Immersing Yourself in the Language

I had the experience of learning two languages simultaneously over the course of 2 years. During this time, I was serving as a religious missionary in Malaysia. Part of my assignment was to learn Mandarin Chinese in order to communicate with the Chinese population there. In Malaysia the primary language was Malay, so in order to get around I learned that language, too. My experience in learning each of these languages was very different, because the method by which I learned Chinese was different from how I learned Malay.

Chinese

My experience learning Chinese began at the missionary training center. We learned vocabulary and grammar in a formal classroom setting, preparing us to teach specific lessons to native speakers. The training center did its best to give us experience speaking the language, but most of the teaching was done from a book. We memorized forms, patterns, and words to prepare for when we had an actual experience with a native speaker.

I learned quickly, when I arrived in Malaysia, that no amount of memorization could have made me fluent in Chinese. I learned more from experience with the native speakers. Some things that I had learned in the training center fell into place when I practiced, but other things I learned, without practice, were lost. I became proficient in Chinese over time. I used what I learned formally in the classroom, but I would also say that what I learned from experience was more important.

Malay

Learning Malay was an entirely different experience. I never had formal training speaking Malay, so my learning began when I stepped off the plane in Malaysia. I was picked up from the airport by a man who only spoke Malay, and I felt overwhelmed. I knew that I had to learn some conversational Malay in order to function there. Instead of learning things I thought would be important, I only learned what I needed.

I first learned only basic words. These were the bare minimum that I needed to order food and answer simple questions. I found that, as I used them, I wanted to learn how to fit them into full sentences. That’s when my vocabulary began building from those words. I never tried to learn grammar, but it came naturally from listening to native speakers. (Which is the whole idea behind Flooant) I left Malaysia conversationally proficient in Malay.

Conclusion

Although I learned Malay and Chinese simultaneously, my method of learning was very different. I gained perspective from this experience, and found that learning a language in any case requires a few things:

1.       Real experiences speaking the language

2.       A genuine love of the language

3.       A purpose for learning it

If these conditions are met, learning a new language is as easy as making a phone call.