Growing up Bilingual

Bilingualism is the new black. More and more families are seeking immersion programs so their children can acquire a second, or even a third, language early on. Along with the need for language immersion, comes the question of timing as well, whether there will be confusion when multiple languages are at play in children’s upbringing.

In a home video from around 1991, my three-year-old sister asked my dad,
“把鼻,dinosaur的英文怎麼講?” (bǎbí, dinosaur de yīngwén zěnme jiǎng)
“Daddy, how do you say dinosaur in English?”

To which my dad responded, “dinosaur is already in English.”

Even though my sister didn’t realize that “dinosaur” is already an English phrase, my sister’s awareness of  language differences at her age amazed all of us who watched that video.

bilingual, language, learning, shenyunwu.com, xdxs.tumblr.com

Image: courtesy of shendywu.com

Parents who are trying to raise bilingual children receive different feedback on how to approach bilingualism. Some are adamant about introducing a second language later in life,  others try to immerse the child in two languages as early as possible. Sociolinguistics studies present different results as well. But real-life experience and observations has taught me that perhaps children have the natural ability to distinguish between languages.

I don’t remember ever being confused about the difference between English and Chinese. But similar to the “dinosaur case,” there were times when I mistook certain words as Chinese when they were English. That’s mainly because of how it was used when I was introduced to the word. My parents always referred to “penguin” in English, with an accent that made it “ping-guin,” so for a long time, I thought the Chinese and English for that word were similar–and was fascinated (although incorrectly) by the closeness of the two languages.

Recently, I spent some time with a 3-year-old, Benji, who is raised by biracial parents–the mom is Chinese and the dad is a Kiwi from New Zealand. When Benji received a gift from his uncle, he immediately said, “thank you,” and said, “謝謝!” (xiè xie), without hesitation, when his mom asked him to say it in Chinese. I was amazed.

I asked the mom how they taught him the difference between English and Chinese. She said he just picked it up naturally. He even recognizes the difference between Chinese characters and English alphabet. For story time, he brings Chinese books only to mom, and English books to dad, as he recognizes that dad doesn’t speak or read Chinese.

Nick Jaworski, a father and blogger who is raising a multilingual child, also shows examples of how mixing languages has not hindered his child’s language learning: “Mixing languages is a normal part of the learning process and is a perfect indicator of just how smart your child is.”

It seems to me that the challenge of raising bilingual children goes beyond the initial immersion, but to keeping that language skill and improving upon it over time. Benji’s mom tells me that their approach now, is to instill in Benji that Chinese is cool, so that when he starts school and becomes immersed in the English-speaking world, he will still feel pride in knowing and learning Chinese.

I feel fortunate to have spent eight of my formative years in Taiwan before returning to the States to complete high school and college. Without it, my Chinese skills may have stagnated at an elementary and conversational level. It is difficult to keep up with a language that isn’t used constantly.

What is your bilingual experience? How did you learn a second language? How are you raising a bilingual child?

Happy learning!

On the Job: What Is that Word?

Part of being a good interpreter is the continual expansion of your glossary and your knowledge in interpreting. Whether it’s through listening to industry talks, reading industry blogs, networking with other interpreters and learning from them,  as long as you’re learning and building on your skills, you’re doing your part on this front.

Here’s a quick tip for expanding your glossary:
When on an assignment, keep track of the words you stumbled upon or had to take a moment to remember, and add them to your glossary when you get home so you will remember them for the next time.

xdxs, micho, say what,

Say what? Photo courtesy: xdxs.tumblr.com

You might ask, “What do you mean ‘if you don’t know a word’?” Despite our title as interpreters and translators, we still aren’t all-knowing and may still encounter unfamiliar terms. This is a fact, and it’s alright. So what should we do when we get stuck on a phrase? Well, I have three tips here:

1. Remain calm. Don’t freak out! It’s going to be okay.

2. Remember your role. The default role of an interpreter is a conduit, which means that you are to keep the flow of communication without adding to, omitting from, or distorting the message.  With this in mind, do not try to omit the word by avoiding what you don’t know.

