Studying Linguistics in university changed my life. It lead me to travel the world and dive into the languages and cultures of far-off lands, including Japan, Bangladesh, and Taiwan. Linguistics also helped me develop a greater appreciation of my home language and culture, including the many regional dialects, accents, and linguistic varieties found right here in the United States. Perhaps the greatest lesson from Linguistics was learning the difference between “prescriptive linguistics” and “descriptive linguistics.” This critical distinction accounts for the vast majority of the language-related arguments I’ve had with friends, family, and internet trolls. So what is the difference and why does it matter? Read on to hear my two yen.
I believe in making language learning as fun as possible. Why? Because fun is fuel. And fun is, well, fun! The more you enjoy the journey, the more likely you are to keep going day after day. But “fun” doesn’t necessarily mean “easy.” The truth is that there is no completely pain-free path up Language Mountain. There is no route that lets you completely skip the “suck.” While I hope you will enjoy most of your language learning journey by choosing modern materials, topics you love, and effective self-guided immersion activities, you will inevitably encounter days when you are unmotivated to put in the work or are too scared to step outside of your comfort zone. When this happens, chasing fun is not enough. You have to rely on two decidedly less fun alternatives: developing discipline and facing your fears. I know, I know, not exactly a recipe for a party. But this is a recipe for long-term success.
“Linguistic discrimination”, also known as “linguicism”, is one of the darkest corners of sociolinguistics, but also one of the most fascinating. Though it’s a complex and highly controversial topic, in simple terms, linguicism is defined as: The unfair treatment of an individual based on their native language, dialect, accent, vocabulary, word choice, syntax, etc. Sadly, this form of discrimination can be found in every corner of the globe. As I’ve traveled the world—and even different pockets of my home country—I have witnessed countless cases of people being treated better or worse based on their native tongue or regional dialect.
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.
Language ability obviously starts in the brain, so we should do everything we can to maximize this organ’s blood flow, plasticity, and functionality. Fortunately, there are three guaranteed ways to do just that…
Language schools can be a wonderful place to learn more about your target language, meet fellow learners (who can become both study partners or even lifelong friends), and get your linguistic and cultural feet wet before (or even while) immersing yourself in a new culture and foreign tongue. However, language schools can also be a major impediment to the very goal you go there to achieve: learning a foreign language as quickly and efficiently as possible. This may come as a shock to those who have been conditioned to believe that classrooms are the only place, or at least the best place, to learn a language. Read on to see the top ten disadvantages of formal, classroom-based language learning.