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How to Teach Yourself a Language in No Time

by Melissa Chang |

Language Acquisition

earworms language learning
Image courtesy of Earworms Learning

When most of us think of learning a new language, we picture 4 years of high school Spanish or College French that never really seemed to stick despite hours and hours in class.  Well, there’s good news.  You can actually teach yourself a language! That’s right, not only is it quick and effective, but it can also be a lot of fun with these cool new tools.

1-Learn in your car CDs

drive time frenchThese are CDs that you just pop in your car and listen to on your way to and from work, school or shopping. No reading or studying is necessary. You just listen and repeat. The whole thing is done orally. These CDS are created to teach you the simple essentials in as short of time as possible. They choose phrases and words they think a traveler will most need and focuse on those.  Vocabulary usually focuses on getting around, emergencies, restaurants, etc… Besides the speed and effiiency of this method, you also learn fairly good pronunciation because you are learning based only on listening and repeating. Most of these programs are around $20.


When I went to Cameroon recently, I decided to use one of these CDs to learn a bit of French. he one I used was called Drive Time French. There were 3 hours of instruction on the CDs, and I began listening to them 3 months before my trip. I didn’t even really know if it stuck or not, but then found myself in Cameroon at a hospital where no one spoke English. The essential phrases kicked in and I actually ended up being the interpreter for the patient. This method is best for learning correct pronunciation, because there is nothing to distract you for pure listening. Another great company that creates these in a wide variety of languages including Arabic and Hindi is Pimsleur.


earwormsThese CDs are fantastic. Some of them just use repetition to help you learn, but others even use songs and music to help the vocabulary stick in your memory. One of these you should check out is Earworms. As they teach you the vocabulary they do it rythmically to catchy tunes. Click this link to check out a demo. This method is great unless you are terrible at song lyrics. I love music, but since I am the master of misheard lyrics, I think this method would be enjoyable for me, but not effective. My favorite method can be found below.

Visual Imagery

instant recallMy favorite method of all is one called Instant Recall. This method relies on your visual imagery. In Chinese, the word for pain is ‘tong.” Picture that you have a pain in your tongue. They give you a visual hook like this for every word. It is so fun! But not only do they give you mental picture, but they give you these quizzes after each section that are also fun and very effective at searing the vocabulary into your brain. They also give grammar points and let you practice translating and creating sentences. The only downfall is that it isn’t so good for remembering exact pronunciation since you are thinking about the hook word. Note:This one is made for your mp3 player or computer, even though it is audio only.

talk now hindi2-Video Game Language Learning Software

If you want to use both audio and actual pictures, along with games and quizzes, a video game type software might be best for you. Eurotalk has a great beginner program called Talk Now, that lets you play games and earn points with sounds and pictures to allow you to learn and have fun at the same time. Another fantastic thing about this exact program is that it has almost any language you can think of from Albanian to Zulu. You can get beginner software programs like this one for only $40.


1-Consider learning the national language instead of the individual family or tribal language, so that you can communicate in a wider area. However, you should still take the time to learn polite greetings in each family or tribal language that you will be visiting. Of course, if you are going to be living in a specific language area, it might be best to learn that specific language, no matter how narrowly it is used.

2-Go to the bookstore and see what they have there. Look at it all and pick something that looks fun and simple.

3-If you want to learn quickly and easily, don’t worry about learning to read or write the language. Just pick and audio and verbal based program. You want to be able to get around and talk to people. Learning to read a language like Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Arabic etc… will be a lot more difficult and time consuming.

4-Keep it short and cheap. You can’t master an entire language in a short time. Just go for a basic program to get you through. It will be easier to remember and a great way to get you started and build your confidence. You shouldn’t spend more than $40 for software of $20 for CDs. You don’t need to break the bank to get started.

 5-Supplement your learning with cartoons and videos. Once you have your CD and want to do more, search YouTube for kids cartoons and songs in your new language. You can also find kid’s language coloring and sticker books for additional learning and fun.

