A little after our son Chaim turned a year old, I decided that I wanted him to be able to speak Romanian the way that I did and so my wife and I made out a plan. I would speak nothing but Romanian to him and she would speak nothing but English to him.
The effect was nearly immediate — he had been saying a few words (which is more than what Malka is currently saying, but we have a few ideas as to why that is and I will mention this further down) but he quickly stopped talking entirely when I went to speaking full time Romanian to him. It wasn’t until about a year later that he really started talking — and boy did he talk!
I learned Romanian from hearing it spoken in my house. I never got a formal Romanian education. I thought the best way for me to get Chaim to speak the language was to speak it exclusively to him — and I was right, as he is now comfortable speaking both languages. There are many times when I want to say a word, however, and I just do not know it — it is a word that I do not use often, for example, in everyday conversation.
I got into the habit of telling Chaim, when I was unsure of what was a word, “Haide să ne uităm la…” and then after a small pause… “dicționar!” (Translation — let’s look at the dictionary!) I repeated this little phrase so often that he started saying, “Dacă nu știm cuvântul, haide să ne uităm la…” and wait for me to finish with “dictionar!” and then he cheerfully says, “Corect!” (If we don’t know the word, let’s look at the…)
This brings me to the main point of how to keep up with and enhance your knowledge of other languages. I feel that the most important thing you can do is to have a friend with whom you can have everyday ordinary conversations. You can talk about pretty much anything but when you branch out and start talking about literature, what is happening in the news, how they can improve their daily routine — that is when you start learning, reinforcing, and remembering new words.
Repeat new words several times when you learn them. There was one day when Chaim and I went outside to blow bubbles with a big bubble wand. We saw a squirrel and he asked me how to say it. I could not remember learning the word so I reached for handy Google Translate. The word is veveriță. (If you want to say that out loud bear in mind the accent under the t makes a “ts” sound, and the accent over the a makes it into an UH sound. VEH-VEH-REE-TSUH. A few minutes later I told him we needed to go back to the basement – SUBSOL (“soob-sole”) and then I told him how practicing a word by using it in a sentence helps to remember it. We said things like, did you see the squirrel in the basement? I went to the basement and there was a squirrel there.
How do I know that this method works? It is at least a year and change since this incident and I still remember not only the words but the entire exchange. As a woman I dated once told me, “Repetition is the key to learning.” (Actually, she told me multiple times… that’s probably why I still remember it!)
If you are fortunate enough that the language you are learning has a similar alphabet to the one you know, great! Even if you have no idea how to read that language (as I was relatively clueless a few years ago) just get your hands on some text and read, read, read. In my case a friend of my father subscribed to a Thomas and Friends magazine in Romania as well as a Cars magazine.
Videos! If you can, get on video sharing sites such as Youtube and Vimeo and find videos in your language — and then slowly watch them. With everything I have mentioned above, keep a dictionary on hand… and then use those new words until you know them like the back of your hand.
Can you make a cheap calendar? Of course you can, if you have a ruler and some blank paper. Map out seven days a week and go down as far as the paper allows — and then use that new calendar to keep track of how often you do something to keep up with and enhance your knowledge of that foreign language. If you are reading this and thinking, “Piece of paper? Isn’t there an APP for that?” I am here to tell you that yes, there are quite a few apps for that. “Good Habits” is an app that not only keeps track of how many consecutive days you do something, but takes you to task when you miss a day or two.
Back to Malka — I started speaking nothing but Romanian to her on day one when she was delivered. Consequently, she has heard nothing but Romanian from me and English from my wife and so I think it will be awhile longer before she says anything — but I suspect that once she does, there will be many great conversations to be had!
How will you keep up with and enhance your knowledge of other languages?