Do you remember learning a foreign language at school? It probably involved learning off grammar tables and vocabulary lists; picking often difficult dense passages of text and falling on unclear dictionary definitions, cramming for a test the night before, and hoping you wake up with the answers magically in your head.
Thankfully, real world language learning has moved on since then. Advances in technology and scientific research have democratized language learning and anyone can do it!
The growing body of research that led to this language learning democratization has also gifted us with huge numbers of language learning tips and tricks. To help make language learning even more effective and enjoyable, here are some helpful tips from Purna Virji:
Have Daily Contact
Daily contact with the language keeps it to the forefront of your mind and is the single most important way you can keep your language learning on track. Linguistic experts agree that gradual learning is key to mastering a language, so procrastinating all week before trying to cram in three hours on Sunday is counterproductive and will only dishearten you.
Don’t fret if your life runs at breakneck speed; even 10 or 15 minutes per day is enough. People with busy lifestyles should use an audio CD or tape as the main or supplementary method of learning. The portability of CDs and tapes means you can listen to the language on your commute, while working out or even doing chores.
Children learn language the natural way- by listening. Listening attunes us to the unique sounds, rhythms, tones and cadence of a language and will help you to perfect your accent. Forget about reading and writing until your listening skills are tip-top!
Listen as much as you can, and to anything you can. Listening to lessons that use only native speakers, finding an online radio station, listening to music, and even watching movies are all useful ways of tuning into the language. Don’t worry about not understanding every word- just letting the sound of the language wash over you will accelerate your learning.
Speak Out Loud
We learn to speak long before we learn to read and write. In fact, speaking is how language was born- writing came much later. Actually speaking the language allows you to wrap your tongue around the sounds of the language and helps to cement the words firmly in your memory.
Sounds obvious? It is, but the reason so many people think they don’t have the ‘talent’ for language, is that schools teach the opposite way. Start speaking straight away- by answering questions asked on a language learning CD, recording yourself saying a small speech or just singing along to songs! Speaking straightaway builds conversational fluency, confidence and a flawless accent.
And if you meet a native speaker, be brave! Too often, people shy away from these opportunities, fearing that they are simply not proficient enough to converse with a native speaker. However, they will inevitably be delighted that you are making an effort.
Don’t Worry As Much About Grammar
The natural way to learn a language isn’t by breaking it down into individual components and learning these separately. The natural way is how a child learns language- have you ever seen a child frowning over a grammar book?
By concentrating on the language as a whole, the grammar will start to come naturally to you. Listening to the language is actually teaching you grammatical structures- you just may not be aware of it. Termed both ‘natural’ and ‘organic’, scientific research has found that this learning method is highly effective.
Furthermore, trying to memorize verb endings and tenses will actually hold you back. Instead of speaking naturally, you will stop frequently to try and conjugate that verb- a frustrating experience guaranteed to knock your confidence.
Think Outside the Box
There are countless ways that you can both have fun with the language and keep up that all-important daily contact. Ways which require practically no effort or time include changing the language on your phone, Twitter, Facebook and computer.
You could also start listening to music in your chosen language. Not only will you open yourself up to a whole world of great bands and acts that you never knew existed, it is also proven that listening to music is a super-booster for language learning.
Or, you could find online games such as crosswords and hangman in your language- the internet is your oyster! If you’re an arts ‘n’ crafts type, you can get busy with Post-Its, labeling everything in the house with its equivalent in your chosen language. Remember, language learning can be fun- the only limits here are the limits of your imagination.
Learn about the Culture
Research has found that the learner’s positive attitudes towards the target language group, along with their desire to integrate into this community, are important aids to language learning success.
Experiencing a new culture while abroad is intoxicating, made even more exciting when you speak the language. Knowing the language enables you to get to the heart of the new culture, find the off-the-beaten-path cultural hotspots and engage with the locals.
But if that dream vacation to the country where your target language is spoken is still over the horizon, learning about the culture and history through books, the Internet, movies, TV shows is invaluable. Language is intrinsically linked with culture- the two affect each other in countless ways- and learning about the culture will make the language more ‘real’ to you. So for a rounded learning experience, jump into this new cultural world with abandon.
Keep Your Motivation
Researchers into the psychology of language learning have found that motivation is a key factor in whether a language learner is successful. This research counters the much-propagated myth that an innate ‘talent’ is required for learning languages.
For linguaphiles, the motivation to master a language purely for the love and enjoyment of it may be enough. However, for most of us, it won’t. You must establish your personal motivation, and it helps to have clear concrete ideas. Everyone wants to learn a language-it consistently places in the top 10 New Year’s resolutions- but a vague ambition won’t help when you hit a plateau.
Keep your motivation in sight- literally. Whether you’re learning a language to move abroad, get ahead at work or communicate better with your in-laws, find a photograph that best represents this ambition and stick it to the fridge!
About the Author:
Purna Virji possesses a talent for learning new languages with six in her present language-speaking repertoire. She is a former producer for an Emmy-nominated television show with a master’s degree in international journalism. She currently works at Pimsleur Approach, the world leader in the audio-based language-learning programs which was developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur.