The power of learning a new language
When my husband told me that we’d just received orders to Germany – I was thrilled! I am a 5th-generation Deutschlander and I couldn’t wait to start learning some German.
My first German words came via clickbait on Facebook (courtesy of software cookies stored from my computer searches) that started auto-populating with ads for any and all things German.
I learned the essentials quickly; Krankenhaus, Krankenwagen, Kranken-gymnastics.
I learned kranken was the infinitive verb that means “to suffer” – so Kranken and haus is, well, a “suffer-house” - also known as the hospital. The ambulance of course, became the “suffer-wagon”. But what had me howling was seeing an ad for Kranken-gymnastics. It was a promo for CrossFit, or as the Germans would say, “suffer-gymnastics”.
An overseas move is a tremendous shift in so many ways and learning a language is no exception. Knowing even a few key words and phrases can make a huge difference in how quickly you become comfortable at your new duty station.
The good news is that there are lots of free resources and ideas to make learning a new language easier than ever.
Online apps & language websites
Apps are a great way to learn a new language, as you’ll always have them at your fingertips. Waiting for an appointment? Perfect! That gives you time to complete a new lesson.
Many apps also have a corresponding website that offer even more options to help you learn.
• Duolingo – A strength of Duolingo is that it’s just downright fun to learn. As you master each section, you unlock new levels – challenging you to keep learning. With pictures, recordings and even the ability to listen and rate your speech in the target language, Duolingo is a great app.
• busuu – Chat with native speakers of the language you're learning, as well as verify that speakers of your language are writing sentences correctly. It's sort of like a joint collaboration project for learning. There are several free classes, along with a premium version you can upgrade to. However, the more you learn at busuu, the more busuu-berries you earn, which can be redeemed for discount vouchers if you upgrade to premium.
• eLanguageSchool – Along with grammar lessons, huge lists of words and phrases, and structured videos to help you learn, some of their offered languages even have a History section so you can learn more about the culture.
• FluentU - FluentU teaches languages using videos and flashcards. You’ll learn words through an interactive guide, and videos that immersion. A neat trick – videos can be filtered into quick-absorb formats, like commercials, movie trailers, speeches, news, and more.
• Foreign Services Institute (FSI) Language Courses – Developed by the US government, the FSI courses are now freely available in the public domain. Everything on the website is ordered by units in an MP3 file. You can follow along with the audio tracks using the attached PDF files, and some of the units even include a workbook for practice.
Use your favorite movie & turn subtitles on
Everyone has a favorite movie they can recite by heart. Take advantage of the English base that you’ve already memorized – turn on subtitles (either in English or your desired foreign language) to easily start connecting words and phrases in a new way. A tip – hearing Disney cartoons and movies in another language is fantastic!
Read children’s books in a foreign language
When you first learned English, you didn’t start by learning with labeling sentence structure, you learned by absorption, likely with television and movies, and children’s books. The words and sentence structure are purposefully simple to help children learn. But it’s actually a great way for adults to learn too. It’s also a great option to learn a new language as a family.
Leverage your duty station
Your duty station will likely have several options available to you to help in learning a new language. Some bases offer in-person classes and many have created partnerships with nearby towns and organizations (like the USO) to offer classes. Additionally, the USAFE library system has a wealth of information, offering programs like Pimsleur’s, Rosetta Stone, online language learning, and a wide range of foreign films and audiobooks.
Search local Facebook groups in your area
Local Facebook groups are a great way to meet other newcomers and seasoned pros in your area that are learning too! There are a multitude of various groups – a good place to start with your search is: Your Base + group, community, meet-up, schools, language group, or spouses – to find a group that meets your needs.
Mingle with locals
There is nothing more exhilarating than trying out some brand-new phrases and words on native speakers. It’s the best way to learn the nuances of a language – and also an important gauge in measuring how well you are mastering it. Most locals truly appreciate the effort, and will help correct your speech – which will in turn make you more proficient.
Divide and conquer
It is quite possible to have an affinity for one language, but no matter how hard you try – you cannot seem to master others. For me, that’s French. I excel at the hard, sharp-consonants and speech of Slavic and Germanic languages (like Czech, Dutch, German), but struggle with the softer nuances of Romance languages. I simply do not have an ear for French, it seems to run together in one undulating word – nor can I hit the enunciations. But my husband can. So, when we travel – and French is required, he’s the star of the show!
No matter how you choose to learn a foreign language, the ability to interact with your new host nation in their language will help you gain a more profound understanding of your new home. Which will allow you to settle in much quicker!