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Learn Another Language

Je m’appele Ipstenu. Je viens des Etats-Unis.

At WordCamp San Diego, someone asked how he, as the only English support tech, could help his coworkers learn English. I gave an answer (watch sitcoms with closed captioning on and try some software) but then I took the opportunity to remind everyone that was a native English speaker to learn a second language.

Many people have thanked me for saying that publicly since then. For those who missed it, here are my thoughts on why and how we should do this.

Learn Perspective Learn Perspective

All the BS about opening your neural pathways aside, it’s a good idea to learn another language. I picked French because my mother, father, and step-mother speak it. It’s one of the most commonly spoken languages, it’s useful in most of Europe. But more than just being able to communicate more with family, learning French puts communication in perspective.

As I learned at WordCamp Tokyo, I need to phrase myself clearly and simply when I’m speaking via a translator, or with someone who does not speak English natively. Learning French is also giving me a great deal of sympathy for the people who get emails from me about Plugins. Here I have to talk about things in technical terms for which there are no decent simpler terms. When I connect that I’m talking to someone who’s ESL, I change how I explain things to try and make it easier to understand.

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Learn For Fun Learn For Fun

I sometimes set my phone to French. I watch movies in French (with subtitles). I read comics in French. Doing those things, forcing immersian for fun, makes me think harder and process. My phone in French lasted a brief moment before I realized I didn’t know how to ask what the weather was («Quel temps fait-il»). Having to both ask and listen to Siri in French showed me where the major gaps were in my skills. I have trouble thinking in French. It’s been a couple years since I studied it, though, and I only started studying again in earnest in February.

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Learn With Software Learn With Software

We’re techs. I use Duolingo which is free and lets me ‘play’ in French on my iPad. I take breaks, I sit on the couch and give it 10 minutes of my brain, and I struggle with one stupid section.

See? I’m learning French!

I’m not very good, but it lets me keep trying. And I can use my iPhone, iPad, or browser. I can see where I suck and where I’m great. I can go back and take a test over again all I want, and no one cares but me.

Having also used Rosetta Stone, I find this far less frustrating. Also did you know on the Mac keyboard you can hold down a letter to find the version with accent marks?

Demonstration of how it looks when you can select your accented E

Cool, right?

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Learn The Point Learn The Point

English isn’t the majority language.

WordPress (and many other CMS tools) are pushing Internationalization.

Internationalization will be a big focus of the coming year, including fully-localized plugin and theme directories on language sites and embedded on dashboard in version 4.1, which is coming out December 10th.
— Matt Mullenweg: State of the Word 2014

Simply put, if you’re not getting yourself ready now, you’ll regret it later. Pick a language. You won’t get better until you start.

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