غوطه وری بدون خرید بلیط هواپیماکتاب: سلاست در سه ماه / فصل 5
غوطه وری بدون خرید بلیط هواپیما
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CHAPTER 4: Immersion Without Buying a Plane Ticket
You don’t need to be in a foreign country to learn the language. You can do it from the comfort of your home or local community.
You have likely realized by now what my “secret” is to learning languages. It has nothing to do with buying the right materials, finding the lazy or easy way to learn a language while you sleep or jog or participate in some other activity, or clicking your way through expensive language learning software.
You must speak the language with other human beings.
Soon enough, I will walk you through the process of how to keep a conversation flowing with a person, so we can start striving toward fluency, but first we have to actually find those people to speak with!
Many challenges may prevent you from speaking a language, but one I want to squelch right now is the idea that you can’t speak a foreign language unless you’re in that foreign country. This excuse has held too many people back for too long and we need to put a stop to it.
In this chapter, I delve into the many ways you can create an effective immersion environment and get genuine practice with native speakers of the language you are focused on without needing to buy a plane ticket. And I even suggest why it could be better to learn the language from home.
The Expat Problem
Visiting a country to learn its language isn’t as great as you might think. When I first moved to Spain, I was under the delusion that something “in the air” would ensure that I simply picked up Spanish. I was in the country—what more could I possibly need?
Almost six months into my trip, I realized I needed much more. I could barely string together a few basic sentences. Sadly, my case is not the exception. In my travels, I have met literally thousands of expatriates, or expats, who barely speak the local language.
I met a man once in Prague who had lived there for a decade. He was married to a Czech woman and their children all spoke Czech. He told me that my understanding of the language after only two weeks was already way beyond his. I met people with similar stories in Poland, China, Thailand, France, and Germany. An entire decade in a country without speaking the language. I’ve met people all over the world who still don’t know much of the local language beyond simple pleasantries, despite living there for several months or a year.
Of course, they all used many of the same excuses I outlined in chapter 1. But the real reason they didn’t succeed was a combination of laziness and the temptations of what is called the expat bubble, both of which I succumbed to my first time in a non-English-speaking country.
The expat bubble is a protective shell of friendships that forms when a group of people live or work abroad for any length of time, and everyone within that bubble speaks your native language. When you arrive in a country, “just while you settle in,” you go out with this group and speak English (or another language that isn’t the local one). Sometimes working in your native language is unavoidable, but you still have many hours of free time that can be put to good use every day.
The problem is that the temptation to hang out with people you can relate to and express yourself with easily is so powerful that you end up making almost no local friends, or only meet local people who have excellent English language skills. This is exactly why people continue to think that “everyone speaks English.” Because so many people feel being in a country is the be-all and end-all solution to their problems, they start to believe that learning a new language is impossible when they don’t speak it themselves after months of being exposed to it. So no, I do not think flying to a country is a crucial part of your language learning strategy.
On top of this, I have found that, with so many things to deal with when you move your entire life across the planet, all these distractions and mental strains wear you down. Even as an experienced language learner, I learned Mandarin more slowly than I might have because I had to deal with cultural integration issues as well as the language. It was a lot to take on at once.
Getting used to a new country, trying to make friends, dealing with loneliness, and facing the frustration of cultural differences are all distractions from learning the language. This is why I think it’s actually better to learn a language in advance, before going to that country.
Spoken lessons via Skype are just as effective—and far more convenient. Instead of traveling to Taiwan, I would have been better off staying somewhere I was more familiar with, so the only project or challenge I had to think about was learning Mandarin.
Keep in mind this is coming from someone who has learned most of his languages by arriving in a country not speaking a word of the local language yet. There is indeed a certain sense of adventure and pressure to speak when you do this, but the other distractions can unfortunately take over and leave you unable to focus on the language. Is it any wonder so many people just give up and spend their entire time abroad with others from their own country?
When You Should Go to the Country
After hearing about all the distractions, you may think I’m about to tell you to avoid altogether the country that speaks your language and, instead, stay home forever. Quite the opposite. Being in a country and using its local language is such a wonderful experience, I cannot express it well enough in words.
Because I spoke the local language during my travels, I’ve listened as an old Czech lady told me about her experiences during World War II. I’ve eaten Easter dinner with four generations of Italians. I’ve appeared on TV and been interviewed on the radio in both Spanish and French long before I started my blog, talking about my experience as a foreigner. I’ve danced with a country’s president. I’ve had an entire bar cheer me on as I sang karaoke in Tagalog in the Philippines. Honestly, I’ve had so many wonderful experiences that they could fill their own book, and my extensive travels mixed with cultural exploration has even led to me being awarded National Geographic’s title “Traveler of the Year”!