6-Just have fun. You won’t remember it all, but you never know what might come to mind right when you need it. Just give it a try and see what sticks. Learning a language is half the fun of going:)

Language Need Not Be a Barrier

by Beverly Cooper |

Cultural Sensitivity, Language Acquisition

Sign languageOkay, we can probably all agree that trying to learn as much of a language as possible before visiting another country is the best case scenario. Not only will it help you get around, but it shows your hosts that you care about them and took the time to try to learn language on their terms. Unfortunately, there are some situations where learning a language beforehand is just not possible. For example, I knew one missionary who had prepared long and hard for her life in Chad. One week after her arrival, civil unrest caused her to be evacuated to Cameroon.

What if you have to leave suddenly and don’t have time to learn the language, such as in a disaster response situation? What if you are on a trip that requires you to travel to several different areas? You might be able to learn a few simple greetings in each language, but more in depth language learning might not be possible for every country you are visiting. Sometimes you might spend years learning the language but are faced with situations where you just aren’t able to communicate at the level the conversation requires.

In whatever language situation you do happen to find yourself, just don’t panic. Communication issues are totally normal when visiting or even living in any new country. There are all sorts of ways to communicate with others besides language. Below are some suggestions:

Say it without words

Most of us have played charades at some time in our lives. Use hands, arms, legs, facial expressions, and anything else you can think of to get your point across. There is a little drama king or queen in all of us.

Draw a picture

All of us are not artists, but we can draw something simple to get our point across. If we can’t draw, we can show. Once on a trip to Mexico, we had brought shoes to an orphanage. The house mother was desperately trying to tell me in Spanish of a problem with a pair of the shoes. I just wasn’t getting it until she actually drew me a picture. Then, there it was, obvious on paper— two right shoes. The moral to that story is to check gifts for problems before you haul them across the country. But that is another story.

Ask for help

If there are other people around, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask kids. Many kids are taught other languages in school. They also pick language up from television. I have depended on kids more than once to translate simple things for me.

Speak and write the words

If the languages are from the same root language, such as Latin, some words could be similar or even the same. They may sound a little different, because of a person’s accent, but still mean the same thing. If possible, write the word out. The spelling may offer a clue. Of course, if you are in somewhere far from Latin roots, this is not going to work at all for you:)

Carry a pocket dictionary

This is a great tool to have on hand. If there is something you really need to say, but can’t, look it up in your dictionary and show your non-English speaking friend the word in their language. I once was at a dinner with some friends in East Asia. They were desperately trying to tell me what it was that I was eating, but I just couldn’t understand them. They had their own pocket dictionary on hand and looked up the word to let me know that my delicious meal was made from pig ear.

Be patient

Yes, all this can be frustrating and downright tiring, but patience is the key. Hopefully, the above points will help when you are in situations where verbal communication is limited. Be patient, relax, and have fun with it. Communicating with those from other languages can also be extremely rewarding.

Next week: How to teach yourself a new language

Lost in Translation

by Carol Grace |

China, Language Acquisition

Learning languages can be pretty difficult at times. Here are some real signs found in China with a few translation issues of their own:

Photo by Augapfel

lost in translationg
Photo by Helga’s Lobster Stew

it's all chinese to me
Photo by Click Cluck

chinese english signs
Photo by Box of Badgers

chinese billboard
Photo by rheanna2

private vegetables
Photo by xiaming

 don't be edible
Photo by Augapfel

Afghanistan: Etiquette, customs, facts and vital information

by admin |

Afghanistan, Asia, Cultural Sensitivity, Facts and Stats, Language Acquisition, Travel Health & Safety

Photo by Image Editor

Location: Central Asia, bordering Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan in the North, China in the North-east, Pakistan on the East and South, and Iran in the West

Capital: Kabul

Climate: Extremely hot summers and cold winters with rain and snowfall in the highlands.

Population: 31,889,923 (July 2007 estimate). A series of invasions, war, and drought are main factors in the impoverished state of this country.  The official unemployment rate hovers at 40%. According to 2004 World Bank figures, about 60% of the population are affected by severe poverty. A recent rise in economy is based on agricultural production, a major part of which is opium.

