Some language learning tips are so fundamental, that we come across them again and again. And my own recent experience reminded me of one the most transformative and powerful: personal interests are the greatest motivator.
For the past few months, I’ve been slogging away at Icelandic. For the most part, I’ve used quite traditional textbooks to learn from. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this; in fact, I love formal grammar (I’m weird like that), and I learn a lot that way.
But in terms of speaking, I’d reached something of an impasse. It had all started to feel a bit one-note – solid, but not exciting.
That was, until Söngvakeppnin.
Söngvakeppnin is Iceland’s annual televised contest to select an entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. Now, I loved Eurovision for as long as I can remember, and I’ve often used it in language learning and teaching as a fun source of target language. And it turned out that a bit of it was just what I needed to reignite my Icelandic fire.
Fire and ice
Now, new learning had a focus. Articles started to pop up about the contest on Icelandic broadcaster website ruv.is and news outlet mbl.is. The songs – all in Icelandic – suddenly appeared on Spotify. And, most excitingly, I found out that I could watch the selection programmes live via the Icelandic broadcaster’s official streaming service, Sarpurinn.
Even though the language level was high, I wanted to consume all the information I came across. I’d translate articles carefully to get all the latest contest gossip. I’d listen to interviews and listen more intently than ever to get all the details of what was being said. In learning terms, I was on fire. Much like an Icelandic volcano.
All at once, I had a captivating way into Icelandic language and culture. And specifically, thanks to a very patient (or masochistic?) teacher on iTalki, to talk about. Preparing for a conversational lesson on something you find intensely interesting is no longer homework, or a tedious slog – it’s a huge amount of fun. It’s hard work without the slog!
Gaining from your interests
The results were clear. I could chat endlessly on the topic. It wasn’t passive chat, either – I was asking questions and was eager to hear the answers. I was totally switched on to using the language practically and purposefully.
It wasn’t that I was suddenly an expert at speaking Icelandic – I know that I was still making plenty of errors. But this time, I was stumbling less when I hit them; they held me back just a little less. I was speaking less self-consciously, and I felt like I was flying in the language.
Isn’t that what fluency is about? Communicating in a flowing manner, if not necessarily perfectly in every grammatical respect?
Go beyond your textbooks
People feel compelled to follow formal language courses when starting out. But never forget to seek out what interests you, even if you are just beginning in a language. If it interests you enough, you will find a way to understand it – and you will learn. Find what you love, and give it the target language treatment!
Finally, take heed from the sentiment of this, my favourite song from this year’s Söngvakeppnin, and aldrei gefast upp – never give up!