What’s the best way to learn a new language?


biblelight.net|The Tower of Babel serves as one example… hmm…

Actually, this is one of ask.fm’s most intriguing questions… now, my answer is quite bitin because of the character limit.

My answer was:

Before I answer that question, let me first share my thoughts about learning a new language:

The difference between learning formally and informally varies from person to person. When learning a new language FORMALLY, that is being exposed to a new type of foreign culture–because it’s not simply learning about the language (grammar, sentence structure, conversation blah blah), the person will also learn about the CULTURE that is WITHIN the language itself. The connection/relationship of grammar, lexicon, syntax and culture is however, out of the question.

Meanwhile, when learning a new language INFORMALLY, watching movies back-to-back and taking down notes about the new words will help you improve your vocabulary within that language. Learning a new language informally through self-teaching means that you show a great amount of interest in learning new things within the culture where that language belongs.

For instance, when I learned German (Deutsch sprache), it’s not very hard, but not easy in some context. Code-switching is also a German thing, be it formal or informal (speech). Not to brag, but I could actually pronounce German words through the Berliner accent. I first learned German informally (through Audio CD) before I eventually took it as a foreign language.

Ja, wichtig. Deutsch sprache is nicht sehr schwer, aber es is nicht einfach. Deutsch lernen = Kultur lieben. Aber ja, ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch. Tut mir leid!

Meanwhile, learning Japanese informally through watching movies made me learn about their culture, and it’s quite true that Japanese is one of the most challenging languages to learn (taking note of the Kanji characters! Har har!), and when it comes to fansubbing, it’s actually difficult for them to translate the words–and most of these translations are not-so accurate, such for instance when translating verbal expressions, it depends upon the context.

For instance:

Yoroshiku onegai shimasu = It is a very flexible/versatile term that has a lot of meanings. It could actually mean “Hajimemashite” (Nice/pleased to meet you) or a formal “arigatou” (thank you) because this is what I usually see in TV dramas/Japanese TV shows, but I’m not so sure. However, this phrase actually means, “Please be nice to me,” in a literal sense.

Sumimasen = This actually means, “Excuse me,” but it could replace “gomen nasai” (I’m sorry) and “arigatou” (thank you).

Sensei = This does not limit to “teacher.” This is also addressed to lawyers (bengoshi) and doctors (isha), although “teacher” is really its literal meaning. It could also be “Sir” or “Ma’am” in some context, again, I’m not so sure about these things (since I’m learning the language informally).

Well, the best way to learn a new language is how you will learn it, either formally or informally (well, I didn’t know that the answer portion has a character limit!). Tut mir leid!

To be honest…

The best way to learn a new language is TO LEARN ITS CULTURE. You will not learn the language properly by heart if you cannot appreciate the culture where it came from. It’s about appreciation and acceptance of these cultures, and whether everyone likes it or… likes it, they should learn not to ridicule different nationalities who know a little English, especially if they are not very familiar with the grammar, syntax, lexicon and other terms used in English. Not everyone embraces English as the universal language, nor French as the language of the European Union. Also, when learning English, you’re also learning WESTERN things, and things that come from the United Kingdom and the United States–because both of these countries have their own different systems and set of rules when it comes to the English language–and their English is DIFFERENT from Philippine English (a very peculiar form of English that is only in da Pilipinz!)–and almost every Filipino know-it-all argues that American English is the standard form of English. Well, I totally disagree with that one because in English-speaking countries (US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand), they do not have a certain standard, and please take note that the English language DOES NOT HAVE any regulatory board. To those who commented that I over-estimated the English language, I realized that YOU GOT IT ALL WRONG. Okay, I compared English to Esperanto, but if you’re going to delve into the English language, they heavily borrow words from other languages, and sometimes, other languages BORROW English words because they could not think of other terms within the borders and vicinities of their own language. Therefore, I am stating the benefits of the English language because other languages, no matter what language family they come from, will still borrow words from a language that does not have a regulatory board (although there are some language regulatory boards that still does not hamper themselves from borrowing English words, and sometimes non-English words).

Learning a new language does not only mean learning a new culture. It is also breaking language barriers, and also bridging different cultures through interaction between foreigners and locals alike. However, that’s not all. Learning a new language means EXPOSURE, IMMERSION and growing up in THAT culture.

Learning a new language does not also mean exposure to other cultures, it also brings you near towards the locals whose native language is the language that you’re learning. This will help you understand and appreciate their culture more and how they really practice and preserve these traditions wholeheartedly. In other words, this will also help you be aware of dealing with people of different nationalities.

