language learning

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!

Raising Children to be Bilingual

World to the Wise Podcast

Statistics show that about 43% of the world's population speaks at least two languages. Before you get even more intimidated, however, realize that much of this is by necessity, often because of geographic location or the ethnicity one is born into. In this episode, we sit down with two moms who are teaching their children a second language by choice, although not necessarily for all the same reasons. You'll meet Merry MacIvor Anderson, a Caucasian from Tennessee who speaks only Spanish with her two boys. And Daniela Ciliberti Nichols, an Italian married to an American, who is teaching her three children Italian in the midst of an English-speaking culture.

If you're a parent (or grandparent) interested in exposing your young children to another language, here are some articles I think you'll find helpful and encouraging:

Raising a Bilingual Child: The Top Five Myths

Raising Bilingual Children

Raising Bilingual Children: The First Five Steps to Success

How Your Child Can Benefit from Being Bilingual

As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated! Just leave a comment below or email me at podcast@daviddurham.org.