I have a close friend who happens to be a language nut. When given the opportunity to study a double-degree at one prestigious university, he refused and transferred to an arguably lesser university, simply because the first one would not let him study Japanese and French at the same time. Language was his passion, and I respected his determination to go after what he wanted.
For a long time, however, I didn’t understand… why languages? I was content watching foreign films and anime with English subtitles, and listening to foreign music without an inkling as to what they were singing about. They could be insulting my mother and cursing nine generations of my family for all I knew, but that didn’t matter as long as the beat was catchy and produced good feels.
Then I began to learn about wine. So many regions, so many cultures, and so many languages. I immersed myself into this world as much as I could, and eventually I felt that to gain a deeper understanding, it would help if I understood the language.
How to learn though? With a flexible schedule it would be difficult to attend regular classes. So here’s what I’ve been doing so far:
I obtained an audio course and loaded it onto my MP3 player. For 30-60 minutes a day I would listen and learn, whether I was commuting to work or relaxing in a park.
The particular program I chose is the Michel Thomas Method. In it you are grouped with two virtual students, who take cues from the teacher, which gives you the sense of learning in a group environment rather than merely listening and memorising. Simply by pressing pause/play on cue you can give yourself time to think through responses.
I liked how, right at the beginning, they tell you not to even try to remember everything, but to just relax and absorb the material at your own pace. In this way you can more readily get a feel of the structure of the language first, then work on building your vocabulary later.
Speaking With People
I am fortunate that in my work there are many people who come from overseas, which will give me the opportunity to practise my speaking with them.
It seems, however, that moving to another country for some time would be a lot more effective. When I express my envy at how other people pick up English so quickly, they attribute it to being surrounded by English-speakers on a daily basis.
Until I can afford the time and resources to travel overseas, I will have to make do with what I have.
Most language classes and teachers will encourage you to read foreign language newspapers, magazines and journals. Unfortunately, in most cases the material would be quite droll and uninspiring.
So I returned to an old hobby – Manga. Even better, a Manga about wine.
Sadly the English translation stopped after a handful of volumes, however the French translation was still going strong. It was not available in local bookstores though, so I ordered the first two volumes on eBay, to be sent here from the UK.
I had read about Tim Ferriss using a Judo textbook as his gateway to understanding the Japanese language. To him, Judo was a passion, and the book provided him with the motivation needed to learn Japanese quickly to learn new techniques and throws.
I’m still far from being a fluent French speaker, but perfection has never been the goal.
Just increasing my awareness has been rewarding, and relating it back to the English language has helped me to be much more careful in the way I speak. Especially in a world as vast and murky as wine, precision and clarity should be honed and respected.
After French, I plan on moving onto Italian, then perhaps Spanish. You’ll notice these are the native languages of the largest wine-growing regions in the world, and that is exactly the reason why I have chosen them. But who knows, maybe in a few years, China will overtake them and I will have to brush up on my Mandarin.
Read more: If Wine Is Bullshit, So Is Everything Else