I am definitely not against the idea of moving to a country. As Saint Augustine famously said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”
But the thing is, I had all these wonderful experiences only when I was able to communicate well in the local language, not as I was learning the basics.
There is a lot of work at the beginning that is far less interesting than having “language adventures” with people, things like studying flash cards, repeating a basic phrase over and over again, or having the same introductory conversation about yourself repeatedly while you get comfortable using the language. You can get through it quickly, as I suggest in the next chapter, but you can’t skip it. I say, do all this work from home so you can enjoy the much more fun part of language learning when you’re in the country.
I think we should all strive to use the local language in a target country as soon as we can, even if our work or family responsibilities only allow us to take, say, a weeklong break to visit it. If you arrive already speaking the language well, you will have an absolutely wonderful week. And, of course, longer stays give you even more fantastic life experiences.
This is why I believe the most effective use of a plane ticket is to consider your looming departure date as motivation to work extra hard before you go, so you’re able to maximize your experience in the country as soon as you step off the plane. Use an upcoming trip to motivate yourself to go through intensive speaking and study sessions in advance, so when you’re there you don’t have to do such activities and can focus on enjoying life through that language.
Attitude Versus Latitude
There are, however, many situations in which people successfully learn a language abroad. In many cases, they have done some advance work, but generally, when I hear about immersion courses, I find it’s not being in the country that produces a successful language speaker, but that no one was allowed to speak English.
Because of this, immersion courses have started springing up in the wrong countries! There is an interesting concept in Spain: they create an “English village,” they fly in English speakers, and Spaniards from nearby towns or cities work on their English there—an English immersion experience that doesn’t require a Spaniard to leave Spain. You can imagine how easy it would be to reverse this and have a “Spanish village” in English-speaking countries. Of course, we have these already in many multicultural neighborhoods.
This really shows that where you are isn’t what decides whether or not you’ll be successful. Attitude beats latitude (and longitude) every time. It’s more about creating an immersion environment, exposing yourself to native speakers, and doing everything you can in that language.
The Human Factor
Exposure to human beings who speak your target language is what it’s all about. If you can surround yourself with English speakers and maintain an English-speaking bubble when in a foreign country, then surely the reverse is true, right? Why not surround yourself (physically or digitally) with native speakers of the language you are learning right from home?
It’s time with real people and real exposure to the language through TV, radio, and movies that pushes you forward. And you can do this from anywhere.
I’ve been so adamant that time with human beings is the solution to any language learning problem that I’ve gone so far as to make a sales pitch for a Human Being product I call HB 2.0. Its features include:
Advanced voice-recognition and feedback-based correction: Get instant corrections on your mistakes as you make them.
Context-based recognition: Even if you do make mistakes, the system automatically adjusts for this and derives what you mean from the context. You are encouraged to attempt to do the same with the system yourself.
A completely natural language: With an advanced memory bank of slang, idioms, and cultural references.
A pressure-based instant requirement to speak: This feature is challenging, but it ensures you will improve on your level more quickly than you ever can in other learning systems.
An almost infinite database of interactive conversations: You’ll never run out of material to work on.
Built-in positive reinforcement: This system automatically detects when you are running into difficulty and provides encouraging messages to get you back on track.
Complete portability: You can access your HB 2.0 system on the go. Use it on buses, trains, while on walks, at social events, or from the comfort of your home.
Can you see how I’ve phrased these as if I were pitching some language learning software? We keep trying to find language learning solutions through courses, software, apps, flights abroad, books, schools, and a host of other methods, some of which can be useful, but these are nothing but accessories to the true core of language learning: the people we speak with and hear.
Couch-Surfing for Language Practice
The trick, then, is finding native speakers who will give you that wonderful language practice. A great way to do this is through websites.
The website I have gotten the most use out of by far is Couchsurfing.org. This site is well known among budget travelers as a means to connect with people living in cities around the world who invite you to sleep on their couches (couch-surf). I haven’t used this aspect of the site much myself, even though I travel a lot and was among the first ten thousand members to sign up. The reason I use it is because it’s one of the largest social networking sites and it lets you search through its members by language. All you need to do is search for the city you live in and limit the criteria to profiles listing the language you are learning (or maintaining).
I’ve used Couchsurfing.org to practice Italian in Amsterdam, Esperanto in Colombia, American Sign Language in Hong Kong, Dutch in Istanbul, and many other unlikely combinations, all by messaging whoever spoke a particular language and inviting that person out for coffee or lunch.
The great thing about the site is that the nature of its members, being world travelers, means they are quite open-minded and much more likely to meet up with an interesting new stranger than other communities might.