3. Just ask. If you don’t know a word, ask. Your clients need you there because they need your help in getting their intended message across. Just because you don’t know something doesn’t make you a failure. Instead of guessing the equivalent to the target language, ask the speaker for clarification of what she meant by the specific word: “The interpreter is unfamiliar with the phrase ‘xx,’ could you please define it or clarify what you mean by it?” Sometimes, you’ll know the translation after you hear the definition, and would be able to go back to interpreting the complete utterance. If you still don’t know the equivalent to the target language, interpret the definition instead. This will allow you to keep the flow of communication without construing the message.

At the end of the appointment, if the parties were able to successfully communicate and get what they need from the conversation, you will have fulfilled your purpose. Congrats!

It’s okay that we don’t know everything. The important thing is to learn from our experiences and to maintain the mentality of lifelong learning.

Just keep learning and happy interpreting!

What It Takes to Be an Interpreter

As you’re trying to decide where to go with your career and what you can do with the language skills you have, becoming a language interpreter may be a path that comes to mind. But what does it take to become an interpreter?

We probably all know the basics: You need to be fluent in at least two languages. You should be someone who has a desire to help bridge language gaps, to help people communicate their needs and point of view. You are someone who does not belittle another person because of his inability to communicate in the lingua franca, but treats that person with equality. You need to be okay with face-to-face interactions with clients, and you should be able to interact cordially and be personable with clients. Most importantly, you want to be passionate about the work.

Besides your personality and interest, traits you should possess or be able to obtain are:

Good command of the lingo.  Of course, the most basic prerequisite of becoming an interpreter is fluency of the language and the different registers.

Good public speaking skills.  Interpreters need to be able to speak clearly to deliver their messages. Even though we are not creating the content, your communication of the information between languages needs to be clear and understandable.

Ability to work in a fast-paced environment.  Interpreting is fast paced. You have to think on your feet and convert languages on the spot. There isn’t much time to think through or reconstruct sentences, and you need to be okay and ready for that.

Calm when it comes to stressful situations.  Because interpreters work in a fast-paced environment  it can become stressful. The ability to deal with that stress is important.

Reliable transportation.  Interpreting jobs are not often held in the same location, particularly if you are a freelancer.  Having reliable transportation, whether it’s public transit or a car, is important, so you can get to your destinations on time.

Lifelong learner.  Language is always changing and evolving.  Subject matters we  handle can differ on a case-to-case basis as well.  As part of interpreters’ professionalism, you must be willing to hone your language skills continually and keep up with the trends and literature, whether it’s legal or medical or in any field, to ensure you are providing top-notch and quality services to your clients. Some ideas of keeping up with your language skills can be found in one of my earlier posts.

What other qualities do you believe an interpreter should have? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy interpreting!

6 Useful Phrases to Learn in a Foreign Language

I recently returned from a trip in Spain. I had such a great time in the historical country and immersed myself in its culture and devoured its delicious food. I’m pretty sure though, that if it weren’t for my sister-in-law’s fluency in Spanish, getting around would have proved difficult. While most of us English speakers may view English as the lingua franca and feel that everyone should speak it, that is not always the case.

Basic Phrases for Travelers to Learn_Language

It became clear to me half-way through my travels that knowing some basic phrases in the language used in the country would make life easier. The ability to communicate, even a little, with the locals in their own language, also makes me feel more adequate. I don’t think it’s fair to expect everyone to speak English when we are the visitors to someone else’s country.

The following are 6 phrases I found useful. I’ve also wrote them out in Chinese for travelers who are traveling to a Chinese-speaking country.

