How to learn a language

In the last twenty years, introductory language instruction has improved significantly through the efforts of people like Dartmouth’s John Rassias. Learning a new language is more fun, more effective, and faster than it used to be. But beyond this, technology has provided some amazing extra help in the last few years through everything from computer-based drills and flash cards to reading the news and listening to the radio in absolutely any language in the world.

Years ago I used to try to buy a copy of Paris Match magazine before a trip to France, just to have some vocabulary to chew on. My French isn’t really very good, but it always helped to get my brain ready for the shock of travel. Now, of course, you can just go to the Paris Match website (careful, it’s annoying) or tune in to French TV. Beyond this, it had occurred to me in the past few years that someone must have made it possible to arrange for language pen pals by Internet. And so they have. A site called My Language Exchange will arrange for you to meet a friend matched to your level in the language of your choice. And since that person will necessarily have a computer, a free Skype phone conversation is only seconds away. It’s an ideal way to learn. I wish this had been available when I was in high school. Then again, I’d probably be wasting all my time playing Half-Life and Doom instead.

I learned about My Language Exchange from a thread on the kuro5hin site called How to Learn a Language. It’s a good article, and the comments are well-informed and entertaining, too. Through these, I found the Kanji Clinic and a fun article called Kanji tattoos are primarily for Western eyes. I suppose they are, but I prefer to think of bizarre Kanji tattoos on Americans as our revenge for bizarre Engrish t-shirt slogans.

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