Afghanisan ManEthnic make-up: Pashtun 40%, Tajiks 25%, Hazaras 18%, Uzbecks 6%, Turkmen 3%, Qizilbash 1%, and 7% others.

Religions: Muslims form 99% of the population of which, 84% are Sunni Muslims and 15% are Shiite Muslims. The rest 1% comprises Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jews. The Constitution of 2004 under the new government that replaced Taliban rule, states that Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic while granting religious minorities the freedom to practice their faiths within bounds of the law. However, evangelism is illegal and the consequences of conversion for Muslims may include the death penalty.

The language: About 50% of the population speaks Dari, 35% speak Pashto, and 11% speak Turkic. Dari is used for commercial and government transactions. Dari and Pashto employ Arabic alphabets when written.

Government: Islamic Republic headed by the democratically elected President Hamid Karzai.

 Mountains in Herat
Photo by jaxo2

Travel issues: Travel to Afghanistan requires a visa. Your visa application should include the application form, a couple of passport-sized photos, the visa fees, and a letter of support in the case of those working in Afghanistan. These have to be submitted to the Afghan embassy in your country.  Obviously, there is a war going on there right now, so you should also check with your embassy for travel warnings and additional requirements.

BurquaHealth & safety: Anti-malarial shots required for travel to areas below 6,561 feet for travel between April and December. Also recommended for all travelers are shots for Hepatitis A, Typhoid, and Hepatitis B. Adult travelers who have not had polio vaccine as an adult are recommended to take a one-time booster doze. If you’re traveling from, or through, yellow-fever infected areas in Africa or the Americas, you’re required to take Yellow fever shots. If you may come in direct contact with animals in remote areas without medical access, you need to consider rabies shots. If you’re born after 1956 and not had a measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) shot, it is recommended that you get them. It is also recommended that you’ve had a Tetanus-diphtheria shot within the last ten years.

Photo by Olly L

The People: Farming and maintaining livestock are the two main occupations. Both men and women have important roles here. Being a patriarchal society, men do dictate terms, but women, especially in nomadic societies, make important contributions such as weaving carpets, producing dairy products, spinning wool, and even tent making.

The Religion: Religion is an intrinsic way of life and dictates all aspects of lifestyle from food to clothing. 99% of Afghanistan is Muslim. Afghanistan Family

The Role of Family: Strong family ties find families consisting of several generations living together as a household. The oldest male is the patriarch whose word is law. A group of such families form a village which has a religious leader, the Mullah, as the head. Traditionally, village women take care of children and household duties and are considered repositories of culture which they perpetuate through their children. Family honor especially that of women, is to be preserved at all costs.  

Ancestors: Elders and ancestors are accorded considerable amount of respect. Property and wealth are handed down through generations and the oldest living member is the one in control. Older women such as grandmothers are looked up to, especially if they have numerous sons.

Recreational activities: In more peaceful times kite flying and chess were popular recreational activities. In rural areas polo, ghosai—similar to wrestling, and buzkashi, played on horseback with the carcass of a headless calf, were sources of amusements.


Kabul Traffic
Photo by Colleeen Taugher

Meeting and Greeting:  Upon meeting, it is customary for males to embrace one another and then shake hands. Women kiss each other on the cheeks repeatedly on both sides, two or three times. In professional situations women may shake hands, but otherwise it is totally forbidden for men and women to touch each other or even hold eye contact. The traditional greeting in full form is Assalam u Alaikum, to which the reply is, Wa alaikum assalam.

Courtesy: Address people by title rather than first name.  It is common courtesy to initiate any conversation with general questions as to health, work, relatives, even to the extent of enquiring, “How’s everything?” You never enquire about female relatives, wives, sisters, and daughters. Tea will compulsorily be offered, and should be accepted gracefully.

Afghan FoodGift giving: When you’re visiting for the first time, it is customary to bring along a simple gift that is discreetly offered or left behind in an unobtrusive manner. This is normally something edible in the form of sweets or fruits. Gifts are not opened in front of guests.

