Second language strategies to understand international days of celebration
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! One of the great hoys of learning a new language and traveling in general is you get to experience new and exciting things. Often the most enjoyable amongst these are the holidays and traditions. Having culture and tradition of your own is excellent, but integrating more is never a bad thing. If you need a reason to celebrate, the language you are learning is likely to have at least one.
More importantly, though, learning about these holidays and days of celebration, along with the cultures intertwined therein is an excellent way to integrate your target language into your daily life. Language learners around the world would benefit in more way than one by simply learning about, and coming to appreciate, the holidays celebrated by the native speaking population of their target language.
Connecting to different cultures by understanding their holidays
Curiosity is not only the best way to approach language learning, it is also one of the best ways to connect with people. If you plan to use your target language, and you should, then being able to speak with people is paramount. By learning about the culture and holidays and traditions you have an easy point of entry to speak with just about anyone.
Understanding where these things come from can give you an opportunity to share with someone something about their culture even they do not know. However, having even a cursory understanding of things can give others the opportunity to explain things to you. An unspoken advantage of discussing these things with native speakers is you will likely be invited to participate.
Without a doubt, the best way to learn a second language is to use it. When you are invited to events, will use the language. The more often you use the foreign language the quicker you will become fluent or at least conversational. Along with necessitating the development of communication strategies, attending cultural and traditional events will solidify your place in the community.
Even if that means going to local events near your home where there is a high concentration of people who speak your target language. Additionally, since these are celebratory events, people are usually already in a good mood and feeling generous. Most people will be happy to help irrespective of the time, but at a holiday event you would be hard pressed to find someone unwilling to work with you.
If you are looking for ways to get the most out of attending these events, aside from practice you should be looking for meaning. Ask yourself what the different aspects represent then speak with someone and find out if you are correct. You will be given example after example and likely learn something that will help you in the long term. Paying attention, as always, to the phrases, grammar, and vocabulary words you are hearing and asking questions to ensure correct usage.
Place an emphasis on learning what different sentences mean, especially the ones you hear over and over. Find out what makes this holiday or this tradition unique and, when you get home, make sure you are writing everything down to the best of your recollection. At the beginning you will likely struggle, but at least you will be celebrating.
It does not take perfect listening comprehension to understand a celebration. The real knowledge will come in seeking to understand why it is happening and where it comes from historically. But do not fall into the trap of consuming only. People want to share the meaning of their traditions with you, but they also want to understand and learn about you and your traditions and holidays.
Sharing your holidays
Part of joining others in their celebrations is inviting them to share in yours. Holidays and days of celebration are an easy way to bond with someone. There is generally no negative to sharing the things that are important to you, especially when it comes to holidays. Share your culture, your traditions, and why and where those things come from in your life. You will also have the opportunity while doing this to create new traditions. A good language learner is not going to focus solely on the new language, but the new culture as well.
Halloween is an excellent way to do this and, if you are American, it will stand out even more. Halloween in most foreign languages translates to "Halloween" because it is a holiday that was popularized by Americans (though we did not create it). Knowing this means you can develop your language skills by explaining what you do for Halloween. How your family celebrates it and what it looks like to other families in a different context. Writing down what you plan to discuss will be helpful. It may also result in you understanding yourself and your own traditions better as writing often does.
When I was living in Belgium, my host family and I carved pumpkins. It was their first time doing anything like that and it was an absolutely phenomenal bonding experience. To teach people new things, even when you lack fluency in your target language, is amazing for developing your language skills. However, it is only the beginning. Once I taught them to carve pumpkins, they taught me more about their traditions. It is a constant give and take that inevitably results in lifelong bonds being formed.
I was able to practice basic phrases while learning about and sharing traditions. You can do the same thing; and you should. This is an activity that is done by many teachers in classroom language learning environments around the United States. What is often missing, though, is necessitation of speaking. My host family did not speak English. No matter how long it took, I was going to have to speak to them in their language in order for them to understand.
They were going to speak to me in French whether or not I understood what they were saying. That is where the real difference is made. It is also where you should be most strict with yourself. Do not allow yourself to default out, no matter how uncomfortable you get. No matter how frustrated you get. Remember, you are discussing holidays, traditions, culture, and reasons to celebrate. When you finally reach fluency you will only be adding to the list of reasons to celebrate. Besides, struggling to reach mutual understanding, yet persevering, is one of the greatest ways form powerful bonds.
Develop language skills through specific vocabulary words
There are some easy wins you can pick up during this type of language instruction as well. First and foremost every new word you learn that is connected to the holiday is more likely to stick. When you learn the word for pumpkin so you can ask your family if they want to carve them, you will likely hear it 100 more times over the course of 2 days. It will be difficult to forget after that. The same goes for just about everything. Beyond the single words, though, you will learn common greetings as well.
How you greet people during the holidays is often different than how you would greet them normally. This provides you with yet another tool you can use to communicate. More importantly, though, it gives you a way to continue building your confidence. Being able to greet people in 5 ways is much better than being able to greet them in one or two ways. Use this to stack some wins and build your confidence as you begin speaking to more and more people about ever more complex topics.
It takes time to develop your language skills. You are going to struggle, but days of celebration make this less grueling. Every country and every foreign language has opportunities for language learners to create and share traditions. My host family still makes a turkey every November, even though they do not celebrate Thanksgiving. Just so happens that I crushed that turkey recipe when I was there and now they do that as a tradition without the rest.
Wherever you go, if you are serious about second language acquisition, you owe it to yourself to share yourself. Your traditions, beliefs, culture, all of it shapes who you are. If you want to build bonds, you have to share those things. Just as important, however, is accepting and learning, even adopting, the culture and traditions of the people with whom you spend your time. Most language teachers miss something big here because the exercises are all about sharing, never adopting. It is important to listen just as much as you speak, not only for your second language acquisition, but for your relationships around the world.
Irrespective of your learning style, second language acquisition needs to be enjoyable in order for most people to follow through with it. Adding in holidays to your comprehensible input will all but ensure you, at the very least, view your target language as something worthy of further investigation. By focusing on key words that correspond with each holiday and how they interact with your first language you give yourself an easy way to stack wins and build confidence. No matter how many grammar rules you memorize or how much vocabulary you master, without confidence you will struggle to reach fluency in your new language.
Days of celebration provide students with the opportunity to build confidence while increasing their knowledge base simultaneously. If you are not having fun with your language learning, you are doing it wrong. Going all out during the holidays is one phenomenal way to do it right. Remember, it is important to follow other cultures and traditions. However, you owe it to yourself, and to your potential new friends, to share your culture and traditions as well. You never know how long they may survive in the homes of the new friends you come to love. On that note, Happy Halloween!
Learning foreign languages is no easy feat, it will be difficult irrespective of how you approach it. Using the strategies listed here can and will enhance and accelerate your language learning experience, it will not be easy. But you can do difficult things and be great, so continue to do difficult things and be great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same.
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