Enigma and the game of learning a language

How to approach learning a new language

Learning a language is like a game, not necessarily because it is easy, but because that should be the spirit when you attempt it.

Have you seen the film The Imitation Game? This is about Alan Turing, an English mathematician and computer scientist who worked for the Government at Bletchley Park and helped to crack intercepted coded messages, which helped to defeat the Nazis. Interestingly, what Turing says in the film is that cracking the code is just a game, a puzzle game.

But a language is also a code and my advice to you is to treat the learning like a game that you enjoy, be it Sudoku, crosswords, or any other puzzle.

One of the common problems of second language students is listening comprehension. The spoken language is very different from the written one, the utterance of words is affected by speed, volume, accent, and so on. However, if you are listening in my class you will be advised to play like Alan Turing. The listening is not simple, it has to have a natural flow so that students practise hearing the ‘real’ spoken language. At first, nothing makes sense, same as your jigsaw puzzle when you first start.

However, the idea is not to understand it all, in fact, any single word that you will understand is a bonus. After the first listening students start working on breaking the code.

In the film, Turing realises that all messages have some words in common, so this is his starting point, so if your audio track has prosecco in it, you might start to piece together that people are at a party or at the bar. During the second listening, you might capture other individual words and when added together it starts to make more sense; the more you listen and the more pieces you can put together to get the full picture. Before you know it all of the pieces start to fall into place. This is of course true for a single listening but also for all processes of learning a language.

Do not forget that it is just a game and enjoy the challenge of it while doing it.