Foreign language

How to Get Along with Others

You may wonder, having just read the subject line, what the heck being a nicer person has to do with learning a foreign language! It turns out that in a 2010 study by the National Institutes of Health, bilingual children were generally found to get along more harmoniously with other children, whether in the school environment or at play.

The human brain is still a vast and mysterious frontier, but researchers believe there is a direct correlation between speaking a second language and expanding one's emotional perspective.

It's all about adaptability. As you stretch and expand your mind to embrace new ways of saying things, you are also developing new ways of seeing things. You learn that there is often more than one way to say the same thing, but perhaps more importantly, more than one way to do something or to understand a particular situation.

To quote the founder of an organization I used to work for, simply put:

Different is not wrong.

This simplistic statement actually packs a powerful punch! It can free us of dogmatic and narrow thinking and open our eyes to whole worlds and other perspectives.

So next time you sit down to study that foreign language, just remember that the more you're able to express yourself in another language, the greater chances of your becoming a more flexible, adaptable, and, hopefully, kind person!

As you stretch and expand your mind to embrace new ways of saying things, you are also developing new ways of seeing things.

Married to a WHAT?

Since my philosophy of language teaching is to equip people for LIFE, and not a merely academic exercise, that means you have to be willing to step out INTO real life at the risk of making mistakes. It helps not to take yourself too seriously and trust that other people are more understanding than you might think!

In fact, some of my favorite chuckles are language faux pas (which literally means "false steps" in French), both my own and those of others! Although it's tempting to tell about others' (!), I'll share one of my own with you to start off your week:

I was in Amsterdam, where my wife and I lived for five years. I was having a conversation in Dutch, and was doing pretty well overall. But there are fine points and nuances in every language, and I wasn't quite to that stage of learning yet. A lady and I were talking and discovered we had a mutual friend. The lady said, "He's married now, isn't he?" to which I replied, "Yes, with a baby!"

She died laughing, and I quickly realized what I had done. In English, we say someone is "married, with children". But in Dutch, the prepositions work a bit differently, and what I meant to mean "he is married and has a baby" came out meaning "he is married to a baby"!

Although I suppose faux pas can get a person in trouble every now and then, most of the time, in the long run, they only provide a humorous side to the adventure of learning another language, providing chuckles and great memories for years to come!

Happy learning!

Imagination and foreign language

My wife and I teach a class called Global Studies, and I have to say it's more fun than should be legal! In it we study not only the different cultures of the world, grouped in "clusters", but also contemporary global issues such as the current refugee crisis.

We always tell our students that these things will have MUCH more impact if they actually take the step of imagining themselves in the position of a refugee...or whatever else we happen to be studying. Otherwise, it remains only head knowledge.

Speaking of refugees, one of the biggest challenges they face when arriving in another country is, obviously, the language. Imagine yourself in that position: you have literally fled for your life from your home country, and you find yourself being expected to assimilate into a new culture...and language.

I've had the privilege of meeting a number of refugees who faced that very situation. One of my heroes is named Muhannad, a Syrian scholar of English literature who fled the horrors of the Syrian war as the only way to avoid fighting in Assad's army. Muhannad now lives in Germany, has learned German, and now has a job at one of the most prestigious concert halls in the country, welcoming and serving artists and musicians who come to perform there. And he does it with a smile and with grace.

I of course hope you never find yourself in the position of a refugee. But if you imagine yourself in a situation where your livelihood literally depends on your acquisition of a new language, you might be a little more motivated, right?

Remember, even if you're studying a language to fulfill a requirement, you're really learning for life.

You can do this!

Max's Story

The one thing I enjoy most about teaching is the transformation I often see in my students. So many of them start off with the deer-in-the-headlights look, only to find themselves falling in love with whatever it is they're learning, whether Spanish, French, or Global Studies. Especially with my quasi-immersion approach to foreign language, many of them probably have second thoughts at the beginning about signing up for my class.

But to their credit, they [almost] always stick with it. And time and time again they are rewarded with a surprise grasp of the language after a relatively short time.

Max is the perfect example. As he himself confesses in this short video, he had "little to no interest" in foreign language coming into my class. Now you can't shut the kid up! He's a Spanish machine, soaking up every bit of Spanish he can possibly learn.

What am I doing! I should let you hear Max tell about it himself!

Of course Max is exceptional -- he literally looks for every opportunity to increase his proficiency in Spanish. But I wish I had time to tell you all of the success stories I've seen. I WILL be back to tell you a couple more.

Announcing World to the Wise Academy!


You perhaps already know my blog, or my podcast, or maybe the cultural tours my wife Becky and I lead in the summers. In the same vein of promoting cultural intelligence, we are happy to announce World to the Wise Academy, where we will initially be offering courses on foreign language learning, and later various other aspects of cultural intelligence. Just click here to take a peek -- after you watch this video!

Facing That Foreign Language


Sometimes there are myths that take root and become really difficult to dispel. One of them is the notion that Americans -- and English speakers in general -- are simply not capable of learning a foreign language well. Oh, we all know someone who has done it with some degree of success, but most of us have bought into the idea that "that will never be me." Perhaps I'm not the best person to dispel the myth, as I happen to be one of those foreign language freaks who thrive on tackling a new language. Maybe my wife would make a better spokesperson for the cause. She doesn't consider herself particularly gifted in languages, but when she married me, she signed up for a lifetime of exposure to any number of languages. Over the years we lived in Europe, she became conversant in both French and Dutch, and to this day we use both of these in our house on a regular basis. (Especially when grandkids are not intended to understand.)

I'm in the process of finishing up a brand new online mini-course to help people who are wanting to, about to, or have to study a foreign language. And I have new fodder: I've just undertaken Arabic, using video tutorials and weekly Skype sessions with a Syrian friend in Germany whom Becky and I met last summer when we were there.

The truth is, learning a foreign language is not a super power.

Hard work, yes. But all my years of speaking and teaching languages have given me many insights into how people learn languages -- but also some fundamental elements that are missing in a lot of language methods.

Hence this mini-course. If you're considering starting a foreign language, or have already started but find yourself a wee bit discouraged, this is for you. Just leave your email address in the form below and you'll be on your way to a more successful adventure in learning to speak another language. And believe me, there is nothing more gratifying than another person understanding you when you get up the nerve to practice your new words!

Riding a Bike and Learning a Language

A student of mine recently sent me this video. Find out what riding a bike and learning a foreign language have in common:

We English speakers often have the mistaken notion that a) we're just not gifted in the area of foreign language, or b) we'll just check that off our list in high school and be done with it. The best time is to start children when they're young.

But don't let that discourage you from starting NOW, no matter how many years you've been on the planet! (Click here for some encouragement!)

Bill Gates: "I feel pretty stupid that I don't know any foreign language"


Almost all of us have lived long enough to have regrets. Some of those regrets -- like a missed opportunity way back when, or a botched relationship -- we can't always do anything about; but others can be remedied. It's actually surprising what deficiencies in our lives are within our power to correct. Learning a language is one of those. It is never too late. A person like Bill Gates obviously has the challenge of making time for an endeavor such as studying a foreign language. But in reality, all of us face exactly the same challenge: how will we prioritize our time? In this interview Gates salutes Mark Zuckerberg for having learned Mandarin Chinese well enough to hold a Q&A session in China. Remarkable indeed. But even a more cursory knowledge of another language can gain you entry into people's trust -- a commodity not always readily available.

For some practical encouragement on how to go about learning a foreign language, check out my short e-book here.