Advice on learning a second language

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It is never too late to learn a new language.

The key, says Gregorio Billikopf, agricultural labor management advisor with the University of California, is to set aside time to listen and learn over a long period of time.

Even a few minutes a day — as long as you are consistent — can yield positive results. "Create realistic goals and stick to them,” he says.

Your efforts can go a long way toward improving communication with Spanish-speaking employees.

Billikopf makes the following points:

It pays to be bilingual. Although it is not an easy task, surely there are benefits from learning another language. My oldest son related the following story he heard in Uruguay, “A skinny cat stood for hours waiting for the mouse to walk out from behind the hole, so he could nab him. He was having little success. A fat cat walked by, inquired about the nature of the difficulty, and volunteered to show the skinny cat the ropes. The cats moved to a new vantage point where they could observe the hole without being seen. Next, the plump cat barked, “Woof, woof.” The mouse, confident that a dog had scared his nemesis away, thought it safe to venture out only to be nabbed and devoured by the chubby cat. “You see,” explained the fat cat, “it pays to be bilingual.”

How difficult is it to learn another language? Some individuals have a knack for picking up another language. But for the rest of us, learning a foreign language requires much effort and sustained commitment over a long period of time. This is why setting a preliminary goal of picking up some polite expressions and basic vocabulary is not so hard—and can be a lot of fun. While it is easier for youth to learn another language, it is never too late to start. More than short term, intense efforts, the key to learning a new language is setting aside time to listen over a long period of time—hopefully five or six days a week. I believe that even a few minutes a day—as long as we are consistent—can give us surprisingly positive results. Obviously, more challenging goals will require additional effort. Repetition, and more repetition, will begin to create the magic of learning. The key, then, is to have staying power and not to expect results overnight. Create realistic goals and stick to them.

A good way to get started is by listening, and then listening some more. Hearing music is especially helpful; when words are sung, vowels are drawn out so their major pronunciation points are emphasized. Whether we use a computer program, an audio program, or smartphone apps, I recommend that we resist the temptation of pronouncing words and expressions out loud at first, but instead listen to these several times before attempting to pronounce them. Give your brain the opportunity to slowly absorb new material. Be patient with yourself. It generally takes hearing some words multiple times before we begin to incorporate them into our vocabularies. In a second phase of learning, we may not recall a word, but will recognize it upon hearing it. With time, we can move a word into a third phase, where it is so deeply embedded in our minds that we have perfect recall.

Learning Spanish, or another language, then, takes commitment, but the rewards are enormous, even if your focus at first is only on learning some very basic vocabulary and polite expressions.

Gregorio Billikopf is a labor management farm advisor for the University of California. He may be reached at




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Andrew Weiler    
Melbourne  |  April, 04, 2012 at 01:32 AM

There are some great points made here, especially about the importance of listening. I have spent many years researching how we can improve language learning, because the success rates of second language learning are so poor YET we all ( well nearly all) learn our first language to the level of our peers. There are many conclusions I have come to, tested on myself and many hundreds of language learners from all walks of life. The reality is that there are just too disempowering ways we were taught with and which we persist in following, like learning by translating or studying grammar and vocabulary, thinking that by some miracle we will learn to speak. Approach it the right way, and anyone can learn if they have real desire. Check out if you want more insights and strategies how to do this. ALL free.

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