1. Where Are the Restrooms?
請問洗手間在哪裡?
I learned before Spain how to ask for the restrooms in Spanish, and it probably is the Spanish sentence I used the most, since we were outside all day traveling and touring the various landmarks. Figuring out how to say “Where is” and “How do I get to” in the foreign language will definitely come in handy.

qǐngwèn (請問) = excuse me, or may I ask. 請: please.  問: ask.
xǐshǒujiān (洗手間) = restrooms. 洗: wash. 手: hand. 間:  room.
zài nǎlǐ (在哪裡) = where is. 在: at. 哪裡:  where

2. Directions: Straight, Left turn, Right turn
直走/左轉/右轉
Knowing how to ask directions is one thing, but understanding the directions you get is another. In a museum in Spain, I asked a staff member for directions to the restrooms, and he was friendly enough to give me detailed instructions. Unfortunately, once he started speaking I knew I was in trouble–I couldn’t understand a word! All I could do was focus on his hand gestures and body language and hope that I will eventually find my way.

The ability to understand or recognize basic direction phrases will help you make sense of the friendly guidance you receive, and of course, get you where you need to go.

zhízǒu (直走) = to walk or go straight. 直: straight. 走: walk.
zuǒzhuǎn (左轉) = to turn left. 左: left. 轉: turn.
yòuzhuǎn (右轉) = to turn right. 右: right. 轉: turn.

3. Numbers. One to Ten.
一、二、三、四、五、六、七、八、九、十
Knowing your numbers will help you pay the right amount, get the right change, or get on the right bus.

On my flight back from Spain, the stewardess came up to me and asked me a question. While I couldn’t understand, I assumed that she was asking for my seat number or row number since she was directing others to their seats. 25F was my seat, but while I knew two (dos) and five (cinco), I didn’t know twenty-five, so instead of speaking I gestured two and five with my hands. Hand gestures work, but knowing how to say your numbers is important as well!

One to ten in Chinese:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
èr sān liù jiǔ shí

For numbers beyond ten, there is an easy formula, demonstrated below.
Two-digit numbers
11 = ten one = shí yī
25 = two ten five = èr shí wǔ
69 = six ten nine = liù shí jiǔ

3-digit numbers
Hundred = 百 bǎi
300 = three hundred = sān bǎi
350 = three hundred five ten = sān bǎi wǔ shí
356= three hundred five ten six = sān bǎi wǔ shí liù

4. I Don’t Understand Chinese
我聽不懂中文
If you’re in a position where you can’t understand a single word, no matter what is said, just let the person know. If you are asking for help, maybe you can find a different way to communicate—-through pictures, hand gestures, body language, etc. If you’re lucky the stranger might be able to help you find someone else who can speak your language.

wǒ tīngbùdǒng (我聽不懂) = I don’t understand or I can’t comprehend.
zhōngwén (中文) = Chinese.

5. Sorry
不好意思/對不起
Getting people’s attention in a polite way is important, especially if you want help.

In Chinese, you can say bùhǎoyìsi (不好意思), which literally means to be embarrassed. This is used in scenarios when you feel that you are inconveniencing someone, such as when you’re asking for directions from a stranger.

duìbuqǐ (對不起) is used when you are apologizing, usually for doing something wrong.

6.Thank you. 
謝謝 (xièxie)
We are polite travelers, so of course we need to say our thank yous.

What are some phrases you find useful when traveling? Leave a comment!

Safe travels and happy learning!

What Makes a Prepared Interpreter

Interpreting is challenging and fun, but it’s also a profession and something to take seriously. Not only do we want to present ourselves as a professional, we also want others to see us as one.

A professional interpreter strives to be as prepared as he can be. When he receives an assignment, he tries to get as much information as he can about the assignment, and makes sure he prepares for it by reviewing his terminology. However, because access to appointment details isn’t always available, keeping up with terminology and language skills is a nonstop process for interpreters.

But wait, preparation isn’t just about the behind-the scene work of reviewing terminology and researching on the topic, it’s as important to prepare for the whole session, and I’ve put together some tips to help you prepare for your next gig. Share some of your tips and tricks if you think of anything else as well!

