So you want to go about learning a new foreign language. Great! It’s an extremely valuable and important skill to have nowadays, and it can be used in far more ways than you’d imagine. There are many ways to learn another language; none of which are necessarily better than the others, rather, they all have their own advantages and disadvantages.
With that in mind, this week we’ll be talking about five helpful things to keep in mind that can apply to whichever learning method you choose!
Accept that you will make mistakes
This is probably the most important AND one the most contested pieces of advice among students. Like any other skill, you WILL make mistakes when starting out learning a new language. As much as you might try to avoid it, it’s going to happen. The quicker you accept this, the quicker you can stop being embarrassed by your screw-ups and start learning from them.
Learning from your mistakes is one of the key aspects to becoming proficient in anything, and language is no exception. We shouldn’t be embarrassed or take offense to having our speech corrected, rather we should appreciate the fact that we’re being given an opportunity to improve our language skills and eliminate errors!
Focus on one discipline at a time (Reading, Writing, Speaking)
Think about how you learned your native tongue. Specifically, think about how you learned the three main disciplines in language: Reading, Writing, and Speaking. Like everyone, you learned first how to speak and understand the language, then (usually) how to read, then to write. Why is it then that many language programs try to teach all three at the same time?
There are many reasons as to why this method is not as effective as others, above all because it is not how we naturally learn and acquire language. Our brain is more accustomed to learning a new language in this “natural” order: speaking, reading then writing. Trying to learn all three at the same time can create all kinds of imbalances with regards to proficiency. For example, It is extremely common among those who learn a language in high school to say something like, “Yea, I have no problem reading or writing the language but I can’t speak it to save my life.” This was my situation as well being a native English speaker having learned Spanish in high school and college; I found that I had no confidence in my speech, but had no trouble at all expressing myself in writing or comprehending readings.
This has everything to do with spreading ourselves too thin. Focusing on one discipline allows our brains the time to properly identify and correct weaknesses. For example, you could spend a week focusing only on speech, then the next week on reading, then the next on writing. Think of it this way: would you rather spend one year on each discipline and be fully proficient in three years, or spend three years working on all the disciplines at the same time and be mediocre in all of them?
How you study matters more than how much you study
Or, in other words, Quality over Quantity. Studying a language for 3 hours a day means absolutely nothing if the way you study isn’t effective. You could spend a week learning every last word in a bilingual dictionary, but if you can’t actually use those words all you’ve done is waste a week.
Studying efficiently and intensely, like spending an hour a day learning the most commonly used words and phrases, important grammar rules, or nuances in pronunciation is far more useful in the long run. More importantly, it’s better to spend even as little as one week giving 100% than reviewing for 20 weeks giving only 50%. Try to structure your routines such that you’re constantly challenged, focused and giving it everything you have, even if that is for only 10 minutes a day. You’ll see that those 10 minutes of rigorous practice will start to add up very quickly.
A great tool for this is Anki, a flashcard app with specialized decks to help you with specific areas of study. You can use it on your PC, on your phone, and online as well! The decks are user created, which means you can create your own too! Most importantly, you can set timed goals to make sure you’re reviewing the language every day.
Above all, learning a foreign language is all about effort. You get out of it what you put in!
Practice as often as you can
The only way to solidify a language in your mind and become fluent is to USE it. It doesn’t really matter how you use it, just that you do, every day. If you are friends with a native speaker, practice speaking with them! Listen to music or watch TV in the language you’re studying! Any sort of native input is extremely beneficial (in fact, necessary) to the learning process, so any way you can get that input will help you become more proficient in the language.
Even if you cannot access any sort of native input, there are still ways to practice language every day. They say you’re not truly proficient in a language until you can think naturally in it; in fact it’s one of the most difficult things for a non-native speaker to do. So, practice it! Create conversations in your head, practice common phrases and try to actively think aloud in the language; the more you do, the faster you’ll see improvement. Like I mentioned above, you get out what you put in!
Learn how YOU learn
This is another key point to understand in order to learn anything, especially language. No mind is the same as another, and more importantly no mind learns the same. We have to learn how we learn best personally and apply that to learning a language. One method may be the “greatest thing ever” or claim that it’s the “best way to learn a language,” but what we have to ask ourselves is “is this the best way for me to learn a language?”
Learn how you learn languages best, and try to understand how it is that you acquire information. Figure out what works and what doesn’t. If that’s spending all day with your nose in a dictionary memorizing important vocabulary or only practicing common phrases, more power to you! Once you find what does work, the learning process becomes that much more enjoyable.
What are some other important things to keep in mind while learning a new language? What are some other ways you can practice language outside of your normal routine? Leave a comment below, and check back next week for another edition of Links Interpreters Love.
– William Cerkoney