Congratulations! You’ve made up your mind that you want to learn a language and enrol in a class. You are highly motivated and look forward to the new challenge.
Then suddenly – usually after the first two or three classes – you may find yourself overwhelmed and frustrated, because that sentence you were supposed to listen to carefully (and ideally guess the meaning of) turned out to be a colossal jumble of syllables.
Which will inevitably lead to the question: Will I ever be able to have a decent conversation?
The answer is simple: If a baby can do it, you can do it!
So how do they do it and what can we learn from the little buggers?
Well, in their first few months they are just as frustrated as you and they communicate that well by crying, yelling and shouting for food, comfort or sleep time. But after weeks and months of listening to and learning from everyone around them, they begin to recognise their names, identify important words and follow simple instructions such as ‘come here’ or ‘have a drink’.
This success can be attributed to parents, siblings and everyone around them talking to them on a constant basis. They would use short sentences and emphasise key words which helps the toddler to focus on the important information. During their everyday activities the toddlers make connections between actions and objects and the words that represent them. Left alone they start babbling and making sounds such as ‘baba’ or ‘mama’ which are easy to pronounce and they repeat them over and over because they like the way they sound.
By 18 months they will use between six and 20 words and by the time they turn three their vocabulary will have increased to about 300 words and they will ask you lots of questions (“where’, “who”, “why”) and will be able to have a simple conversation with you – and all without studying boring grammar lists!
Constant exposure and repetition is – as we all know – the key to learning a language. Just don’t start by reading sophisticated books. Take a look at children’s picture books, nursery rhymes or songs. Write down simple sentences that you translated on http://www.linguee.com or use Language Hub’s online learning programme. Listen to audio books and try to identify words. Practice pronunciation on http://forvo.com/ if no one is listening and keep repeating that difficult word. And most importantly: do your homework.
So can you do it? App-solutely!
And remember, you’ve got a great advantage over the rug rats: their opportunities for babbling, imitating sounds, and engaging in conversations are significantly reduced as they have a dummy in the mouth much of the time.