Learning a lovely little bit of Italian, you may struggle in class until a night out with a bottle of Chianti and suddenly you’ve gone native. Should you reach for a bottle before each language lesson?
Alcohol lowers our affective filter, dropping worries and lowering inhibitions. As confidence soars, we are unconcerned about grammatical rules or mistakes, relaxing our spoken communication (sometimes a little too much). Herein lies the real lesson.
Dr. Paul Pimsleur, a world renowned linguistic scholar and developer of the Pimsleur language learning system, dedicated much of his life to language learning and its psychology. He stressed active participation over rote memorization and was quoted as having said, “no rule forbids learning a language with a martini in your hand”.
His approach offers some best practices on learning a new language. The martini, is up to you:
Start with the good stuff.
Don’t begin your journey with complicated grammatical theories. You will subconsciously absorb much of the theory as you constantly listen. Start with common words.
Study in short bursts.
Twenty minutes is perfect. Perhaps around cocktail hour?
Listen and speak before you read.
Learn good native pronunciation before attempting to learn to read in the language. Reading invokes the pronunciation of your native tongue and will confuse you to start.
Try, and make many mistakes.
We shy from mistakes but they make our brains learn fastest and best. Find a kind but ruthless native speaking friend. Let them correct your every mistake. Listen and mimic their pronunciation. A good friend will even mock you. It drives home the lesson fast.
Recall is king.
Use flash cards or other methods to practice recalling information in different contexts and immediately check to see if you are correct.
Repeat the recall, repeatedly.
To cement information into long term memory, recall it over an extended amount of time: retest in a few minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, a year. You can’t cram it all in at once and if you don’t use it, you lose it.
One piece at a time.
In any foreign language, there are more words than individual sounds or grammar rules, making learning vocabulary daunting. Learn bit by bit.
Mix those pieces up!
Instead of learning the days of the week in order, intersperse them (as well as any other series or groupings of information) through other material. You will retain them better in the context of other sentences and out of order.
Instead of learning: “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…”
Learn: “Thursday, I’m going to eat pizza, drink wine and learn Italian.”