Before we get to “How,” let’s first address “Why,” and “Which Language.”
In many people’s lives, there comes a time when they decide to learn a language—two thirty in the afternoon.
Or seven in the evening—it varies. If it comes at three in the morning, it’s usually a horribly inconvenient time for learning anything, but if you’re a male over 55, you probably had to get up anyway.
The reasons to learn a language are diverse.
I. You’ve been being tapped to be the United States Ambassador to Tuva, and while you are proficient at Tuvan throat singing, you’re hazy on the language itself.
II. Your family’s ancient ancestors spoke Etruscan, and while it’s deader than Latin, you feel it would help you have a more fully realized understanding of who you are. (You’re a nut job.)
III. You’ve been invited to some friends’ daughter’s wedding. It’s in Paris, and you’re going just to show them they can’t screw you out of a free dinner. So, you want to learn French, even though all your non-wedding-related time will be spent at Harry’s American Bar.
IV. You want to appear oh so sophisticated to anyone you come across by intermingling foreign words with English. “I think Justin Bieber is Tai Hao Le; he has that certain je ne sais quoi, nicht wahr? ”
V. You’re going to spend the summer in a lake cottage near a small town in the Minnesota north woods, and you’ve forgotten most of your Yiddish.
VI. You’re from the planet Voltar, and your automatic in-brain translator was broken right after it taught you English; you need to learn all the other languages of Earth before you can signal the Mother ship to begin the invasion.
VII. You just feel totally ignorant and inadequate—you don’t even know what these Roman Numerals mean.
VIII. You want to know what the servers and cooks at your favorite Far Eastern restaurant are saying when they’re looking at you and laughing. Since they may be from any number of exotic countries, you “just want to take a course in General Asian.”
Those common reasons show that your particular reasons for learning a new language aren’t all that bizarre.
If the “Which” hasn’t been totally covered by the “Why,” here are a few recommendations:
I. Italian. It’s really a language that speaks to and of emotions. If you’re practicing speaking Italian at home, avoid knocking over the vases with all your wild gesturing (required).
II. German. “The Language of Love.”
III. Brazilian. That’s really Portuguese, but you’re learning the language so you can go to Rio and the beach at Ipanema, and meet that taut, oiled up Brazilian lover of your dreams. (Save your money—you’d probably just hook up with another tourist from Dubuque.)
IV. Xhosan. Yes, it’s the famous click language of South Africa. Be careful, if you start speaking clickeese in public, people will rush over to you and start performing the Heimlich Maneuver.
V. French. Actually, you’ve got me there. Just kidding. It’s a beautiful language, but tread carefully—the French don’t cotton to people who call a waiter “garson,” or refer to The Champs-Élysées,” as “The champs da leases.”
Now we come to “How do I learn a language?”
• Enroll in a university and pursue a degree with a Major in the language of your choice. Four years later and down $100,000, you will then speak as fluently as any eight year old native speaker.
• Send for language discs. They’re good, but they come pretty dear. Split the cost with a couple of friends. You’ll have many instructive nights screaming at each other, in two languages, over whose turn it is to have which disk, and who lost disk three.
• Get a job abroad. You won’t start at the top, but if you’re working in a restaurant as bus person, dishwasher, or cleaner, having paid for a fake work permit, you’ll not only pick up the language easily from your coworkers, but you’ll also learn some nifty terms for American tourists that you won’t find in the guide books.
• Go to the movies. If you used to avoid seeing foreign films because of subtitles, now you can learn from them.
Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, “Baby steps.” While plunging right into Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet sounds exhilarating, slide into the learning mode gradually.
Start with something easier.