By Kathleen Murray
IF YOU’RE TRAVELLING to a foreign
country but feel intimidated by learning the
language, take heart. Some linguists believe
that struggles with a new tongue may have
less to do with geography and verb conjugations than the myths that psych us out.
Whether you want to speak well enough
to order dinner on vacation or you have a
more long-term goal, are any of these myths
holding you back?
Myth 1: You can’t learn a language
when you’re older.
Wrong. Age can bring an increased ability
to focus, better analytical skills and more
motivation, notes Costco member Katherine
Rehner, a professor in the Department of
Language Studies at the University of Toronto
Mississauga. “Children have an easier time
with accents, so it can be more difficult for
adult learners to sound like native speakers.
But it’s not impossible,” she says. “Some adults
will even get the pronunciation. … What’s
important is a willingness to sound foreign.”
Indeed, fear is more likely to hold back
mature students than anything else. In a study
of Asian immigrants in Canada, for example,
Eastern Michigan University researcher Wendy
Wang found that older English learners attrib-
uted slow progress to declining memory even
though comparisons with younger students
showed no measurable differences in retention.
Myth 2: You need a special gift to
learn a language.
No, you need persistence and a bit of
humility, says Benny Lewis, an Irish polyglot and language consultant at fluentin
3months.com. “Some people do learn more
quickly than others,” he says. “But when you’re
looking for some magic language gene, you
don’t see all the time these people put in, all the
¡Sí!, se puede! (Yes, you can!)
WHETHER YOUR GOAL is to
learn Italian for a summer trip,
brush up on your business
Chinese or get the kids started
in Spanish, there’s no shortage
of language resources. In fact,
your biggest challenge may be
sifting through them to find
what works for you.
• Rosetta Stone, rosetta
stone.com, offers an immersion
course that includes links to
teaching sessions with a native
• Rocket Languages, rocket
languages.com, taught in
English, is useful for travellers.
• Babbel, babbel.com, provides inexpensive monthly subscription courses.
• Fluenz, fluenz.com, fea-
tures an English-speaking guide.
• Living Language, living
language.com, provides 30-min-
• Duolingo, duolingo.com, a
great free website developed by
Carnegie Mellon University, asks
learners for help in translating.
• BBC Languages, bbc.
• Byki, byki.com
• Duolingo, duolingo.com
• Find a native speaker on
italki.com. For as little as $3 an
hour you can work one-on-one
via Skype with the instructor of
your choice. You can also find
free language partners through
Some learners supplement
study by watching television programs or favourite movies in their
target language. There is also a
growing body of research that
suggests less outgoing students
can improve their language skills
through gaming—playing World
of Warcraft, for example, in
German or Chinese.—KM
The Costco Connection
Costco members will find language books
and software at select Costco locations, as
well as software games and movies with
alternate language options.
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