Then again, you can use the site for the purpose it was designed for and host people traveling through your town. This way everyone wins: the travelers get free accommodation and you get to practice a language. Over the span of a few years I’ve hosted almost two thousand people. Each profile has references, so you know you can trust the person, and nothing in my house has ever gone mysteriously missing. Plus, I have had only positive experiences due to being selective about whom I choose to host.
As well as inviting people to coffee or lunch and hosting people, I have gone to Couchsurfing.org’s many meet-ups, where I always find an international crowd, many of whom speak the language I want to practice. In international cities, there are even meet-ups and parties specifically for practicing particular languages.
Other Social Searches
Similarly, InterNations.org hosts social events in major cities, which draw a very good mixture of people from many different countries. You can see in advance which nationalities will be attending, with a per-country count in the meet-up summary, to be sure you have a good chance of meeting someone to practice your target language with.
Another great site is Meetup.com, which may not have as international a crowd, but does have specific meet-ups aimed at practicing particular languages. Other sites are suggested in the online chapter summary page.
Of course, each of these sites is much more potent when used in an international city that is likely to have visitors, but I’ve been surprised at finding unlikely languages even in small towns.
Keep in mind that even if you don’t find a premade meet-up on Meetup.com or Couchsurfing.org for the language you want to practice, you can create one yourself. At first, just a couple of people may show up, but it could grow and become a regular event for those who want to speak some Spanish or Mandarin or Japanese.
Any social networking site may have a way to set up language meet-ups. Even Facebook has groups for particular cities (search “[your city name] + [language name]” to see if you can find one), and if it doesn’t, set one up yourself to connect with other learners. If you don’t find native speakers, working with other learners can be beneficial too.
In the past I even went so far as to use dating sites to get language practice, although this is obviously one approach you want to use carefully. These sites also let you search its users by language.
I do a lot of stuff online, but there are plenty of offline alternatives that can help you get in touch with people for language practice.
For instance, if you live near a university, you will certainly find an advertisement board where you can leave your request for a “language exchange.” Many universities have exchange students from abroad who are learning your native language and are eager to practice.
Even if they don’t speak the language you want, ask your friends and family for advice to see if they know communities you could join to practice your language in person. Sometimes groups meet up at a local library, or notices in local newspapers advertise such meet-ups. Just ask around, and you’ll be surprised what you find.
Life begins where your comfort zone ends.
Another option for the more adventurous among us is to simply walk up to someone you don’t know who is using your target language, or otherwise appears to be from that country, and strike up a conversation. Many cities have large communities of foreigners who are pleasantly surprised when a local person tries to speak to them in their own language.
An excellent example of someone who takes advantage of this adventurous approach is Moses McCormick (whom I mentioned in the introduction), who lives in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus isn’t a city you would immediately think of as international, but Moses shows us how much practice you can get in many languages anywhere in the world.
Moses and I went together to a shopping mall, and he showed me how easy it was. He stopped strangers and asked nonintimidating questions to break the ice, such as asking what time it was or whether that person knew where the mall arcades were. When they replied, he continued by casually asking where they were from. If they were from a country whose language he knew, he would then ask, in their language, whether they spoke that language. Simple as that. We did it for a couple of hours and found that each interaction was pretty positive—some people were busy working, so they could only speak for a moment, but nobody was angered or frustrated by our attempts. We recorded the experience, so you can watch it on YouTube and see how it went.
This is good for some quick practice, but you can also ask people if they’d like to meet up later to chat some more in their language. Believe it or not, people are nice, even with strangers, and the many excuses you might come up with about making someone angry by such interactions are usually just in your head.
I try to be friendly when I first meet people, and those meetings have pretty much always worked out well. When you are genuine and truly passionate about learning a language, people can tell. They are often open to a quick chat, even when they have just met you.
Hopefully this shows you that there are many in-person opportunities to practice with others who speak the language you are interested in. As long as you live in a sizable city and are learning a pretty widely spoken language, you will surely find those opportunities if you look hard enough. Don’t give up after the first attempt. Some smaller towns or less common languages may make this trickier, but there may still be someone out there, ready to share a conversation.
Learning with Other Non-Natives
When looking to practice your target language, you may think learning can only occur when you speak with a native speaker of that language. Try to focus on finding these natives, using the suggestions in this chapter. The further you get in your language learning attempts, the more essential it is to get genuine native exposure.
However, if you are a beginner and finding it hard to get practice time with native speakers, never forget that other learners like you are also excellent for practice. Because you are both learners, there is less of a feeling of embarrassment when you make mistakes, and you can relate to each other’s mistakes. You won’t necessarily learn from or correct your mistakes as efficiently when practicing with another learner, but the confidence to simply use a language is just as essential as vocabulary and grammar, and all practice helps you gain confidence.
It’s also great to bounce those learned phrases off someone else and have that person challenge you by asking follow-up questions (even if his or her grammar isn’t perfect), so you can work out what to say and know which words you need to learn before the questions come up again.
