Me, in a favorite Paris cafe, Nov 2011
When learning a foreign language, we shouldn’t learn it in a vacuum, meaning we need to learn it in a context of the country(ies) it is spoken. If we are learning French, then it is important to expand our study and learn about the French culture as well.
This can have many benefits and is a necessity. For example, take French greetings. We can learn “Bonjour”, but this will leave us ill prepared for our first greeting with a French speaker if we don’t also know that depending on the relationship between us, and the region they are from, that simple “Bonjour” might be spoken with one, two or even three kisses on each cheek!
When learning a new language, it is beneficial to think of it as a journey (even if you don’t leave your home country). While I have been lucky to visit the countries of which I am learning their language (France and Italy), I also use the following to expand my knowledge of the culture and customs, even when I am in my home, here in the United States…
1. Books: including but not limited to: fiction set in that country, non-fiction (particularly history), cookbooks, and Art/Museum Books
2. Movies: including but not limited to: movies set in that country, movies that are from that country and spoken in the foreign language we are learning, and documentaries. (It’s a great time to go see Les Mis!)
3. Cooking/Restaurants: learn the cuisine of the language/culture you are studying, try things you haven’t tried (escargot, perhaps?), try a French wine…
4. Seek out native speakers: Ask them about greetings, customs, and traditions that might not be listed in your text or language books.
5. Maps. You may be surprised for me to list this one; but it is one of my favorites on this list. Different types of Maps help you to see how/where areas are related to others and gives perspective. (Remember how Peter Jackson opens Lord of the Rings with Bilbo’s hand drawn maps of the locations of the movie…it gave perspective.)
6. Music. Invest in a few CDs of music from that region. One (at least) instrumental and one (at least) sang in that language. Lately, my favorite French CD is the soundtrack to the movie Amelie.
7. Be open-minded. Learning a language and about a culture, can change you~~ just as traveling can; and for the better. (I don’t think it is a coincidence that after I started learning French, I started dressing more fashionably!)
To read the first two posts in my MERCI method of language acquisition series, Introduction and Master the Vocabulary, click here.
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