Learning a Foreign Language: the Psychological Factor

When it comes about learning a foreign language, many people wonder if they will be able to memorize enough vocabulary. But this question never occurs about their mother tongue. And yet, it was a foreign language; nevertheless, among all the questions that new parents ask, no doctor has ever heard: "Will my baby be able to learn my language?" Be honest. Do you know all the words of your mother tongue? The answer is: "no". New words, and new ways of using old words, appear every day. Twenty years ago, who would have been able to understand such a sentence: "Click here to download your digital book"? Nobody. You never stop acquiring new vocabulary and you never know how long you will be needing it. Do you still use "tomagotchi"?

When you don't know the exact name of a thing, you don't hesitate to call it "whatsit". Why do you think foreigners do otherwise? (The French word for whatsit is machin. That's a good start! You already know the word that can virtually replace any other!)

Sometimes, you have the word on the tip of your tongue... and it sticks there! But you do know this phenomenon and don't think that it is due to a bad memory. You should not give this phenomenon more importance in the language you are learning than in your mother tongue. You need to learn only 2000 or so basic French words to be able to create any paraphrase you need. You can't avoid some work in order to learn these essential words and all the more if you want to learn quickly. Before you contemplate to buy a learn-in-a-breeze method, be sure it is right for you. It is not as wise as it is said to rely on a method based upon mnemotechnics. The first words seem very easy lo learn; so, you buy the method; and you discover quickly, though too late, that a dozen words later, it is all the more difficult to learn a new word that you have also to learn the trick to memorize it.

The next topic will be about lists of words: why they work and why they don't.

Gabrielle Guichard is a French teacher who can be reached on GabrielleGuichard.com and listened to on French Podcasting

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