You can arrange to sit down with a friend and regularly practice a language. Once you are used to speaking the language at a basic level, you’ll be more confident to try a conversation with a native speaker when the opportunity comes.
Consuming Media at a Distance
As well as spending time with natives, a priority for our spoken focus, you should also work to improve your reading and listening comprehension skills. To do this, you need “virtual immersion” by surrounding yourself with the language.
The first thing to do is find streamed radio broadcasts from the country where your target language is dominant. Next, you can find dubbed versions of your favorite TV shows in the language you’re trying to learn. Find out what the series is called in that language by looking up its English title on Wikipedia and seeing the translation referred to in the column along the left side of the show’s page. Then search Amazon.com or another online store for that foreign title and buy the DVD or download it. In some cases, depending on the language, you can even buy an international DVD in your favorite local or online store that includes dubbing in the language you are interested in, or download the video with alternative language selection options.
You can do the same for foreign-language editions of your favorite movies, books, and comics. Or, instead of relying on dubbed or foreign-language versions of the items and programs you are familiar with, check out that country’s favorite shows or movies. Ask a language partner or teacher for advice on what to watch, and see if you can access it from where you live.
Other than this, there are numerous online sources that give you content in other languages. You can find an updated list of some great examples at fi3m.com/langs.
Online Language Exchange
What we’ve talked about so far applies to in-person meetings and media, but there is a whole new world of opportunities awaiting you!
A few decades ago you would have been right in saying that getting spoken-language practice while living in more remote areas, or with a less common language, was too hard to accomplish. But today we have a wonderful resource connecting us with native speakers just about anywhere—the Internet. With this, there is really no excuse for not finding opportunities to practice your target language.
For those of us who speak English as a native language, there are countless people from other countries eager to get some English practice. If you provide them with thirty minutes of your time to chat in English and answer some of their questions, then they will teach you their language free of charge.
This language-exchange idea is popular, especially online. English and other languages are in high demand, so you can find an exchange much more easily than you think.
My favorite way to do language exchanges is on a site dedicated to that purpose, such as Italki. You can search for language partners, arrange a time in advance, and see references from others who have spoken to a particular person before, so you know whether this person is more likely to be helpful and friendly. Connect to my profile by signing up via fi3m.com/italki.
Other places to find language partners include forums, such as the free one on my site (fi3m.com/forum), where people post their languages offered and anyone interested can get in touch for your Skype details. Alternative sites to search for language partners are mentioned in chapter 10. There are many options, so with a little searching you will indeed find speaking opportunities that could theoretically keep you busy many hours each day using your target language.
You can also arrange for paid lessons online. While one-on-one lessons may seem beyond your budget, when you are interacting with people in countries where you can leverage currency differences, you can get excellent lessons for a good price. An hour of Chinese lessons from a good teacher who doesn’t live in a major city, such as Beijing or Shanghai, can be easily found for five dollars or so an hour on Italki. The same goes for French teachers based in Africa, Spanish teachers in South America, and so on.
Thanks to the wonderful opportunities on the web, I was able to learn the majority of my Egyptian Arabic entirely online while staying in Belo Horizonte, deep within Brazil. In this city, I couldn’t find a single speaker of the dialect I was focused on, but I still managed to speak it for several hours each day, thanks to my online teachers. After three months of speaking exclusively via Skype, I was ready to go to Egypt and travel using conversational Arabic, which helped me appreciate my time there much more than if I had arrived just to study or knowing next to nothing of the language. When preparing this book, I learned Japanese while living in Valencia, Spain, similarly practicing for hours each day via Skype.
Now that you know how to find native speakers and remember words and phrases, it’s time to actually speak your target language.
A Stranger Is Just a Friend You Haven’t Met Yet
There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t yet met.
—W. B. YEATS
I always keep this Irish saying in mind when I’m out and about and notice someone who seems worth talking to or an interesting language learning opportunity appears. This can also be applied to all the “strangers” you can connect with online.
There are so many ways to practice your target language without traveling abroad. Here is a recap of ideas:
Check out Couchsurfing.org, InterNations.org, Meetup.com, or the groups on any of the social networking sites like Facebook and Google+. You’re bound to connect with people who speak the language you wish to practice.
Do a search on Italki.com (sign up at fi3m.com/italki first) for a language partner who wants to learn your target language, or find an affordable private teacher. In both cases, practice the language using Skype.
To see the video of Moses and me speaking multiple languages in a mall in Columbus, Ohio, or to check out Moses’s videos demonstrating how he frequently does this, go to fi3m.com/moses.
For up-to-date website suggestions, encouragement for approaching people, videos, and other links relevant to this chapter, see fi3m.com/ch–4.
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