Okay, this post will not teach you how to fake any foreign language. But by posing the challenge itself – by asking “what would it take to pretend you can speak a foreign tongue?” – you can learn a lot about how languages are used, interpreted and learned. So let’s get to it – here are four secrets to sounding good in all languages (even those you can’t speak yet!)
More Than Words: What does a language feel like?
Our set text for today is this video:
Make of that what you will – but there is one key lesson to be learned here: you can speak gibberish and still sound like English. Which, by analogy, means that it’s possible with most other languages. And this, for the language learners, means that there’s a lot more than just words and grammar to any foreign language. Today, I want to focus on four of these qualities.
This one should be familiar to most language learners – it’s the one that baffles and confuses almost all of us! There are some useful techniques and approaches for learning pronunciation, and it’s worth it: a consistent and well-developed accent is a good starting point to making your language come alive. It’s never too late to work on good pronunciation – and it needn’t be hard either. The difference it can make is astounding.
For some, this will fall under the “pronunciation” category. For me, it’s more a question of prosody here – the melody of the language. It’s the reason why the video above “sounds” like casual English.
Listen to the way words, phrases and sentences are stressed in the language you’re learning. By imitating larger chunks of speech and focusing on the intonation of entire sentences, you can sound more “native-like” – even if the vocabulary or grammar fails you sometimes. Native speakers don’t always find the right words or use the proper grammar – but they will have a very strong intuition about what “sounds foreign!”
A lot of the language you use every day is conventional. Languages have phrases for most recurrent occasions – words or sentences you say every day, or most days. You can probably catch a phrase or two in the video above!
This, again, is a good way of blending in even more: once your vocabulary is up to scratch, and your pronunciation and intonation no longer give you away, it’s time to work on your conventional language. That way, you won’t sound like Mr Logic every time you go and buy groceries…
The folks above are actors. Which means that if they got paid to play zombies, they would probably do so – and admirably well.
Language learners could learn a thing or two from actors. Isn’t it true that by adopting a language, you adopt another identity? This thought is terrifying to some and liberating to others. Whatever you make of it, there comes a time when a foreign language no longer feels foreign. A time when you can have a conversation and think “I belong here.”
This feeling works wonders for all aspects of language learning. It cements your memory, relaxes you when you pronounce unfamiliar words – and helps you enjoy the process of learning more.
It is crucial, therefore, to find ways of accessing this feeling early on. Even if it’s a small role-play or a speaking exercise. Even if it’s just one email sent to a customer. Just one telephone call. “I belong here” is the feeling you want to go for!
Have you ever faked a language, guys? How did it go?
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