Growing up in my home country made it easy for me to be exposed to two languages: Malay and English. My parents spoke to me in Malay and my siblings were speaking English to each other. As a little toddler who was easily swayed by her older siblings, I began to speak English too.
Therefore, I had two languages that I could speak by the time I was 10 years old. It was easier for me to adopt these two languages — most probably because of the critical age hypothesis.
It wasn’t only until I entered middle school where I was exposed to a foreign language: Japanese. It was difficult. My brain could not cooperate in trying to digest this new language. I downright rejected it, almost began to hate it, but it had nothing to do with the teacher. She was really nice and very helpful. However, I had no interest and the motivation disappeared.
In university, I was given four choices of foreign languages as my elective: Mandarin, Korean, German and French. I chose French. I didn’t know the exact reason then, but all I knew was that I was interested in the language and its culture. I spent two and a half years studying the foreign language and I was constantly trying to figure out why I continued to study French, but abandoned the ever growing popularity of Japanese (blame their cool animation). At the same time, I was constantly trying to figure out what my motivation was.
In those two and a half years, I had done a list of things subconsciously that made my motivation run high. I’ll start with the easiest and, of course, the following points apply to any language and not just French!
Someone gave me Alizée to listen to one day and I was entranced by her music. My playlist was suddenly filled with Alizée the next day, but my curiosity got the best of me and I nearly blew my MP3 by stuffing in so much French pop, hip-hop and rap. By repeatedly listening to music everywhere I went, I began to get the hang of the weird way the tongue contorts when trying to pronounce French words as I sang along with the music.
TV Shows and Movies
I stacked those French movie DVDs in my room like nobody’s business. People thought I was crazy. I probably was. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching the movies and learned the language along the way. It was profoundly rewarding, when I reached my second year of learning the language, that I did not have to rely on subtitles as much as I did in my first semester.
Thinking In French
Try to make the voice in your head speak in French. Counting the number of apples you have in your fridge in French. Think about what to wear in French. Curse silently when you hit your toe against the foot of the table in French.
Speaking In French
It’s difficult if you don’t have a group of friends who share the same language as you, but I made friends in French class and we would sometimes hang out outside of school. It made it easier for me to improve the language more in each passing conversation.
Traveling to French-speaking countries
Where else can you get the best language education than the actual country that started using the language? Whether it’s a holiday or an educational exchange trip, immersing yourself in the culture is worth it to expand your knowledge in the language. It is gratifying when you’re able to keep up a conversation with a native speaker. Bonus points if they praise you for your pronunciation.
I genuinely enjoyed the language; I did not reject it at all. I was interested in the language because it sounded beautiful. It’s so subjective because, why couldn’t I say the same thing for Japanese? There are those who would fight me for this and say that Japanese is a beautiful language too, but why was I so adamant in rejecting the language?
It all goes back to the interest; specifically, my internal interest in French. There was something in me that was screaming out “I LOVE FRENCH”. Sadly, I could not say the same for Japanese and that was the huge difference. Internal motivation eased my journey in language learning. Arguably, it is also the most sustainable way to stay motivated in the long-term.