Map it. Make sure you plan your route and know where you’re going, where you’re meeting, and leave for the appointment with sufficient lead time so that traffic doesn’t become an issue for your arrival time.

Dress Professionally. Even though you don’t have a boss looking over your shoulders, business attire will show that you take your job seriously. When you’re dressed professionally, you feel more confident, people will also give you more credibility.

Arrive Early. Arriving at least 10 minutes before the appointment will allow you enough time to acquaint yourself to your surroundings. For appointments in large hospitals or courts, interpreters are often asked to check in to get a visitor’s badge, so make sure to account that into your commute as well.

Explain Your Role. Not every client will have experience working with an interpreter. While it may seem intrusive to give the client a short info session about who you are and what your role is, the 20-second explanation will benefit the communication between your clients and make your job easier. Explain that you will interpret everything that is said. Also ask the speakers to speak directly to each other, and kindly request that they use short sentences so that you can accurately convey the entire message.

Remember Your Code of Ethics. Stay true to the message and interpret everything that is said, without omissions, additions, or alterations of the message.

Ask for Clarification. We want to make sure that we are communicating everything that is said. It’s okay to not understand a phrase, and it’s okay to ask for clarification or rephrasing, particularly in a consecutive interpreting session (medical interpreting).

Be Confident and Have Fun with it. You’ve done your homework, did your training, and got that gig. Now be confident that you can do this and that you’re going to be amazing. Interpreting is work, but it should be fun, too. That’s why we’re doing it, right?

Good luck!

Chinese-English Vocabulary Builder

  1. 有求必應 (yǒu​ qiú ​bì ​yìng)-to get whatever is asked. 有: to have. 求: to ask, to wish, to request. 必: must. 應: respond.
    例句: 身為獨女的她總是有求必應。
    Example: As the only child, she always gets what she wants.
  2. 悼念(dào niàn)-to grieve, to mourn. 悼: to grieve, to lament. 念: to think of, to remember.
    例句: 人們用著自己的信仰方式來悼唸過世的親友。
    Example: People use their own religions to mourn friends and family who have passed away.
  3. 熱身 (rè​ shēn)-warm-up. 熱: hot, warm. 身: body.
    例句: 若想儘可能的必免運動傷害,運動前的熱身運動很重要。
    Example: To avoid the possibility of sports injuries , warm-up exercises before the actual sport is very important.
  4. 惆悵 (chóu​ chàng)- melancholy, depression
    例句: 考試沒考好讓他覺得很惆悵。
    Example: He felt depressed because he didn’t do well on the test.
  5. 恍神 (huǎng​ shén)- to zone out, to space out
    例句: 忙祿的時候,工作可以讓我轉移注意力,但一旦有空閒,想起煩心的事,我就變得有點恍惚。
    Example: Work can distract me when I’m busy, but whenver there’s a spare moment and I’m reminded of my worries , I tend to become spacey.
  6. 遲疑 (chí​ yí)-hesitation, reservation. 遲: delay. 疑: doubt.
    例句: 有些決定得馬上做,一旦遲疑便可能錯失良機。
    Example: Some decisions need to be made on the spot, as hesitation might lead to a missed  opportunity.
  7. 騰出時間 (téng chū shí​ jiān )-to make time. 騰出: to make, to part. 時間: time.
    例句: 做子女的,應該儘可能的騰出時間陪陪父母。
    Example: Children should try their best to make time for their parents.
  8. 號淘大哭-to cry loudly. 號淘: loud cry. 哭: cry.
    例句: 小孩子第一天上安親班,常常在爸爸媽媽離開去上班以後捨不得的號淘大哭。
    Example: On the first day of daycare, children often cry out when they see their parents leave for work.
  9. 似懂非懂 (sì​ dǒng ​fēi​ dǒng)-to appear as if understanding, but not really. 似: seemingly, as if. 懂: understand.
    例句: 她似懂非懂的聽著大人說話,但心裡明白這關乎件嚴重的事情。
    Example: Although she only understood part of the conversation between the adults, she was certain that it was about something serious.
  10. 內疚(nèi​ jiù)-to feel guilty, to have qualms about. 內: within, inside. 疚: sorrow.
    例句: 她因為偷了媽媽的錢深感內疚,但又不願意把錢放回去。
    Example: She feels bad for stealing from her mother, but she’s also unwilling to put the money back.

