Hamilton: Language learning: You don’t have to be a spook
Want to encourage your children or grandchildren to learn a foreign language? Mr. Vivian Cook’s All In A Word, New York: Melville House (2009), suggests language-learning might be easier than we think.
Actually, the number of nouns (objects) and verbs (actions) you need to know are quite limited. Each have their equivalent terms in most of the modern languages. For example, one-year-old children just need to absorb the word for: I, go, come, went, up, day, was, look, are, the, this, do, me, like, going, big, she, and, they, my, on, away, Mum, it, at, play, no, yes, but, for, a, Dad, can, he, am, all, is, dog, cat, get, said, to, and in.
But adults, who need to move around, obtain food and shelter, get medical attention or obtain other help where a foreign language is spoken, need to know only 2,000 words. Moreover, understanding just 20 basic verbs allows one to converse just fine.
Common to most all languages are just 65 concepts that are needed to think and talk about: the relationship between things, to identify things, to quantify things, to express the quality of things, the size of things, to express emotions, to express time, to locate things, and so on.
So, if before tackling a foreign language you see the task as only having to learn 2,000 words, being able to conjugate just 20 basic verbs, and deal with only 65 or so concepts common to almost all languages, the task should not seem all that daunting.
Of course, the easiest and best way to learn a foreign language is by total immersion. Go to the target country, cut off all reading, hearing or seeing of your cradle language and live with a local family. In fact, that is the best way to get the accent right.
Or, if you can stand the stress, get Uncle Sam to send you to the Defense Language Institute (DLI). The methods used at DLI are as close to total immersion as one can experience while still remaining inside the United States. The objective is to produce intelligence agents who can work comfortably and effectively in foreign lands.
For the first six weeks, students are taught totally by ear. Seeing the target language in writing is forbidden. Speaking your native language is forbidden. Students are taught to mimic the instructors, all of whom are native-born, target-language speakers.
After the first hour of acting out sometimes-comical dialogues, different instructors with different regional accents are brought in throughout the day so the graduates will be able to operate in the various regions of the target nation. Each day, a choir master comes in for an hour to conduct a target-language sing-along.
The two-hour lunch break allows students to eat and take a brief, mind-refreshing nap before the next three hours of intensive instruction. At night, students listen to two hours of recorded language and then sleep on a pillow that softly plays the target language all night long. On weekends, students watch movies and TV programs in the target language. Uncle Sam demands his money’s worth. Living, eating, and drinking with a local family is a whole lot more fun.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame. In 2015, he was named an Outstanding Alumnus of the University of Nebraska. Dr. Hamilton is the author of The Wit and Wisdom of William Hamilton: the Sage of Sheepdog Hill, Pegasus Imprimis Press (2017). “Central View,” can also be seen at: http://www.central-view.com.
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