Language learning has evolved a long way from the pedantic method used some time in our own generation. That was the time when we had to be careful about the ending of verbs or nouns in learning a foreign language like Spanish or Latin. It was a boring experience for most of us.
Today as we live in this global village, a single community where everyone is at easy reach through technology, language learning is almost an urgency. We can no longer live in a world where we only know our own language, and not care about how the other peoples in the world communicate with one another in speech and writing.
Many of us have already the experience of opening a website whose language is different from ours. I have opened websites in French, Spanish, and Russian without my knowing ahead of time that those were the languages in those websites. I thought they were all in English.
If we have to do profitable business with our neighbor nations we have to understand their language. For example, Mandarin being the language used by most number of people today, we would do well to know this language to do business with people speaking this language. And of course those speaking Mandarin would do well to learn English, the second most used language in the world today.
With the increase in leisure time and money some go around the world in search of new sights and sounds. These are the tourists. They too want to learn the basics of the language of the people they are going to visit, even just saying the customary greetings and the language of the market.
But it is not only for business and tourism that we need to learn another language. Language learning is necessary for universal understanding and peace. When we learn a language of a people we necessarily learn its culture. Here we discover similarities and diversities with other nations. We learn that love is a universal value. We learn that in other countries there are human males who love more than one female, while in other cultures there are human females who love more than one male. There are diverse practices of marriage, but all built on the same value of love.
There are still vestiges of the old way of language learning, especially in our schools. This was the way I learned Spanish, by memorizing the sounds and forms of the Spanish words. In my high school I had three years of learning Spanish as a subject. In college I spent more than 400 hours of studying Spanish in the classroom. Today I can only read and speak simple Spanish. I cannot use it to carry a conversation. The reason for that is because I learned Spanish by memorizing the forms of the Spanish words, but did not really learn to speak it as fluently as English.
The way of language learning by memorizing forms of verbs, nouns, adjectives, pronouns and grammatical rules is still being used today in formal classes in colleges. But there are signs that this is not going to stay for long because of the recent new trends in language learning.
For one, there are now many courses on language learning in the Internet, some of them are free, at least for the fundamentals. This was not true 20 years ago. Of course these free courses have ads inserted here and there with options to upgrade for a cost. But if one is really interested and has the time and the Internet connection, language learning is no longer a big problem, unlike before where we have to pay tuition and miscellaneous fees to learn a language in school.
Secondly, there are now video and audio lessons on language learning that can be accessed through the Internet. Before we only had the textbooks and the dictionaries. We were never sure if our teacher pronounced the foreign words correctly since he or she was also not a native of that foreign language.
Thirdly, we have now translations with the click of our computer mouse. This was unthinkable before. We have talking dictionaries. We type a word in English, choose the language we want a translation of this word in, and hit the return key and we hear the word in the other language. For now we have this kind of dictionary for French, German, English, Italian, Latin, and Spanish.
We also now have the Virtual Personal Interpreters (VPI). These are software translators that can translate phrases and sentences. You can also hear how the words, phrases or sentences are pronounced by native speakers. At present there are VPI for English users in Spanish, German, Italian, and French. You can take a look at these talking dictionaries and VPI at http://www.logoi.com/languages.html.
We can now learn languages through cell phones, mp3 players and other gadgets. We can have live online tutors with the use of Skype.
Language learners can now also practice to speak other languages online with partners using other languages. You help somebody practice her English, and your partner on the other side of planet earth helps you practice your Spanish. You can do this on your PC, laptop or cell phone.
Through the Web we can now listen to the radio stations broadcasting in languages foreign to us, such as Spanish. We can also look at TVs using foreign languages. This way we get the proper accent and intonation in learning another language.
Language learning indeed has gone a long way from the pedantic classroom style of instruction.