How to Prepare for a Phone Interpreting Session

What is Phone Interpretation
Phone interpreting is the oral translation of conversations through the phone.  Some people find it easier because it doesn’t involve direct human contact; others find it more difficult because there isn’t face-to-face contact.

The benefit of phone interpreting is you can focus on the words while taking notes in a place you’re comfortable in–your quiet office, your bedroom, wherever. You can even have your laptop in front of you and quickly look up unfamiliar terminology while on the job. The downside is that you are not physically present and that you are reliant on technology that can sometimes be unpredictable.

Preparing for A Conference Call
The basics are the same as any interpreting session. You need the language capacity and to keep in mind the code of ethics, but you’ll also have to make sure that you put yourself in the best setting when making calls.

Environment. It’s important that you are in a quiet place when placing calls so that you can hear the other line(s) and so you’re clear of distractions during the call. While you can’t control the connection or sound quality on the other end of the phone, you should do what you can to ensure that you are in a quiet environment.

Phone Reception. I prefer landlines over cell phones as I find that the connection is better. Not everyone has a landline nowadays so making sure our phone reception is good is the best we can do to ensure clear transmission of messages. If you’re using Skype or an internet phone service, make sure that the internet connection is stable.

First Person. Same with in-person interpretation jobs, interpretations should be in first person, and if you need the speaker to repeat or rephrase something, ask in third person, “The interpreter would like you to repeat….”

Consecutive Interpretation. Phone interpretations are often consecutive. At in-person interpretation sessions, I ask the parties involved to use short sentences so I can make sure that I interpret everything that is said. I also raise my hand in a “stop” motion if I need them to pause, so I can interpret. On the phone, it’s a little different because no one can see each other. The way I interrupt is simply to start interpreting after a sentence or two. Don’t be shy to interrupt. Your goal and job is to transmit all information, and you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Sensitivity to Tones and Cultures. This one is obvious. To be a good interpreter, one must know the language. Especially in cases where you can’t read the speaker’s facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language, it’s even more important to know the cultural nuances and be able to read/copy the intonations of the speaker.

Familiarity with the Topic. Interpreters are sometimes given the subject to be discussed before the conference call. This would allow you to prepare ahead of time–catch up on the vocabulary, and read up on the topic. This is not always the case, however, so it’s important for interpreters to constantly educate themselves on new subject areas and vocabulary.

Happy interpreting!

