IDEA #88. Find a language-learning website or acquire (at a library, maybe, or a garage sale) a set of teaching CDs (or even cassette tapes) for a language you’d like to start learning—maybe the language of some of your ancestors, or just a language that has been of interest. Learn a at least little bit—even just enough to say “hello,” “my name is,” “please,” “thank you,” and count to five or 10.
There are few things more satisfying than having even a smidgen of another language under one’s belt, and school and public libraries are great places to look for computer- or audio-based language-learning programs. (Other great places to look for these are library sales, garage sales, and flea markets; it seems that a great many people in our world intend to master a new language or two, but few sustain that interest, and so there is a surplus of language-learning programs for sale, cheap.)
The goal here is not necessarily fluency, although that would be a worthy objective. Rather, the point is to explore the language and learn a bit about how languages are taught and learned and above all to enjoy the process,. To have mastered a few conversational gambits (“Where is the pen of my aunt?” “Here is the pen of my aunt.”) or to know how to greet a person in another language is not only modestly empowering but just plain fun. To know how to count a bit is equally so.
Educational psychologists tell us that the younger a child begins to learn a new language, the more easily he or she will learn it, but in general the only way people of any age really master a language is by immersion. So in this case, since even the best systems fall well short of being truly immersive, the child should just delve deeply enough into the activity to keep having fun. A sustained interest may in time lead to interest in study abroad or in a domestic community of users of the language.
And there is no reason to limit this activity to a certain level of mastery of a single language. It is fun to imagine a child’s room with boxes of tapes for learning a number of languages littering the floor.
It’s also worth noting, strange as it seems, that several fictional languages—examples are Elvish, from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Ring novels, and Klingon, from the Star Trek television series—actually have well developed user communities that can be discovered on line. Similarly, there are several “universal” languages—Esperanto and Interlingua are the best-known—that have significant user communities. All of these might lead the interested child a step further into the arcane world of “con-langers”: individuals who enjoy constructing their own languages, either based on existing language families or utterly new.
In a week or so we will take up another kind of language learning: computer programming, or coding.