Gerome Romero said his native language is Tagalog, but he also knows Pangasinan, which is the dialect of his parents who are from the northern Philippines. In addition, he said he can speak English, Spanish, Haitian Creole and basic Mandarin.
“Constant practice is the main thing,” Romero, a sophomore biochemistry major from the Philippines, shared. He said to learn a language, it typically takes six hours of practice every day.
Six hours may seem like a lot, but bilingual BYU–Hawaii students said practicing comes in lots of exciting different forms, including watching soap operas, listening to music and traveling. Daichi Manabe, a sophomore from Japan majoring in business management, said learning a language “is fun” and “not like a textbook.”
Feast on the word
On his mission to Concepcion, Chile, Romero said he was assigned to learn Haitian Creole and Spanish because many immigrants from Haiti go to Chile in an area where he served. He practiced speaking with the native speakers and decided to read the Book of Mormon in Haitian Creole, he said.
If people want to learn a new language, Romero advised them to “Read the Book of Mormon.” He said he read the Book of Mormon a few times in English and Spanish while he learned Haitian Creole on his mission. “Even though I didn't understand it when I started, while I read, I got better.” He said after he had finished reading the book, he thought, “I'm really communicating now.”
People learning a language shouldn't feel embarrassed about messing the language or the pronunciation up because the native speakers will see their effort and love them more, he shared.
For advanced speakers, Romero suggested they not let the thought “I'm good enough” stop them from learning more, but he said to keep practicing. During the day, he said he notes different grammatical mistakes he hears or says and studies them to figure out how to correct them. He said his rule is, “If it doesn't sound right, it is incorrect.”
Sometimes he even hears native English speakers speaking with incorrect grammar and takes note of it. For example, he said he hears “He don't” and “She don't” from many of his friends.
Romero said he also listened to music to learn English to help him understand people even when they were speaking quickly. He added he typically listened to Sam Smith, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran and Eminem. He said listening to rap songs especially helped him practice understanding quick English.
Nadia Nebeker, a senior from Sao Paulo, Brazil majoring in TESOL, said her parents own language schools all over Brazil. She said she attended Wizard Language School in Sao Paulo, where she learned English.
To learn her target language, Nebeker said she read the scriptures and watched “chick flicks” like “Gossip Girl” and “One Tree Hill.”
Nebeker said moving to Utah for a year in high school as a foreign exchange student helped her to become more fluent in English. She said although the classroom is a safe environment, being around people who spoke only English put her in what she called “survival mode.”
The only way she could communicate was in English, so she couldn't add in Portuguese words to explain things like she could in Brazil. She said in just one week of living in Utah she was able to communicate with the people around her.
Not everyone gets an opportunity to move countries for complete immersion, Nebeker said, but people can find others on social media who are native speakers of their target language and practice communicating.
She said more than anything, language learners have to be persistent and try several different learning methods to find out which learning strategy works best for them.
YouTube language academy
Daichi Manabe, a business management sophomore from Japan, said if someone enjoys the language, they have a 100% chance of learning to speak it.
The most helpful tool he used to learn English in Japan was YouTube, Manabe shared. He said he liked to watch prank videos where he was exposed to American culture and slang. Watching reactions to the pranks especially helped him because in Japan, they don't say words like “Wow," he said.
If he could give one tip to learn a language, Manabe suggested people learn a song in their target language. He said without even knowing the words or looking up the lyrics, he would memorize songs by writing what the words sound like in Japanese. Since learning English, Manabe said he has studied Spanish and Hawaiian. He said he's memorized a song in each of those languages to get a good feel of his target language.
Manabe said when he was 18, he went on a trip with his friends to Taiwan. There, he stayed in a lodge with many different international young adults like himself, who were all conversing in English. Though he'd studied English in school, Manabe said he couldn't understand. He said this caused him to want to communicate like them.
He said, “There's not a place to speak English in Japan.” A lot of their English classes are focused on reading and writing, so he said he knew if he wanted to get fluent, he needed to put the work in himself. To develop his speaking skills, Manabe said he would talk to himself in the mirror in English.
Four years after his Taiwan trip, Manabe is studying at BYUH, where he said he speaks English every day as a canoe pusher at the Polynesian Cultural Center. He said learning English was his main motivation in coming to BYUH. “I knew if I stayed in Japan, I would not speak English.”