Wednesday, July 28, 2010


1. No pain, no gain - It takes a lot of energy, time, and often money to learn a foreign language. Get involved and take responsibility for your learning. Listen, speak, read, and write as much as you can.

2. It’s not going to happen overnight – Learning a foreign language is a long term commitment. It is a good idea to set short range goals but you must think long term.

3. Open your mind wide – Among all the aspects involved in the process, perhaps the most important is the learner’s attitude toward the language. Have an open mind and try to see any encounter with the language as an opportunity. Be inquisitive, ask questions. One very simple step is to set the interface language of your communication devices (computers, cell phones) to your target language. In case of English in Brazil, the language is pretty much everywhere. It is very likely that in your everyday commute you’ll see lots of English words and expressions in billboards, signs, even on people’s clothing.

4. Expose yourself – Don’t hold back. Don’t miss any chances to interact with the language. If you are around a foreigner visiting the country, go ahead and speak to them. If emails have to be read and written in English at work, go for it. When travelling abroad with a friend who speaks more than you do, don’t let them be your voice, go ahead and order your own food. These are great opportunities – they’re like free lessons. It is natural that you may feel a bit uncomfortable to do so in a language you don’t master yet, but think that the experience is only going to help you get there.

5. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes – mistakes can be a good way to learn, of course as long as you somehow realize them and find out the right way. In addition, you as a non-native speaker are not expected to show the level of complexity and correctness as that of a native. In most cases, native English speakers are well used to dealing with people from the most diverse language backgrounds and tend to be quite tolerant with mistakes.

6. Open up your ears – Each language has a dominant range of frequency. Our ears adapt to the frequencies of our mother tongue in order to hear more efficiently. There lies in part the difficulty we often have in understanding what is being said in a foreign language. I simple way to verify this is to watch a movie with and without subtitles and analyze how much you understand. When we think we don’t understand what someone says, more often than not, it is not a matter of knowing the words but the simple fact that our ears are not used to that language’s specific frequencies. If you are in an English speaking country, for instance, your ears are exposed to the language most of the time and this is one of the reasons why immersion programs accelerate the language acquisition process. Well, if this is not your case, you somehow have to get your ears exposed to the language. This means lots of listening.

7. Practice makes perfect – The principle is remarkably simple. The more you do something, the better you get at it. This is especially true for your writing and speaking skills. Practice, practice, practice, and then more practice.

The success of your language acquisition project will likely depend on several factors. These three seem to have a bigger impact: your natural ability to learn a second language, or the absence of it; the attitude you have toward the language and the learning process; and having a clear plan to help you get where you want.

Monday, July 26, 2010


I get asked this question very often. I was once presenting a language program to a group of technical workers at a manufacturing plant in Brazil when it popped up: "So, at the end of the course, will I be speaking English?" I had to say: "Well, you'll probably be able to speak some."

The truth is that this is a question that can't be given a definite answer. The idea of 'speaking English' has to be defined first. There are many levels of competency between the one of a real beginner and that of a fluent speaker.

Sometimes beginners and lower intermediate learners are able to speak just enough for what is required and expected from them. Quite a few students have told me that they did not speak English. What is interesting is the fact that they did so in English! When I said I didn't totally agree with them, they would go on and explain why they felt that way. All that in English! I guess we can call it a paradox.

Learning a second language is usually a long process. Some will even say that it is more like a lifelong continuum. You should see anything you do to improve your communication - a course, a trip, a reading - as a step that will take you a little bit further ahead in the process. Progress is influenced by different aspects such as each person's own ability to learn a language and how much time you devote to learning it. Your ultimate goals have to be considered. You may want to be able to take your kids to Disney or to take up a position at a multinational abroad. Then, the time and effort will vary accordingly.

Next on the blog, a few tips to help you learn a foreign language.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


The English language comprises a wide range of linguistic variations. These can be called dialects. They are sub-forms which may differ in pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary, and grammar but are, in most cases, mutually comprehensible.
Dominant varieties, British and American English, account for the largest number of speakers. English dialects are present in every corner of planet, in each continent. Just to mention a few:

- Canadian English
- Caribbean English
- Scottish English
- Welsh English
- Hong Kong English
- Indian English
- Singapore English
- Nigerian Standard English
- South African English
- Australian English
- New Zealand English
- Fijian English

If you think this is plenty, well, most of these national varieties subdivide into numerous regional dialects adding in complexity and richness to the language originated in the British Isles some 1,500 years ago.