Learning a language sounds almost as mammoth a task as writing a book. Well, when think about it, it is a pretty big task. We’re not just learning the lines of a poem or something, we are learning the whole package of a brand new language: vocabulary, grammar, punctuation and all! But if we make the effort to learn a second language, the experience will be beyond rewarding. Not only will we be able to tell people, ‘’I’m bilingual!’’ We’ll also be able to communicate with locals the next time we visit the country. How cool is that?
Even if we don’t want to become fluent in our chosen language, it would be nice to know a few phrases the next time we visit, let’s say, France or Italy. Imagine the look of surprise on the waiter’s face when we order our entire meal in fluent French?
But how exactly do we get to the stage where we can utter more than ‘’oui’’ or ‘’bonjour’’ and actually get understood? Let’s just say it takes a bit of practice and patience – something not everyone has but needs in order to learn any language. Still, there are quick routes we can use to learn a language fast. We’re not saying we’re going to speak fluent French in a week or anything, but we’ll definitely get beyond ‘’Bonjour.’’
No app, podcast or exercise book can help us pick up a new language if we don’t put in the time. It would be no different if we were learning to play a piano. Time is required in order to learn anything. It won’t come naturally, despite what some people may say. We all have to put in the hours if we want to see results. Even something manageable like 30 minutes per day is better than one hour per week. In fact, it’s better if we do learn in short blocks of time because our brain absorbs the information better.
If we only practise once or twice a week, we’re not going to be speaking much of any language anytime soon. To see visible results fast, we really need to put in the time. The more time to commit to our new language, the faster we’ll be able to speak it more proficiently. A lot of people give up because they don’t see the results they desire fast enough. They slam down the learning book and sigh, ‘’I’m no good at learning languages.’’ Correct, nobody is good at learning languages if they give up after only a few lessons. Famous musicians didn’t become pros after a couple of days. Remember that!
As helpful as learning books can be in learning a language, apps can make it more interactive and more fun. Our brains can soak up the information far faster from an app than a book because we’re more involved in the learning process. And because most people are on their phones all the time anyway, it’s easy to remember to tap the app for our language learning session. Duolingo and Bilingual are some of the best language apps out there. Don’t ignore Google Translate either. It’s a great tool to learn phrases on the go and to hear the correct way of saying them.
Immersing ourselves in the multimedia of our new language will help us faster than any textbook. In fact, a lot of people credit Friends for helping them learn English. Taking into account most of us love watching TV, it’s not a bad way to learn a new language, is it?
‘’Turn on the TV on a channel in the language you want to learn, leave it on the background while you are cooking or busy around the house, that way, you pick up so much unconsciously of that language. It really helps,’’ says Rachel Smets, university language professor and TEDX speaker.
Just surrounding ourselves with the culture of the country whose language we’re learning can help us a great deal in learning the language. Whether it’s TV or music, everything can help. In fact, consuming a country’s multimedia can make it all a lot more interactive rather than having to stick our head into a textbook all day.
Keep listening to the music of that country and you’ll soon start picking up some of the words. Before we know it, we’ll be singing along to the songs. Basically just immersing ourselves into the country’s culture and multimedia can help no end with learning the language.
Attempting to read a book in a foreign language can be a challenge, but the first book we start with doesn’t have to be on the same level as something like War and Peace. It can be something simple like an illustrated children’s book. Reading in the language can help us gain a deeper knowledge of the sentence structure and enable us to read, write and speak more fluently.
While we can learn about grammar and all the rest from a textbook, the mistake most of us make when learning a new language is not immersing ourselves enough in the culture.
We know speaking out loud in another language that we’re still not so confident in can be embarrassing. We all have that perfectionist devil inside of us! But it is necessary that we open our mouths and speak, otherwise we’ll never progress. We can spend hours learning from a textbook, but if we’re not going to speak when we meet native speakers, all our hard work has gone to waste. Of course, we’re not going to get everything right at first. Everybody, after all, has to start somewhere. Just keep going and trying and the people to whom we’re talking will appreciate our efforts and maybe even help us. The more we speak in our goal language, the easier it will be.
It is good to practice with ourselves and with non-natives who speak the same language of our affection, but there’s nothing more beneficial than practicing with a native speaker. This is the most authentic way to learn a language. “When I help people with languages I focus on conversations first,” says Smets. “I've seen it over and over again that people first spend time and MONEY on grammar courses, to then become completely confused and scared to speak.” Try free language exchange websites to practice with a native speaker to improve on and gain more confidence in one’s language skills.
Start getting creative by making your own flashcards. There are different types of flashcards we can make, but the easiest ones are the ones with the word on one side and the picture on the other. We can also find these online and print them off to save ourselves the extra work. Flashcards are a fun and fast way to learn a language without getting bogged down with a textbook. It won’t be something we dread each day, rather it will be something we look forward to because it’s fun and interactive.
It is a known fact that we learn words easier when they’re placed together with a picture.
