Friday, February 17, 2012

Learning English with Elvis

I have a friend who learned English by listening to records, especially Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. Admittedly, his English was a little different, with expressions the rest of us wouldn't think to use. He learned, though, because he was motivated. As a musician, he wanted to sing in English and speak with Americans. That is, I believe, the first and most important factor in learning a language - a desire to use it.

If you are motivated to learn a language, there are two more factors vital to your success: context and spaced repetition. For my friend abroad, records were the only context he had, but it was enough for him to learn conversational English. When I learned Arabic, living among Arabs who spoke almost no English provided a context where I could effectively learn and practice that language. I find that workbooks and classrooms, however, are a limited and relatively poor context for language learning; they provide lots of repetition, but not much motivation and little meaningful context. My friend's records gave him an ideal blend of motivation, context, and spaced repetition.

How could you use these factors to make learning your target language fun and easy? (Well, easier!) We're currently learning a song in Spanish that we have sung at our church in English. It's called "I Can Only Imagine," or, in Spanish, "Puedo Imaginarme." We've downloaded the Spanish version from iTunes and found the corresponding lyrics online. Our goal is to perform the song in church in English and Spanish - and maybe French, too!

Whatever language you're learning, I encourage you to explore new avenues - like music, films, audiobooks, etc. - where you can experience the language in a fun and motivating context.

Dios te bendiga,

Pastor Kevin

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