Learning German the FORMAL way vs. learning Japanese the INFORMAL way

The German Language (Deutsch sprache)

To begin with, the German language obviously belongs to the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. This is where the English language really evolved (Brythonic, an extinct language of Great Britain, was eventually replaced by English)–invaders from Saxony invaded on what it is now called as England, this earning the term, “Anglo-Saxon.”

However, German, despite belonging to the same language group as English, has a sheer difference from English. Here are some factors to consider:

German is the language of wisdom, will and thinkers. Yes, you got that right. Most famous philosophers and scientists come from Germany, so it’s not surprising that German is a very difficult language to learn. First, there are words in the German language that is usually used as loanwords by the English language. Kindergarten, Gemuetlichkeit, Doppelgaenger are the most familiar terms. Speaking of German terms used as loanwords, well, German is also open to loanwords, and they would usually borrow words from English and French. German is also the language to learn if you want to learn French–if you speak English. Germans pronounce French loanwords the French way, and the French word “friseur” becomes “Frisoer.” “Orange,” “Cousin” “Ingeneur,” and “au pair” are French words used as loanwords in the German language–pronounced the French way. They pronounce these terms the French way is because they’re also required to learn French, besides English (well, in a Gymnasium). However, it’s not only French that is the language where German gets their loanwords. In fact, they also borrow from English, and sometimes they have their own set of English terms, which is known as “Denglisch.” Weird, but if you want to know what Denglisch is really about, you will learn the words, “Oldtimer,” “Handy,” ”

To be honest, imitating the German accent when speaking English is quite hard–much harder when imitating a French or a British accent. Usually, I would use the German accent when pronouncing German words, and that’s it.

German has also heavily influenced English in some sort of way. Well, maybe because majority of Americans are of German descent, next to English descent. Usually, there are famous American personalities with German surnames, such for instance, Mark Zuckerberg, Jessica Biel and Michelle Pfeiffer. I could actually argue the fact that Germans are dominating the world, even though they have never colonized another country (review your world history, please). Even some Filipinos have German ancestry, such for instance, Aga Muhlach and Rosanna Roces. The reason why they primarily dominate the world is because most Germans are not really contented with the benefits that the German government gives them, which would eventually make them end up moving to other countries such as the United States of America, which is actually the cause of Germany’s population crisis. This made Germany welcome more immigrants and migrants alike, and truth to be told, only 30% of the German population are really Germans by nationality. One of my German-language professors argued that the original German race is already extinct, and most Germans in Germany, whether born in German soil or a naturalized German, will not be “purely” German but they will still be Germans BY nationality, but ethnicity-wise, they might be mixed with Italian, Turkish or Greek ancestry.

[To my German friends, especially those who understand English, please don’t take this against me. I’m just sharing certain accounts that I’ve learned. Peace out!]

As a language, German is like any other European language–it has concrete rules, and has a sentence structure that varies, depending upon the context–but what makes German unique is the verb being the last word in a sentence.

zum Beispiel:

Sie ist traurig, weil ihr Herz gebrocht hat. (She is sad, because her heart has broken.)

Notice that the “hat” (has) is the last word in the sentence. When using “weil,” it should be taken into context that a verb will always be LAST in the sentence. That is why when constructing sentences in German, it becomes more meticulous and complicated.

What is even more unique about the German language is that, it has NO word that means, “do.” Usually, “machen” is the alternative, which literally means, “make.”

What’s also unique in German is the word, “fahren.” Fahren could mean “drive,” or “ride.” Bus fahren means to ride a bus, but Auto fahren means to drive a car. When using the word fahren, it really depends on the context. Usually, the word fahren has something to do with a vehicle, therefore it could actually means drive or ride.

There are more to mention when it comes to the German language. That’s what you get when you learn it formally. Also, when attending Philosophy classes, you know what to do when you pronounce the German terms… and sometimes German phrases might slip out from your tongue! (If you have a background in the German language, trust me, you will LOVE Nietzsche. Sie werden Nietzsche lieben! Ja, wichtig!)

The Japanese Language (Nihongo) 

Meanwhile, Japanese is a very rare language. Some scholars argue that it belongs to the Altaic language family, but others argue that it is indeed an isolated language. Japanese is the language of anything unique and out-of-this-world, which rather explains why almost everything that is weird to Western eyes becomes normal in Japan.

To be honest, I really cannot comment about Nihongo (like what I said, I only learn it informally through watching J-dramas), but according to most sources, it is the language of politeness (although I partially agree with that). Usually, when addressing someone who is Japanese, you need the right honorific to address them. Japanese people usually take importance of honorifics and introduce themselves by rather using their surnames instead of their first names, unless you’re relatives or friends (or if you’re a gaikokujin).

