What My Nephew Taught Me About Learning Languages

This post has been chillin’ in draft limbo for a few months now.  It’s time to release it.  Actually, it should’ve been released a while ago.  But I’m finding it even more relevant now that I’ve switched up my study habits.  But at the same time, I don’t really want to publish it, because it’s old news.  But then again, people just starting out could possibly benefit from this, which is the entire point of this blog.  I’m so indecisive (or am I?)

Though I have about sixteen years on him, my nephew recently reminded me of something very important about learning languages.

It’s one of those events that I specifically described over here. You know, the super obvious thing that, for some reason, makes everything more clear.

this is the part where I talk about my sister. wait, what?

Just read on.  Me and my sister are total opposites in many aspects:  Personality, height, current rap music tolerance levels, but a huge difference lies in our usage of language.  I seldom use slang, and I can count the amount of times I’ve used a curse word on one hand.  My sister on the other hand, well, remember where I said we’re total opposites in some aspects?  Long story short, my sister drops something in the kitchen.  An expletive is released.  My nephew is within hearing range.  Hilarity/Awkwardness ensues.

but here’s the interesting thing…

We all know that kids at that age repeat anything they hear.  Funny thing is, my nephew didn’t repeat it right away.  He only repeated it when he dropped/spilled something.  That’s when the boulder hit me.  Learning vocabulary is not nearly as effective if it is not learned in context. I’d say the context in which you use a word is just as important as the definition.  Learn both.  Better yet, learn the definition through context.

example time!

I saw a fresh hyrtueo in a shop yesterday.  It looked like it could be good, so I bought it.  I put it in my fridge, but it spoiled after only 3 days.  I wanted to try making a new recipe using hyrtueo as a soup base.  What the heck is hyrtueo?  I don’t know, but I know it’s edible.  I know it spoils quickly, even if refrigerated.  I know its most likely a liquid, or used in combination with liquids.

How’s that for random?


Next time you’re reading in your target language and come across a “hyrtueo”, try to find out what it means without finding out what it is.  It might take a little longer than looking it up, but, speaking from personal experience, it’ll probably stick in your head pretty well.  Besides, it’s not like you know the meaning of every word in your native language.  Even the ones you use.  Another topic, another post.

P.S. He doesn’t say it anymore.

Author: Koyami

I'm Koyami. I am a freelance Japanese-English Translator and I enjoy learning new skills and reading in my spare time. Current pursuits include juggling, piano, and collecting all of the 十二国記 books. Follow me on Twitter and Google+ for blog updates, my Japanese word of the day, and more!