asia · culture · education · employment · hong kong · languages · Uncategorized

How to learn a second language.

In this blog I talk about my experiences of learning languages. I speak English well, Cantonese fairly well and French and Japanese.

If you study languages, you may be away of terms such as “Native Speaker”, L1, L2, bilingual etc.

Found in a Korean Cafe in London.

Although my first language is English, I would class my second language as Cantonese. Yet, Cantonese is not the language that I learnt second. I spoke English from birth. In Primary and Secondary School I learnt French, then German. I dropped German, and took the French GCSE. Currently my French is okay. I managed to survive this summer in Strasbourg without causing any trouble.

At Sixth Form and University I was (and still am) interested in Japanese culture. I learnt Japanese as an additional study for four years. I could speak Japanese well, but struggled with writing the Kanji. I tried my best though! Later, my Japanese buddy assured me I was just fine, so I’ll take it!


I love Japanese film.

In University I spent time in Romania as an English teacher. Being in rural Romania forced me to learn the language (mostly self taught) from a dictionary, my knowledge of Latin (see root verbs) and friends.

I often screamed “Eu sunt vegetarien” after being presented with meat one to many times! To be honest, I learnt a great deal of it in the bars. My good friend Danny is fantastic at Romanian (and Russian) so when I travel back with him, it helps!

When I moved to Hong Kong, I took Cantonese lessons at a local college. I took four levels of the class over a period of two years. Of all the languages I have learnt, I probably speak Cantonese the best. This is because I have many local friends, use it at work, speak it with my husband’s family, and basically because I hear it all day.

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Wedding day gifts, including some notes in Chinese Characters for luck!

One of the best ways to learn a language is to move to that country, and I have many pals who have done so. If you can’t do this, then try to meet people from that country and get a free lesson! Failing that, sign up for night classes as I did.

If you want to maintain a language, make sure you are using all four language areas; reading, writing, speaking and listening. I have friends who post in French and Romanian, on Facebook. I enjoy attempting to translate what they are saying (usually La Multi Ani– Happy Birthday).

When I was in Romania, I got really into Romanian pop and euro-pop. Elena Gheorge is one of my very favourite singers, but I also like Inna, Antonia, Amna, Vunk, Voltaj etc. I also used to listen to KISS Fm Romania at work. For me, listening to the music really helps me absorb the vocabulary of a language.


Before my Japanese buddy moved away, we used to meet up and do an unofficial language exchange in McCafe. Sadly, we usually spoke in English so my Japanese did not improve significantly. Hubby and I watch a lot of J-Drama too, my favourite at the moment being Tokyo Tarareba Musume, (Tokyo What-if Women).

I don’t write too often in another language although my Hubby has taught me to write my name in Cantonese. It’s a start. When I took classes here, they taught us to write simple things, most of which I have forgotten.

My study of Japanese assisted me with recognising some of the Chinese characters found in Hong Kong. Mainly, I can read “train”, “University”, “toilet” and “water”. All extremely useful. Sigh. I must practice more.


Finally the secret to learning languages, is to go out and talk to people. Find native speakers, or friends who also want to practice. hosts hundreds of events for this very purpose. Or find yourself a lovely tutor. You will feel ridiculous and get things wrong (one incident in Iasi, trying to order a Lemon ice-cream- Romanians, you will know!) but give it a go! Fluency always beats accuracy, and keep on trying. With access to Youtube and the internet, there is no excuse.

Let me know where you are from and what languages you speak!


Thanks for reading!


Learn Languages for free on Futurelearn.


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