My elementary school in Portland, Oregon did not look unusual from the outside: It had two stories, was made out of brick and flanked by a parking lot on one side and a baseball field on the other. But inside, it was extraordinary: Giant banners with Japanese calligraphy hung in the hallways, and Japanese teachers hushed, encouraged and even punished the students in Japanese. Most assemblies had a Japanese component, and school events always included Japanese snacks.
At least for half of the students. I was not in the Japanese program. I never understood the Japanese calligraphy and I did not take a trip to Japan in fifth grade, like most of the students at Richmond Elementary. However, the feeling that not being able to speak Japanese caused me to miss out on cool experiences stuck with me, and is part of what motivated me to learn other languages.
Speaking a second (or third, or fourth) language gives you a richer experience in life. Speaking the local language when you travel allows you to experience the place more deeply, to ask questions and to be independent even in an unfamiliar location. Visiting or even living in a place without speaking the language is like floating on the surface of society – this is why experiences where you use the language are called “immersion.”
Even at home, speaking a foreign language allows you to interact with more members of your own society: I don’t personally know how non-Spanish-speakers ever get help in the grocery stores in New York City. Speaking a foreign language gives you access to a wider variety of perspectives from books, magazines and websites.
In short, speaking a foreign language gives you a richer experience of life, whether you are an elementary school or in retirement. I’ve now learned five foreign languages (although not Japanese), and I’ve discovered a lot about how to go about mastering a foreign language. This book compiles everything I’ve learned about language learning over 15 years and 5 languages. I don’t think language learning is easy. But it is worth it, and if you follow the advice in this book, it will be easier.
Learn how to:
- Set yourself up for success
- Find the best teachers and the best classes
- Make the most out of language partners
- Study on your own
- Enjoy the learning process, even at the beginning
- Integrate your target language into your life forever