Speaking of honorifics, plus politeness, usually, the suffix desu and masu are usually added. The term desu (pronounced as dess) is basically for nouns and (probably) adjectives since it’s a formal form of “da,” while masu (pronounced as mass) is used for verbs. I heard that the term “desu” is an end term that would usually make sense to a simple sentence, but it is actually something else… here’s the video I’d like to share with you (credits to Kouhei Smith):

I realized that the terms “desu” and “masu” (です and ます, respectively) are the Japanese versions of the polite term “po” in Filipino.

For instance:

Toshi wa ikutsu desu ka? (How old are you?)

Basically, you will answer, “Watashi wa _____ sai desu.” However, it’s not all the time you will use “desu.” When you are talking to someone the same age as you, you will answer, “_____ sai da.”

If you use “desu” and “masu” to someone the same age as you, that would sound too awkward since they will view you as a beginner or “too polite” to get started with. Also, when using desu and masu, it’s like saying “po” and “opo” in a foreign language, which is similar to using T-V distinction in German (Sie, du, anyone?).

Learning new Japanese phrases through watching their TV series would actually enhance one’s knowledge and familiarity towards the language. Usually, what I do is to list these Japanese terms and will consult an e-dictionary then write it down in order for me to recall all these stuff. Here are some phrases and terms that one should recall:

sobarashi – splendid, wonderful
issho desu – that is all
shimatta – darn it
tokubestu – special
yamette – quit
yattemasen – I didn’t do it

[I will list all these terms, don’t worry]

Sadly, I only write these terms in romaji (even though I could read kana a little since it’s too hard to memorize all of them), and would mostly depend on kotoeri in order to input certain characters in order for me to search for information about Japanese celebrities on the Internet. Also, I only know (and write) a few Kanji characters so I still have to learn more about Nihongo through watching more Japanese TV series and movies, and list down all the terms that I need to use.

Also, learning Japanese, according to most sources, is quite a headache–mastering their writing system actually makes Japanese more complicated than everyone thinks. So, no wonder, when Japanese people learn English, that becomes a headache to them, unless they’re really passionate in learning it. To be honest, the only way they could use English is to communicate with foreigners who know English, and that it will enhance their communication skills. This is one thing that I like about Japanese people–they would usually utilize their English skills to foreigners. If the Japanese government ease(s) their policies towards immigrants, that way the locals will enhance their communication skills towards foreigners.

This is one of the best things that I like when learning Japanese–exchanging information while making yourself familiar with their language and at the same time their culture. Such phrases like “Yoroshiku onegai shimasu” and “Shou ga nai” is actually very Japanese.

Actually, the term “Yoroshiku onegai shimasu” literally means, “Please be nice to me.” However, this would also be a formal term of saying “Hajimemashite” to someone (based upon observations). Meanwhile, “Shou ga nai” means, “It can’t be helped.” The shoganai phenomenon is not only in Japan, but it’s actually everywhere–in the Philippines, this situation is often becoming more of a pathetic excuse rather than as a valid excuse. For the Japanese, however, the shoganai phenomenon is different–when they have nothing to do with it, they would really tell you that “Yes, shoganai.” They view it as their own form of “C’est la vie.”

Usually, when talking about learning a language informally, it has something to do with learning the culture first by watching a lot of their TV series and movies before you proceed to the first and to the next lesson. Once you liked the J-drama of your choice, you might as well want to go back to the previous episodes and write all the necessary words that you often hear. Also, this will be a mere backup when you will finally learn Japanese formally–or through audiobooks by your own. In fact, there are some people who learn the language by self-teaching and learn it faster than those who are taking language classes. It’s only a matter of exposure, immersion and upbringing.

Overall, my take

I think the best way to learn a language is obviously what was written above. It’s all up to the person on how he/she will learn the language passionately without regretting it. After all, it’s about practice, immersion and utilization of the language that counts.

About Molybdenum Studios

I am a very opinionated person. Get used to it. If you can't stand it, then so be it.

Posted on August 1, 2013, in Languages, Opinion, Q&A Portion and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hubby would tell me from time to time to start learning Turkish, but how can I? I would always tell him that it’s not easy for me to do it cos we live here in PH. I know for sure tho that I can learn faster if we live there and most people do not speak English!😀

    • Molybdenum Studios

      Exactly! Learning a new language does not only mean learning its culture, but it’s also living in the country where people speak the language in order for one to learn it faster.

  2. events, Making traveling to other countries much more social. Find someone who has a spare room or a friend to show you around. Promote your town or event.

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