Chinese-English Vocabulary Builder: Chinese Idioms

  1. 躊躇滿志 (chóu chú mǎn zhì)-To be immensely proud of one’s success; to be content.  躊躇: indecisive. 滿: satisfied. 志: will. 。
    例句: 小女畢業典禮當天,父母臉上泛溢著躊躇滿志的笑容。
    Example: On their daughter’s graduation day, her parents smiled from ear to ear with pride.
  2. 白璧微瑕(bái bì wēi xiá)-A slight blemish on a piece of white jade. Used to describe a small mistake . 白: white. 璧: a piece of jade with hole in it. 微: slight. 瑕: defect, flaw.
    例句: 就算是公司裡最年長的員工也會出錯,然而這小錯只是白璧微瑕而已無傷大雅。
    Example: Even the most senior staff in the company makes mistakes, but this one is just a small mishap that won’t hurt the company’s image.
  3. 突如其來 (tū rú qí lái)-An unexpected or sudden occurrence. 突: suddenly, abruptly, unexpectedly. 如: as if. 來: come.
    例句: 突如其來的雨把他淋成落湯雞。
    Example: She was drenched by the sudden rain.
  4. 無可匹敵 (wú kě pǐ dí)-Unparallelled; unique in kind or quality. 無: none. 可: able. 匹敵: to rival or equal.
    例句: 自國中他的英語能力便無可匹敵,所以他的托福考了滿分我們一點也不訝異。
    Example: His English language skills have been unparalleled to his peers since middle school, so we were not at all surprised when he got a perfect score on his TOEFL exam.
  5. 鍥而不捨 (qiè’ ér bù shě)-To persevere; to chisel away at something. 鍥: carve. 而: and. 不: not. 捨: give up.
    例句: 他鍥而不捨的精神促使他抵達終點,跑完馬拉鬆。
    Example: His perseverance pushed him to reach the finish line, completing the marathon.
  6. 冒冒失失 (mào mào shī shī)-Lacking care, acting in haste. 冒: risk. 失: to lose, to make a mistake, to neglect.
    例句: 他冒冒失失的態度讓老闆無法給予全權的信任。
    Example: Bob’s lack of attention to detail has made it difficult for Bob’s boss to extend his full trust.
  7. 一不做,二不休 (yī bù zuò, ‘èr bù xiū)-Either give up, or follow through from beginning to end. 不: no. 做: act, do. 休: to rest, to end.
    例句: 一不做,二不休,做事要持著有始有終的態度。
    Example: We should always finish what we’ve started. If you’re not going to follow through, don’t even start.

 

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References:
Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary.
MDBG Chinese-English Dictionary http://www.mdbg.net
Yahoo 奇摩字典 http://tw.dictionary.yahoo.com

Dirty Mouth: Let’s Talk Cursing (and Interpreting)

The default role of an interpreter is a conduit. Merriam Webster defines conduit as a natural or artificial channel through which something is conveyed. If we think of the channel as a telephone wire, the conduit transmits anything and everything that is received from one end to another. In other words, an interpreter relays all information that is spoken, without any omission, additions, or distortions of the message.

In medical and legal interpreting, there are times when we have to give bad news. And in times like this, the client may become upset and use curse words to express his feelings. In my medical interpreting training, someone raised a question of whether interpreters still need to relay everything in such cases, particularly if an interpreter has qualms about cursing. Despite what an interpreter’s personal feelings are toward swearing, interpreters must stay true to the original message, even if it means cursing or using words they wouldn’t necessarily use in their daily lives. Such is what’s implied in the code of ethics for interpreters.

Regardless of the cultural or social implications of cursing, if it happens that you must curse on the job, then you need to do it as part of your professionalism. I don’t curse, and haven’t really thought about how English curse words correspond with Chinese curse words, but as a responsible interpreter, I’ve put together a short list (you know, for my work, of course). Cursing is an interesting thing. You’ll notice below that the common curse words we use in English relate  to sex and excretion and mothers. Even though sex and excretion are unavoidable parts of natural human conditions, and we all love our mothers, these words are considered indecent and taboo in both the American and Chinese cultures.

  1. Bastard-王八蛋 (wáng bā dàn)、 龜孫子(guī sūn zi)
  2. Fuck [angry fuck]- 幹 (gàn)、肏 (cào)
  3. Fuck, Fuck me, Fuckin’ awesome, Holy shit [excitement]-我靠 (wǒ kào)
  4. Fuck you, Go to hell- 去你的 (qù nǐ de)、 我鳥你 (wǒ niǎo nǐ)
  5. Fuck him, Screw him-鳥他的 (niǎo tā de)、去他的 (qù tā de)
  6. Bullshit–屁 (pì)、屁話 (pì huà)、鳥話 (niǎo huà)、你個狗屁 (nǐ ge gǒu pì)
    Example: What the fuck are you talking about-你在講什麼鳥話 (nǐ zài jiǎng shén me niǎo huà)
  7. What the fuck is this?-這是什麼鬼? (zhè shì shén me guǐ)
  8. What the fuck are you doing?-你搞什麼鬼? (nǐ  gǎo shén me guǐ))
  9. Damnit- 他媽的 (tāmāde)
  10. Son of a bitch- 狗崽子 (gǒu zǎi zǐ)

These are just some common English curse words and their cursory Chinese equivalents. If you’re interested in learning about Chinese curse words, their detailed explanations, and how they relate to English, the Transparent Language blog has a good post about it that you should check out.

