Breaking the myths about language learning as an adult

1.  If I just use music and media, may I give up studying grammar and vocabulary and quit my language classes?

If you are still a beginner or intermediary student, you absolutely have to keep learning grammar and vocabulary. They are the foundations of any language. Using music, TV, radio and film as additions to your language lessons will only reinforce grammar rules and vocabulary lessons. For example, a Russian student who is just starting to study English listens to Frank Sinatra’s famous song, New York, New York and learns to sing the song or at least memorize the verses. In class, the teacher is instructing students on how to form negative contractions like the word “doesn’t”. This type of negative contraction doesn’t exist in Russian and it’s much easier for the student to recall how to say this correctly because he has the verse, “I want to wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep” from New York, New York in his head. It’s much easier to remember words, grammatical formations, phrases, idioms, irregular verbs, etc when one has heard the language sung and can recall words from songs that bring the language to life. Advanced students who just want to improve their listening comprehension and speaking abilities who have a strong foundation in grammar and vocabulary, may find it appropriate and more fun to stop taking classes and making their target language come alive by focusing on songs, TV shows, the news and other media.

2. I am a visual learner, will I be able to learn using music and media?

Whether you are a visual or oral learner, all language is based on sounds and music. Even if you have to see something in order to understand it and learn it, you have to hear sounds and words to pronounce them correctly. Eventually, you will have to use your auditory senses to learn a language. You can use TV and movies to learn languages because visual cues can help us understand what people mean when they are speaking.

3. But I am tone deaf and have no musical training. Can I still learn a foreign language?

Katrin, a deaf German friend of mine, learned to speak English because she listened to music. (She can speak and read lips but has very limited hearing.) Even those students who had better hearing than she did in her deaf school in Germany did not learn to speak and pronounce English as well as she did because they did not have any musical training or exposure to music. Despite her hearing impairment, she played the flute as a child and listened to music. Feeling the sound vibrations impacted Katrin’s ability to sense the rhythm of music and language. The combination of the little that she could hear combined with the vibrations that she could feel from music enabled her to develop good speaking patterns in both German and English. Don’t let your hearing issues keep you away from listening to and appreciating music. Both of my parents are partially deaf and they appreciate music and can distinguish between a high note and a low note. You don’t have to have perfect pitch to follow my instructions. I am not a gifted musician and sing out of key more often than I like. We are all musical beings. When we are born, we don’t start speaking automatically. We listen before we speak. When learning languages, we should follow this same pattern and listen to the music of the language before opening our mouths to pronounce words.

4. I am traveling all the time for work. I don’t have time to take a class.

Start simple and get into the groove of your new tongue. Liking the language and finding affinity for the sounds of the language makes it much easier and more fun to learn.

Relax and listen to music in the language you are learning.

Be calm and close your eyes. Turn off the lights. Lay down or sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and listen to the music. Don’t try to understand the words, just listen. You might fall asleep or day dream. Give yourself the time to simply listen and not do anything else. Your mind needs to be calm in order to absorb the sounds. Your ears need no other distractions to let them properly hear all the high, medium and low frequencies of the language. Do this regularly.

Don’t underestimate the power of the FM and AM bands on your radio dial. We may be in the Cyber age, but millions of people listen to the radio everyday for news, entertainment, and music. In the United States, where millions commute daily in cars, the radio is a popular medium. Immigrant groups in the United States have many radio stations and broadcast in their native languages.

5. I am too old.

No, you are not.

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