Improving your C language

This answer was given to a question on the now defunct interpreting.info Q&A website by Andrew Gillies

What are the best methods to add a C language?

Different people learn differently of course, but my experience of learning Polish (as a C language) as an (EN A) adult suggests the following. (Subsitute any other languages, nationalities or countries for EN & PL as appropriate below.)

  • Learn most of the grammar and basic conversation BEFORE going to spend a long period in the country. (Going to the country in question before you can hold a conversation will mean you end up making friends who speak EN with you, not PL.)

To do this attend language classes once or twice a week but do most of your studying in your own time and at your own initiative. Work through a couple of school text books or learn Polish books in this time. The language lessons gave me motivation to study in my own time, even though I didn’t get much out of them per se. When I stopped going to class I stopped studying in my own time as well. Pay a Pole, not a teacher, to come and listen to you painfully and slowly try to string sentences together. (Students are cheaper than teachers, and the latter will explain everything whereas what you need is time trying to get it right yourself.) Approx. 2 years.

  • Start going to PL for extended stays, 1 month, 2 months Start reading authentic material. Newspapers are surprisingly easy, because you know the news in your own language and because they use a very limited range of language. PL school text books for Poles are good, eg Geography for 12 year olds. Approx. 1-2 years.
  • Go to Poland for 9-18 months. The longer the better. If you can, share a flat, or lodge, with PL speakers. Talking PL every breakfast time, and every evening, as well as having someone around to ask questions is simply invaluable.

Take up some activities that bring you into regular, talking, contact with PL speakers. (Scuba diving and football are not so great. Drinking, book clubs, office jobs and dating are quite good.)

Start reading all the newspapers all the way through, and the weekly current affairs magazines.

Watch a lot of TV and listen to talk radio every spare minute of the day. You don’t have to concentrate on it, just listen all the time. Catch up the 000’s of hours head start that native-speakers have on you. (Get a small portable radio & headphones for use when walking, commuting, ironing, cooking etc.) Talk radio has a nice combination of repetition of subjects and register, and variety of the same. You’ll get the most of the subjects talked about, and registers used, the most by the natives, but some of the rarer stuff as well.

Later in this year you can start reading the literature. Sit down with a Pole and watch the cult TV series and films. (You’ll need someone to explain why they are funny, cult, brilliant etc. Understanding the language is often not enough!)

  • when you think you’re ready to interpret from the language… …go back and spend another 6 months in the country!