Happy cursing! (Just kidding. Cursing is bad.)

Tips and Tricks on Learning a New Language

I was fortunate to have spent time in both the United States and Taiwan while growing up. Although there were difficult transitional periods, bilingualism still came easier with cultural immersion. I am not fluent in any other languages but Chinese and English, but I know from my experience with Japanese how difficult it is to learn a language from scratch. This got me to think about how language learners who cannot go abroad and spend time in the language can learn faster. Here are some of my ideas. I’d love to hear your tips and tricks as well!

  1. Take a class. The most basic and widely used language-learning method. The benefit of a large class is that you have a larger resource base; although the downside is that each student receives less individual attention from the teacher.
  2. One-on-One Tutoring. Personal tutoring sessions will help you focus on topics and areas that are important to you, be it conversational skills, vocabulary building, or grammar. You can also set your own schedule (depending on the availability of your tutor) and devote a whole session to use and practice the language.
  3. Find Movies or TV Shows in the Foreign Language. Watching shows with subtitles will enhance your listening skills and you can match what you hear with the text you see. The visuals and story lines make it easy for you to understand the context, so you’ll still be able to follow the story even when you slowly stray away from the subtitles. When you’re entertained, you  learn faster. I watched a lot of Korean dramas and Japanese dramas during my college years. Through the hours of me-and-TV time, I not only became familiar with the Japanese and Korean culture, but also picked up vocabulary. Because I watched the dramas with Chinese subtitles, it also helped me keep up with my Chinese skills.
  4. Read Short News Articles in the Language You Want to Learn. As you slowly build up vocabulary, you can move on to read more difficult or longer pieces. Studies show that it’s better to read material that’s slightly above your level because a) you’d feel more encouraged by how much you know, b) when there’s less new information to retain, you actually learn better. 
  5. Translate as a Learning Tool.This doesn’t have to be formal at all. You can translate in your head a line on TV, a short ad on the bus, or even a few sentences that strikes your fancy. Training your brain to think in the foreign language is the key here. And when you find that you can’t translate something off the cuff, write down the words you need to complete the translation, and figure it out when you can access a dictionary. Baby steps, right? A free website called Duolingo, a “translate the web, learn a language” program, actually has brought to the fore conversations about translation as a learning tool. They currently have the site set up for Spanish and French learners, and have plans to launch Portuguese and Chinese sections as well. I’m not sure how I feel about using people’s desire to learn to get free labor for translating the web (and stealing jobs from translators!), I’m also not sure if there are copyright issues here, but maybe this is a program worth exploring. What do you think?
  6. Find People to Converse With. It’s not always easy to find people to speak with in the foreign language you want to learn and in a level that could benefit you. Some cultural organizations might offer language sessions or meetings, though, so that’s an avenue to look into. You might also want to try meetup.com, a site that helps organizations and groups facilitate meetings with people of similar interests, and see if there are conversation groups that may suit your needs.
  7. Listen to the Radio. Depending on your language skill level, this may or may not work for you. I’ve tried listening to the Korean news station, hoping that with time I’ll be able to pick up more words or learn the grammar, but without a large enough vocabulary base, the news was gibberish to me. One way that could be helpful to new language learners, is listening to podcasts that also have transcripts online. Going through the transcript first, to translate the material, and then listening to it will help you understand the text, build vocabulary, and improve your listening skills.

In the end though, learning a language is all about spending time with it. The more time you spend with the language, the better you’ll get. I hope some of these tips are useful to you!