There’s no excuse to be monolingual

Barry’s Farber’s fun and conversational book How to Learn Any Language: Quickly, Easily, and On Your Own (1991, MJF Books) will leave any monolingual speaker feeling left out of the global party.

Anyone who has studied foreign languages by conjugating verbs for Romance languages or rote copying characters for East Asian languages will love Farber’s asking readers, “What are your objectives?” (p.48). Why do you want to learn the language? If all you want to do is order in a French restaurant, learn restaurant French. Farber jokes by saying he likes blonde women, so he studied Swedish for fun, but Spanish for work. Setting your objectives or measures for success makes all the difference for your being able to say, “I speak French,” for example.

Grammar has a place for Farber in teaching yourself a language, but not pride of place. He reads through the first few chapters of a textbook for grammar, gets a dictionary, a newspaper or magazine, and flash cards among other tools and uses all his hidden moments to work on language study.

Language does take time and effort; you cannot get it merely by osmosis as in listening to a language lesson CD, which he likens to the behavior of a linguaphony. (p. 38) What Farber counsels, though, is working smart. When learning vocabulary, he encourages using a technique developed by Harry Lorayne about developing image pictures of words that allow you to mnemonically remember words.

For language learners, who want to excuse themselves from learning accents, Farber makes this sage observation:

A poor accent will get you what you want. A good accent will get you much more. (p. 39)

The most effective part of the book is the “Back to Basics” chapter where readers can get a course in parts of grammar in thirteen pages with examples instead of in several semesters at school. Farber smoothes the way for making grammar learning pleasurable before jumping into the commitment of learning a foreign language, which Farber likens to marriage.

While dated in the media used for language learning (i.e. use of foreign language cassettes rather than CDs), Farber’s How to Learn Any Language provides so many tips, shortcuts, and jokes for learning foreign languages that it merits tracking down a copy for purchase as a personal reference book for joining the world in speaking more than one language.

Originally posted on Ruth Paget’s blog Belle Vie Reviews and More