10 tips to learn a foreign language that actually work
Learning a foreign language is not an easy task but it definitely pays off to speak one
or more foreign languages. Unfortunately, sometimes after multiple learning sessions
we still cannot handle a basic conversation. When this happens, we usually decide
to give it more time and that’s about it. In reality, it might be that we have learning the
wrong way and this is what stops the progress…
Tip 1. Be where your target language skills are inevitable
You may think that the easiest option is to move to the country where the language you want to learn is spoken. This is a good way of thinking but might just not be enough. Imagine, you are learning German and move to Germany to put yourself in a situation where you would not be able to avoid speaking it. In fact, if you think about it, more than a half of Germany’s population speaks English, too. Guess, what will be a common case every time you have to interact with someone once you are there? Of course, our brain will look for the least uncomfortable and “safe” way to act. Therefore, there is no surprise you will be speaking English most of the time instead of practicing your German.
Still, let’s not put moving to a foreign country option to one side. If you, for example, get employed in Germany and at work the main language of communication is German both with colleagues and clients, then chances that you learn your languages of interest pretty quickly are higher.
Tip 2. Don’t try to sound perfect
This may have sounded controversial but… It will save you a lot of time if you start speaking right away but not wait until your level is “OK” and “there’s no shame to do it”. Making mistakes is not a crime and the more mistakes you make, the more you learn. An excessive willingness to stay accurate while formulating phrases and sentences might just result in the lack of fluency, whereas your primary aim is to be fluent. We all make mistakes sometimes in our native language, but people do understand us all the same. Accuracy cannot be just neglected, of course. But you should view it as something that will come over time.
Tip 3. Be creative
If changing a country of living doesn’t sound like an option to you – no problem. Just stop for a moment and think about what you can do already now to learn your target language faster. For example, you might want to change your mobile phone’s language settings, prepare some stickers with new words to-be-learned and stick them on your fridge, become a member in related Facebook groups to get comments and advice from other group members. On GooglePlay you will find hundreds of useful applications to train your language skills. Duolingo is probably still the most popular but you can also try Babbel, Busuu, Memrise, etc.
Tip 4. Immerse yourself into the new language
What you have to do is to constantly keep in mind that you have a goal to learn a new language. This way your brain will start looking for every possible channel through which you can get one step closer to your ultimate goal. Just live your regular life and as you go, try to replace some usual rituals with the same but in a different language. For instance, if you are about to turn on a movie, better find a version of it in a foreign language. If you enjoy listening to audio books – go ahead and find some in a foreign language, too. There’re so many things you can try out: TV shows, TED talks, news, press releases and so on. You might also want to book a tutor who will help you become fluent in your target language.
Tip 5. Use flashcards and a spaced repetition method
Don’t study a foreign language the same way you would prepare for an exam. As for the latter, we all usually just overload our brain with a lot of information to achieve a relatively short-term goal – to pass the exam. Sometimes it works perfectly but have you ever had this feeling that once you leave the class after submitting the paper, you can no longer recall anything? Exactly.
A spaced repetition method is a way to consistently train your brain to memorize what you want to learn and fix it there for a long-term. The idea is that things are better learned if you repeatedly study them but making “spaces” or time intervals between studying sessions. This principle is used in flashcards: you are shown different words which you gradually master and then after some pre-set time intervals you are introduced again to those words you had trouble with so you can go over them again.
Tip 6. Invest enough time
As with any other goal, you should be prepared to invest quite a lot of time into language learning. We all are busy running errands and oftentimes it’s hard to find an additional hour or two per day to spend on something else.
The simplest and most efficient way to find this time is to wake up earlier. During the day there is a lot of hustle and distractions which make it difficult for you to concentrate, whereas early in the morning you are left alone with your thoughts and personal motivations. It might sound crazy that you have to deprive yourself of precious time you could otherwise use for sleeping but, believe it or not, the reward will be generous.
In addition to learning early in the morning, think of what you could do differently during daytime to “save” some hours and “redirect” your energy. It’s time to remember any harmful habits you have or anything that takes an enormous portion of your time and doesn’t really do any good for you. If you are addicted to some series and keep restlessly watching it season after season, you may want to either limit it to one series per day or refuse this excessively time-consuming activity at all.
Tip 7. Learn from mistakes
The more mistakes you make, the more you learn. After having a casual conversation and realizing that something might have not worked out well, don’t start to criticize yourself immediately. You’d better give yourself some constructive feedback and think, what phrases/words you could’ve used to enrich your speech and what you are going to do differently in a similar situation in the future. Also, keep an ear out for any unknown/new words and try to remember them. You can even make notes in your mobile phone of the new vocabulary and get back to it every time before sleep or whenever you have a free minute.
Tip 8. Find a language partner
When you involve someone else, it’s harder to submit to temptations to prefer something else to learning. It’s the same with going to the gym, for example. Whenever you have a partner, you push each other in a way and serve as an inspiration not to skip a training. Same here – you can study together with a friend or a language partner, share your knowledge and ideas with each other and inquire about each other’s progress. Eventually, two heads are better than one!
Tip 9. Travel
It’s pretty logical that during a trip to a foreign country you will get many chances to practice the language you’re learning. Nowadays there’s a wide diversity of cheap flights to choose from so many destinations and opportunities are just one click away from you. Most important is to be curious and ready to practice whenever there is a chance: while ordering a table in a café, buying a train ticket, asking for directions and so on. It’s also the most “natural” way to learn a language because you experience it in context through real case scenarios.
Tip 10. Hire a tutor
If you have an intention to learn a foreign language on your own, you’re welcome to do this but if you would like to ensure some expert advice and support throughout your journey, you will not be mistaken if you hire a professional tutor. One-on-one learning will allow you to learn at your own pace, ask questions and fill your knowledge gaps right away without spending too much time on looking for valuable information and resources. A tutor is someone who has already made their way to where you want to be so they know best how to guide you and make sure you’re aware of any language learning secrets and/or pitfalls.
With a tutor it’s also convenient that you will always be given feedback on how well you’re doing, whereas it’s difficult to ensure this while learning by yourself. He or she will help you to determine your strengths and weaknesses and work towards catching up on something you find more difficult than the rest (e.g. for some it’s grammar, for others – speaking, etc.).
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