While being able to understand, speak, read, and write world languages is usually the primary focus of language learners, we musn’t forget the importance of non-verbal communication cues like hand gestures. Even with impeccable pronunciation and perfect grammar, you may inadvertently offend someone using “false friend” gestures from your home culture that have wildly different connotations abroad: 1) In Japan, for example, I saw the shock on a British friend’s face when he first saw Japanese students pose for a picture. Many young Japanese think it’s cute to use backwards peace signs, unaware that it means “f*ck you” to people from the U.K., Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand! 2) In Bangladesh, I made a serious gaff when trying to congratulate my team for a job well done: I didn’t know at the time that in that part of the world, a thumbs up means “up yours”, not “great job” as it does in the U.S. To avoid making a fool of yourself like I tend to do so well, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the following infographic that details many of the most common hand gestures around the world.
The latest episode of Freakonomics Radio really caught the attention of this language nerd. Titled “Is Learning a Foreign Language Worth It?“, the episode looks at the economic benefits and opportunity costs of learning a foreign language. At first glance (or rather, first listen), the economists they interview seem to make a pretty strong case against teaching foreign languages in U.S. schools. Fortunately, the economic arguments against language learning are based on two major false assumptions…
I am equal parts sadness and gratitude as I write this post. My friend Joe “Ninja” Northup (or “Sai” as my band of martial arts crazies knew him) passed away yesterday after battling brain cancer for six years. Though I have known him for over 15 years, I am truly grateful that we were able to deepen our friendship these past two years. The proximity helped (I moved down to Los Angeles in August 2012), but more than geography, it was his psychology that drew me near. Despite facing one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer (Oligoastrocytoma) and round after round of chemotherapy, he committed himself to living as long, lovingly, and completely as possible. Ask anyone who knows him and they will confirm that he succeeded on all counts.
Susanna Zaraysky is a self-proclaimed “language geek”, a speaker of 7 languages, and the author of “Language Is Music: Over 100 Fun & Easy Tips to Learn Foreign Languages”. She has been featured on CBS, BBC Radio, CNN, NBC, and Univision, and now thanks to me, the world’s most famous podcast! Just kidding. In our interview, we discuss the weaknesses of traditional language education, the power of music in language acquisition, the importance of developing a resonance for one’s target language and culture, and the fact that you can learn any language, anywhere.
The Internet has blessed modern language learners with unprecedented access to foreign language tools, materials, and native speakers. Assuming they can get online, even a farmhand in rural Kansas can learn Japanese for free using Skype, YouTube, and Lang-8. But language learning luddites and technophobes scoff at these modern miracles. Like Charleton Heston clutching his proverbial rifle, they desperately cling to tradition for tradition’s sake, criticizing these modern tools—and the modern methods they enable—from their offline hideouts. Communicating via messenger pigeon and smoke signals no doubt. “Technology is for for lazy learners!” they exclaim. “Real language learners,” they insist, use the classroom-based, textbook-driven, rote-memory-laden techniques of old. I call bullshit. Read on to see why.