culture and language acquisition

May 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

this boy is so happy to have Pepe and Mamou visiting us

A little while back I wrote about my recent frustration with my progress in French. Well, someone read that post, commented on it and when I went to go and check out their blog I was immediately made to think even more about my own feelings about how I go through the process of picking up new languages. Isn’t it wonderful when people are able to inspire us to ask questions and seek clearer answers? Thank you to Mr.X  for that one since his comment (listed right above my response) led me to put my feelings down in writing.

Mr.X’s comment  “Yes, I believe learning a language stimulates our passion for culture and knowledge. So, in some way I think the older one is, the more learning a language is recommended. :)”

My response:

Yes, I agree that it does stimulate our passion for both of those things but I also think that cultural immersion must occur given the fact that (at least for me) in order to really know a language I have to be exposed to it’s culture in order to get that “instinctive” mindset that allows me to start speaking without thinking. Somehow, when I immerse myself in the culture (and most especially when this immersion happens naturally) I am able to let go of all of the rules and allow my brain to work out the language on it’s own. It’s a fascinating experience really and of course this experience ultimately leads to more knowledge.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been compelled to say things instinctively (in a new language) that ultimately come out correct. This occurred most especially when I was a teenager in Sweden. I remember speaking to friends, deep in conversation, and all of a sudden I’d throw in a word whose existence was unsure of to me. In other words, I would say a word, use it in the current context of conversation, and not even be consciously aware of whether or not I was making up a word or actually using one. Sound weird? Well, I’m sure that I cannot be the only one. The main thing to remember here is that I was totally immersed into the culture, so much so that language (and a foreign language at that) became instinctive, meaning that my brain took over and went into auto-drive, no thinking necessary. That’s as close to magic as I have ever come.
This is exactly the way that I was able to learn my third and fourth languages and it is the way that I intend on learning French too. And you are right, perhaps it is best to try to learn another language as we get older so that we do not stay “stuck” in our own ways. Of course, one does not have to travel to another country and immerse themselves in it’s culture in order to speak or write in a foreign language, that fact has been proven by millions of people the world over. However, I really do feel strongly about the fact that a person can never get close to thinking as a native speaker if they don’t . And if they don’t think like one, or at least know how to, can they speak like one too? Perhaps that’s the next question to ask.
In any case, that way of thinking (as a native) is really, to me, the epitome of conquering a language and although it is a huge challenge (that is hard to achieve) it’s benefits are incredibly enriching and rewarding. And in all actuality you never even have to reach “the end” (or true fluency) in order to reap the benefits, the journey alone is worth the effort.

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