulary? I believe much of it has to do with the environment in which we learn.
When I was chose to study abroad in Brazil, I knew zero Portuguese. I didn’t even really know what a Portuguese accent sounded like. I bought a small book by Lonely Planet hoping that the series of plane rides would be long enough to allow me to learn the basics of the language. Although helpful, I soon found out that what I learned from my book didn’t help much in the real world. Sure I knew how to say what things were (car, restaurant, school, etc.) but I was unable to properly place those words into coherent sentences. It wasn’t until I began traveling the country that I truly began to understand the language that surrounded me. In a few weeks of being immersed in the language, I was able to strike up a conversation with locals and make my way around a grocery store. When it was time to head back to that states, I was completely able to navigate myself around the city and through the busy airport.
And as I type this blog, I am still able to speak Portuguese just as well, if not better than I could while I was there. Because I was forced into cultural situations where I needed to learn a language quickly, I can connect certain memories to times where I learned phrases. For example, I learned how to order food and drinks at the local bar, I learned how to shop and barter at the city flea market, and I learned common phrases while hanging out at the beach with locals. These physical memories help me put a location to when I learned something new in Portuguese and allow me to remember phrases I otherwise would have forgotten.
Of course there are plenty of good products on the market to help get you started with learning a new language as well. The most common product is Rosetta Stone, which actually allows you to speak to a live person in another country. Rosetta Stone will unfortunately set you back a few hundred dollars. To continue my Portuguese, I have been using Duolingo, which is a free and very well designed app. Whatever path you choose to learn a language, make sure you immerse yourself in the culture at some point in your life! You will find that it is the greatest way to learn and remember a countries language.
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