Learning A Foreign Language: The Psychological Factor

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by Gabrielle Guichard edited by Lynne Hand

When it comes to learning a foreign language, many people wonder if they will be able to memorize enough vocabulary. But this question never occurs about their mother tongue, and yet, it was a foreign language once. Nevertheless, among all the questions that new parents ask, no doctor has ever heard: "Will my baby be able to learn my language?" Be honest. Do you know all the words of your mother tongue? The answer is: "no".

New words, and new ways of using old words, appear every day. Twenty years ago, who would have been able to understand a sentence like this: "Click here to download your digital book"? Nobody. You never stop acquiring new vocabulary and you never know how long you will need it. Do you still use "Tomagotchi"?

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When you don't know the exact name of a thing, you don't hesitate to call it "a whatsit".  Why do you think foreigners do otherwise? (The French word for a whatsit is machin. That's a good start! You already know the word that can virtually replace any other!)

Sometimes, you have the word on the tip of your tongue... and it sticks there! But you do know this phenomenon and don't think that it is due to a bad memory. You should not give this phenomenon more importance in the language you are learning than in your mother tongue.

You need to learn only 2000 or so basic words to be able to create any phrase you need. You can't avoid some work in order to learn these essential words and all the more if you want to learn quickly. And before you contemplate buying into any method, be sure it is right for you.  It isa not as wise to rely on any method based upon mnemotechnics.  The first words seem very easy lo learn; so, you buy the course; but then you discover quickly, though too late, that a dozen words later, it is all the more difficult to learn a new word when you have also to learn the trick to memorize it.

The next topic will be about lists of words: why they work and why they don't.

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About the Author: Gabrielle Guichard, a French teacher who can be reached on GabrielleGuichard.com and listened to on FrenchPodcasting.com