Keeping an open mind
There’s an interesting post over on fluentin3months about the importance of keeping an open mind when in foreign countries. Benny the Irish Polyglot explains how he found Parisiens arrogant, rude and unfriendly the first time he was in Paris, and how they were discouraging about his efforts to learn French. He became convinced that all Parisiens were like this and refused to accept any evidence to the contrary for quite a few years.
When he returned to Paris recently though, he was determined to get a good impression of the Parisiens, and found that when he tuned into their ways to doing things rather than expecting them to behave as people might in other countries, he got on with them much better. They have different attitudes to service, for example – the customer isn’t always right – and getting angry with people for not doing what you believe to be their job won’t help. Taking an interest in people also helps.
Keeping an open mind is useful not just when visiting a foreign country, but also when learning foreign languages. Each language has it’s own ways of doing things and of describing the world. They may be quite different to those in your native language, and may appear unnecessarily complicated, strange, ridiculous or even wrong to you. Perhaps this is because you’re not used to them. It helps if you approach such differences with an open mind and accept them, rather than trying to fight them. It may also help if try what Benny suggests – ignore difficult aspects of the language until you’ve learnt quite a bit of it and had quite a lot of exposure to it. Then when you try to learn them, they’ll seem more familiar and less scary.
When I was learning German at school I thought the case system was difficult and found it hard to learn. I didn’t really see the point of it or understand it either – why do you need so many different words for the (der, die, das, dem, den, etc) when English manages with just one, for example? Since then I’ve studied quite a few other languages, some with noun case markings, others without, and have a better understanding of how they work.