Dress Code: Both men and women have dress codes that emphasize honor and dignity. Women, especially in rural areas, strictly follow a dress etiquette that covers their whole body. A long, loose robe called the burqa is worn over other clothes to totally hide the female figure. A head scarf or purda is worn to hide the hair and face. Foreign women are exempt from such measures but loose clothes that cover shoulders, arms, knees, and legs, and a head scarf are recommended. Men may wear formal suits.

Dining Etiquette: You will most probably be seated on the floor on carpets, with cushions for support. It is customary to sit cross legged, but if that can’t be achieved, you can sit any way you want as long as your legs are not stretched out and pointing at other people. There is a seating protocol based on seniority, so wait to be assigned a seat. Food is eaten with the right hand, using fingertips to convey small amounts to the mouth, with head lowered. When dining, leave a little food behind when you’ve had enough, or your plate will be refilled.

Afghanistan ChildrenVisiting a home: Always take footwear off before entering living areas. Never enter a room without first announcing your presence with a knock or a cough. If in a group, the elders enter first.  You should wait to be seated as this will be in accordance to your perceived status within the group. The host will never ask you the reason for your visit and it is up to the visitor to bring it up. It is important to remember that during the holy month of Ramadan all Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Though foreigners are not required to do so, it would be insensitive to eat, drink, smoke, or even chew gum in their presence.

Communication style: In professional circles men and women do interact though under strictly regulated rules. You do not hold eye contact with the opposite gender. In rural areas, you do not even talk directly to the opposite gender. Foreign women may have some lee-way to speak to men, but it is important to avoid eye contact and keep your head lowered while communicating. A head scarf is useful to show your intentions are honorable.

Winter in KabulDos and Don’ts: It is considered decidedly bad taste to talk or laugh out loud in public, especially if you’re a woman. Keep your voice levels down and adopt a non-invasive body language. Keep the soles of your feet out of sight when seated. Muslims pray about five times a day and it is only right that non-Muslims do nothing to cause disruptions. Avoid smoking, joking, or any other trivial activities at these times, especially in front of elders. Though foreigners may not be chastised for such faux-pas, they will certainly be considered dishonorable.

You drive on the right side of the road and you need an International Driving License for this. Avoid or ask for permission before photographing areas next to military installations. Homosexuality is illegal; so is consumption of alcohol. Lone women travelers attract a lot of attention and is best avoided. Areas such as Kandahar are still Taliban strongholds and are best avoided by all travelers.

Man and Family photos by N Creatures
Burqua photo by Barbara Millucci
Food photo by rochelle, et. al.
Kid photo by Goosemountains
Winter photo by TKnoxB

Language Acquisition

by admin |

Language Acquisition, Planning to Go

When learning a new language, we often resemble children, struggling with small phrases and oblivious to common cultural expressions and jokes. Although the task seems daunting, anyone with patience, opportunities to practice, and a love for correction can learn a new language.

LanguagesA huge dose of patience is essential for anyone embarking on the journey of language acquisition. Languages have several facets besides grammar. There is also slang and connotation to consider. Language is evolving with new words being born and old words taking on new meanings. Be patient with yourself and never stop studying or practicing.

Learning a language takes time, but the quickest way to learn is by staying immersed and practicing everyday. Whenever I am in a new country and learning the language, I keep a dictionary or phrasebook with me. I read it on buses and learn new phrases that may be useful in upcoming conversations. Then, when I converse with the people I always seem to find opportunities to use my new words. Reading local Newspapers and watching television are also great ways to grow your vocabulary.

When I was flying to Italy, I sat next to an Italian who had recently moved to New Jersey. In regards to language-learning, he said to me,

“Correction is your best friend. When someone corrects you, you will never forget that word again.”

It is humbling to adjust to frequent correction, but it is part of the process of effective cross-culture communication. Even though English is the second-language to many people, it is important to speak the language that people use in their homes. As missionaries, we discuss spiritual matters that relate to people’s hearts and they will best express these issues in their mother tongue. By learning the language we show our dedication to the people we are sent to.

Photo by kiwanja

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