I’m now in the swing of things with learning Tagalog. The nice thing about starting a new language project is that I discover (and rediscover) stuff that really helps me learn.
The bad thing is that I feel a little time-crunched.I’ve been really busy lately. I started a new job, which is great but has longer hours. My air conditioning went out, a minor emergency in Florida when it happens in July. I started volunteering with a local literacy organization. And I’ve been attacking Tagalog pretty consistently. (Oh, and if you missed it, I was on the Creative Language Learning Podcast with Kerstin Cable.)
Something had to give. In this case, it’s been blogging and maintaining the site’s social media pages. The posts have been a little infrequent, and I’m going to take steps to get back on track with that.
But in the meantime, here are four random tips–a grab bag of stuff that you might find useful.
1. Keep a Food Log in Your New Language
In addition to all that stuff I said, I’m also trying to watch what I eat, so I started keeping a food log. But I thought, why don’t I do this in Tagalog?
Wow! This has been really simple to do, but surprisingly effective. It’s helped me learn the names of foods and introduced me to Tagalog writing.
I tend to eat the same things every day for breakfast and lunch. So I write the same words over and over, which gives an “organic spaced repetition” effect (something Kerstin and I discussed on the podcast). Now I know the names of some foods I eat commonly by heart: itlog (egg), tinapay (bread), hamon (ham), tusino (bacon–don’t judge), and bigas/kanin (rice).
You can choose whether or not you record your calories, but the important thing is just to write your foods down. At least try it for a week.
2. Cycle through your learning materials
My goal is reaching advanced beginner (A2) level in 15 weeks, which is somehow both aggressive and modest. It’s somewhere between a sprint and a jog.
But with that time frame, I have enough time to focus on a topic for a few days or even a week. For instance, I spent several days on mastering the greetings. I spent close to a week on introductions and talking about where people are from.
So instead of working straight through a single text book, I’ve been cycling through a self-study course, a text book, an online program from the US military, and Pimsleur. This means I get a lot of the same material four times.
Each source has its own focus and its own spin on things. Getting so many voices in my studying feels like I’m getting a full, rich experience.
3. Start listening right away
I’m like a broken record with this listening stuff, but you can’t go wrong listening right away, even when you’re just starting with a language.
I can’t understand a lot when I listen to authentic materials, but every day I’m able to pick out a few more words than the day before.
And I had a mini Tagalog conversation with my mom on the phone today. I was able to understand literally everything she said. She was using very simple language, but she was talking at a natural pace and asking me real questions.
4. Take advantage of what you already know
You rarely enter a new language as a completely blank slate. If you’re a native English speaker and you’re learning French, for example, there are tons of words you already know or that are at least familiar to you. Same with Spanish, Italian, German, and several others.
And if you’re learning a language that doesn’t share a lot of similarities with your native language, you’ve still likely been exposed to it at one point through movies and music, so you already have a sense of its intonations and rhythms.
The same’s been true for me and Tagalog. Having a Filipina mom, I had already learned a lot of the most common words while I was growing up–maybe 50 words total, which isn’t a lot but still helpful. Also, the Spanish and English influence is pretty strong. For instance, telling time is pretty much exactly the same as in Spanish, with some slight pronunciation and spelling differences.
Use your familiarity with the language to your advantage. When you find a word, a grammatical pattern, or even a sound that’s familiar to you, pay attention to it and to the very fact that it’s familiar. You’ll have an easier time remembering something that you already have a frame of reference for.
Four quick tips. What do you guys like to do when you’re starting out in a new language?