Ever heard of that language-learning tactic where we place a sticky note on every item in our home, so we see them each day? It’s actually a common ploy for language learning. The only problem is, we have to deal with the fact that our home is now covered in neon-colored sticky notes. Oh well, it will be worth it in the end when we can order home supplies without speaking a word of English.
The sticky notes method works because we are immersed in the words all the time and we connect the words to their meanings easier. It’s got to be worth a try, right?
If we keep reading, writing, talking and even thinking in English, our automatic responses will always be in English. It will be hard to speak naturally in another language, because we’ll always be translating rather than just speaking.
Of course, it is not always going to be possible to speak zero English every day, but if we at least minimize it a little and focus more on our learning language, the difference will be noticeable.
Try to start thinking in the new language. Instead of translating from one language to another, begin reading, writing, talking, listening and thinking all in the new language.
There’s something motivating about learning new things with a partner. We are less likely to give up when we are learning a new language with a partner. One of us is bound to be more motivated than the other, so if one of us does get off track, the other can prompt us to continue and move forward. That’s why we always see friends or couples together at the gym. The super motivated people of the world go alone, but others need that extra push, that good enough reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Just make sure your chosen partner isn’t a couch potato who has less motivation than you.
Travel a lot? Take your study materials with you? In fact, the plane is the perfect opportunity to practice our language because we don’t have much to do up there anyway. This makes even more sense if we’re on our way to the country whose language we’re studying. We get a chance to brush up on our phrases while we have those free hours in the sky.
As nice as it would be to only have to learn it once and be fluent, it is not possible to maintain our language skills without practice. We must practice in our chosen language, each day if possible, to achieve our goal of speaking it well.
One way to get us motivated is by setting a target, a goal to work towards. Now, that doesn’t mean we’ll be fluent in a couple of months, but if we really wanted to and we put in the hard work, it wouldn’t be impossible to speak well and make conversations in another language. Just remember that if our goal is to speak well in only a few months, we must devote more hours to language learning.
We can’t expect to speak well after a couple of months of learning one or two hours per week. We need to be immersing ourselves into the language: learning on our apps, reading books, watching TV, and listening to music all in that language.
We’re not going to learn any language if we have zero fun doing it. It’s a known fact that we learn easier when we’re having fun.
So let’s make our language learning sessions more enjoyable. We can do this by watching movies or reading books in our new language. Another way is by turning up the volume and dancing to local music – sing a little if that helps. Meeting native speakers is another fun way to improve our language skills. We can make friends, go for coffee, have dinners or play games – the list is endless.
It’s just important that we get out there, get more interactive and stop letting our inhibitions get in the way.
Everybody does it when learning a new language. It’s normal. Is it acceptable? Well, it’s not exactly unacceptable but if we were going to give you a word of advice, we’d tell you it is smarter to just speak and worry about the grammar later. The grammar needs to be learned, there’s no way around that. However, if we only focus on and worry about grammar from the beginning, we’re never going to dive in and make conversation. Thus, we are never going to learn the target language well.
Start by learning words and grammar as well as you can, but don’t let the nitpicky rules prevent conversation with native speakers.
We spoke about setting goals earlier. Goals are a good way to get us motivated and to start learning. Without goals, we lack structure and that doesn’t help us succeed in language learning. However, setting too ambitious goals can also be detrimental in our success. So many people get so disappointed when, after a couple of months of learning, they still can’t understand native speakers when they visit the country of their target language. Even if we practice every day, it is not always possible to speak and understand fluently. It is still new to us, remember! We are still beginners.
A study-heavy approach to language-learning might sound the smartest route to becoming fluent fast. Wrong! It’s actually better to study less, not more.
Slowing down our language learning process will not only help us learn it better, but faster too. The problem with learning hundreds of words per week is that our brains can’t absorb all the new information. As phenomenal as our brains are, they can only take in a certain amount of information in a certain amount of time.
Drowning our brain with foreign words is the fastest way to forget all of them fast. It’s better if we can learn fewer words each day, but remember them well by focusing on them more.
Classic novels tend to be outdated in terms of language. Read a Jane Austen or Charles Dickins and you’ll see that the language used isn’t what we’d use today. It’s no different in another language. Most of the time, the books were translated around the same time as the original, so even ‘’Pride and Prejudice’’ in Spanish would sound more archaic than we’d expect.
It’s far better if we find a more modern book where the language is up to date. We might get some strange looks if we start speaking in a language heard only in the 1800s. It’s best to stick to modern material!
Memorizing lists of words is effective, but let’s be honest: boring. It’s not that this method of learning doesn’t work, it just sucks all the motivation out of bothering to turn up for a language class or our own personal language learning lesson at home. By incorporating fun ways of learning, like using apps, flashcards, sticky notes, watching TV and listening to music, we will learn easier, faster and most importantly, stay motivated. We can still use lists, just less of them. Actually, switching things up and changing things around can make language learning a lot easier and more effective. Variety always helps!
References: gq.com, bbc.com, fluent-forever.com, babble.com, lifehack.org