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Friday, September 23, 2011

The Ability to Master a Foreign Language is like Running a Marathon

The ability to master a foreign language is like running a marathon. Crossing the finish line when the race is over is a great accomplishment, but that 26.2-mile run has many ups and downs along the way.

Just when you think you have the hang of the trail, hills and bumps start appearing. Sometimes when the road looks easy, it is actually the hardest part of the run.

A welled trained marathon runner prepares themselves for weeks and makes sure they are equipped with the right tools to make their run as successful as possible. A never give up attitude, along with their preparation and tools, overcomes human weaknesses such as fatigue and body soars acquired along the route.

Learning a Language like a Marathon Runner

Just as a marathon runner prepares and makes sure they are equipped with tools to run a successful race, language learners need to take the same approach with learning a language; the tools and preparation required to learn a language are different, but they are just as important.

There are many tools language learners can use to learn a language. Dictionaries, literature books, language learning software, television, and native speakers are just a few of the tools language learners equip themselves for success.

Using Tools to Help You Succeed

While spending 24 months in the country of Haiti, I armed myself with the tools listed above to run the language learning marathon. I remember the plane ride into Haiti from Miami. At the time I could only pick out a few words from the native speakers, but I had been studying with Haitian Creole speakers and a dictionary with flash cards two months prior. These tools helped me get a great foundation for learning a foreign language but when I first arrived in Haiti and started hearing these words spoken from native speakers I realized speaking like a native was a whole different ball game.

Haiti Picture

The first day into the country, I was placed in a house with 4 native speakers, and was there for 12 months. The only English I saw or heard was from my English-to-Haitian Creole dictionary and letters from home. This tool was vital to helping me understand the language I was starting to learn.

Each month that passed was like a mile in a marathon, and I became stronger in the language each day. I went from only knowing what was being talked about by picking out a few words of a conversation, to finally being able to converse.

By the time I left the country, I had mastered the language. I even made natives astonished by my vocabulary, pronunciation, and the speed in which I could speak Haitian Creole.

Mastering the English Language

After returning home, I entered college and went back to mastering my native language of English. I became aware of how lucky we are to have spelling and grammar automated tools, and wished there was one for every language spoken. I know I could have used them when I was learning Haitain Creole!

Given my experience with learning a foreign language I believe spelling and grammar tools are undervalued. If used effectively, I believe they can only speed up the pace of mastering a language. These tools help explain why the English language works the way it does, not just that you have made a mistake.

Remember that learning a language is a difficult task. It will not come in one day, but rather over a period of time just like finishing a marathon. Arm yourself with the right tools to succeed, and look for tools that you might have over looked. Happy Learning!

The author of this guest post is Kody Carling. Kody works for Mangoco, a web design company based out of Ashburn Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter @K_carling.

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