Living in Texas, Spanish is sprinkled throughout my world. I know just enough to get in trouble – a few key phrases that make people assume I know how to speak it, and they take off, leaving me in the verbal dust. As the New Year approaches, once again learning Spanish is on my list of resolutions. Part of my family is bilingual and I do not want to miss out on any more conversations! I have drilled vocabulary, listened to audio and repeated the phrases, but very little stays in my brain. When I saw this book, my first thought was – Hmmm, maybe I’m learning it the wrong way!
This book is set up with summaries, key points, reinforcements and bit-sized ideas that all appear logical and of which I have never tried when learning a language. This is not a book that teaches you a new language – this is a book on how to learn a new language. I now understand why my language classes and cd’s failed. Armed with this new system, I am ready to challenge myself and learn to speak a new language badly!
The book tends to wander into some wordy weeds, but sticking to the main themes and the wrap-ups I feel I gained enough to start my new language experience.
“What do you call someone who speaks three languages?”
“What do you call someone who speaks two languages?”
“What do you call someone who speaks one language?”
The author of this book spent many years as a linguist in Africa – which is where I first heard the joke that begins this introduction – and frequently met people who spoke eight, nine or ten languages. Most of these people would not consider themselves remarkable in any way. Some of them could not even read. But, unwittingly, all of them had stumbled upon The Language Secret. And it is my pleasure to reveal it to you in the pages that follow.
None of the information we are about to present is new or unknown in academia. It is, however, almost entirely absent from language teaching in classrooms, and lamentably under-used in self-help language books. Some very simple, but powerful ideas and linguistic discoveries have remained a secret to non-specialists, even in countries where people tend to speak several languages as a matter of course. But The Language Secret should be available to everyone who wants to know it.
In the course of our quest for answers we shall be meeting and learning from a varied cast of characters including Inspector Clouseau (he of Pink Panther fame), Harold Godwinson and his nemesis William the Conqueror, Lemmy from Motörhead, Jürgen Klopp, Dick Van Dyke, Michel Barnier, Nimrod the Hunter and Jane Birkin. Seriously. One of the neglected tools in the language-acquisition toolbox is humour. And although we shall be employing that instrument to the full, do not be deceived: this is an academically rigorous book.
But if you do want to learn, and you have ever asked yourself any of the following questions, this book is for you.
- How long does it take to learn a language?
- What is grammar, and do I really have to learn it?
- Can only “gifted” people learn languages?
- How can I acquire an authentic accent?
- Why have my previous attempts at learning a language ended in disappointment?
- Are there any shortcuts to communicating quickly and effectively in other languages?
- Since everyone speaks English anyway, why make the effort to learn another language?
- Are some languages easier to learn than others?
- Why are we mother-tongue English speakers notoriously monolingual?
- Why are we, in fact, among the best-placed in the world to be multilingual?
This modest tome will not, though, make you a specialist in any one language. There are plenty of self-help books and exhaustive grammars available if you want to master any particular tongue. But what we will do is show the principles that apply to learning all languages, any language.
And in case you don’t want to plough through the next 200-odd pages to discover the secret, here it is in one sentence: If you want to communicate well in another language, you first have to learn to speak it badly.
Not as easy as it sounds. But we can show you how.