The Brazilian market is sizzling and you want a piece of the action. Or perhaps it’s the other BRIC, Russia, that’s lighting up on your radar. But you can’t speak the language spoken in your markets of choice.
What are your first steps?
Yes, good listening skills are critical in learning correct pronunciation and for not standing out with a heavy foreign accent. If you learn incorrect pronunciation from day one and continue speaking with a strong foreign accent, it will be extremely difficult, and costly, to diminish your accent later on. If you’re doing business in a foreign country, people will be more receptive to you if you sound like them. You are traveling for business and want to earn people’s trust and business, so do your best to make it easy for them to understand you. By listening to native speakers converse in your target language, the auditory cortex in your brain is getting used to the frequencies of sounds of that language.
Each language has a range of frequencies, like a radio dial. If you are parked at the “English” station and you try to emit the nasal vowels of Russian and Portuguese without having become accustomed to those funny sounds, you will fail miserably. According to the French otolaryngologist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis, you can’t reproduce a sound you can’t hear. You need to move your radio dial to the Portuguese or Russian stations first to hear those languages at their frequencies and only after some time will you be able to articulate those sounds which you’ve never heard in your own language. Listen to native speakers. Does it seem like they are reading a phone number or rattling of a list of numbers? Are they angry? Happy? Listen to the words spoken to you and listen to your intuition. Find podcasts, TV programs, radio programs or other media and just listen.
Music activates more parts of your brain than language does. Use foreign language songs to help you learn the rhythm and vocabulary of your new language. Find songs in your target language that you like. It doesn’t matter if at first you don’t understand the lyrics. Relax and close your eyes. Lay down or sit in a comfortable position. Once you do learn grammar and vocabulary, it will be much easier to remember words and grammatical patterns if you already have exposure to the language.
Think of your target language like a puzzle with a picture of Brazil. If you’ve already seen a map of Brazil, it will be much easier for you to put the puzzle together because you know what the shape of Brazil looks like. The same goes for language learning. If you’ve already heard the language spoken or sung, it is much easier to arrange the puzzle pieces of grammar and vocabulary together than if someone just gave you a textbook and told you to learn the language. Once you become more comfortable with the song, write down the lyrics as you listen. Find the translation of the song lyrics in English on the Internet. Now you know what the song is saying. Read the original lyrics as you hear the song. When you hear songs in your head, you usually hear the music in its original form, without your accent. Relax, close your eyes, and play the song in your mind.
Written by Susanna Zaraysky, the author of Language is Music: Over 70 Fun & Easy Tips to Learn Foreign Languages. Susanna speaks seven languages (Russian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Bosnian/Serbo-Croatian) and she had her own television program on Univision teaching English to Spanish speakers via English songs.