Monday, October 18, 2010

Learning a New Language

After giving up on French a few years ago, I thought I was past the "learning a new language phase." I mean, I'm already fluent in English and Spanish. Those two are enough to get by in most of the world, right?

But as God would have it, I'm now learning portuguese. Earlier this year, I began exploring the prospect of doing short term mission trips to Latin America, and specifically to Brazil. Well, the Brazil trip is set for early December and I'm getting busy with the new language.

What is surprising about this journey is that although I'm a voracious reader, I can't learn a language by reading a book. Believe me, I tried reading Portuguese for Dummies already. It looked easy because it is very similar to Spanish, and I felt I was cruising along--understanding everything and even getting a hang on the musical pronunciation. But when a visitor from Brazil came to our church a few weeks ago, I found that I could not remember a thing from the book, except Tudo bem? (how are you?) and a phrase of slang I learned from a friend, muito legal (very cool).

How frustrating! After all those hours studying the book, I couldn't hold a basic conversation.

My beautiful wife, who's a Spanish tutor among other talents, told me that my learning style (at least for languages) was listening and repeating, instead of reading and repeating.

"Really?" I said. "But I'm a book lover--I read one to three books per week--and a writer. Learning from a book should be my nature."

Wives know better (she nods at this point).

So I got this fancy software where images pop at you and cool portuguese speakers describe what's happening in the pictures. Then you repeat it a dozen times and take a test...

And you know what? I remember every single thing! In fact, I surprise myself repeating the portuguese phrases randomly during the day. What a difference it makes when you find the right learning method for you. No wonder I love audiobooks so much.

What about you? What's your learning style?

Nick Daniels is suspense author with a passion for reaching people with the gospel, even in languages he can't speak. He knows a few words in Afrikaans but his South African friends always laugh when he says them--so who knows?


  1. Write it down. For straight memory work, like learning lyrics, I just write it out over and over until I've got it. When I'm stuck I can "see" the word on the page the way I've written it. That's also how I learned enough algebra, geometry and trigonometry to get A's in grade thirteen

  2. Hi Daniel - I know what you mean about trying to speak Afrikaans- I've tried it several times but get the same response as you do!

    I learn by seeing the words in a book, not by hearing. If I could learn by hearing, I'd be fluent in Afrikaans by now as I've worked in an Afrikaans environment, but I only understand a few phrases.

    All the best with the Portuguese, I'm glad you've found a method that works for you.

  3. Nick, great post! I'm hopeless with languages - I obviously haven't found my learning style, LOL. I look forward to hearing about your mission trip to Brazil :)

  4. Nick, it's great you're learning Portugese. I'm a visual learner, so the book would suit me. I'm so glad the software is helpful. Good luck with your studies. Can't wait to hear about your trip to Brazil.