Learning a language isn’t easy…for most of us, anyway.
Some do seem to have a natural gift for languages. In fact, in my travels, I’ve crossed paths with linguists who are fluent in upwards of nine languages (check out this 4-year-old girl, for instance). But linguists are few and far between.
To most of us, learning language is a task as difficult as any. It requires work, dedication, and practice, as any step of taking action might. However, by plugging into the equation [confidence + speaking + making mistakes = learning from exposure] and by following these five steps, you can make language learning work for you.
1) Find Resources that Best Complement the Way You Learn
My Russian friend, Lyudmila, learned English and Norwegian primarily through listening to music. My Chinese friend, Teah, learned English by grinding away at workbooks. My brother learned Spanish through Duolingo.
We don’t all learn in the same way. Some learn best by listening, others are visual, and still others learn by doing. Being as such, there is not a single go-to universal set of resources that will serve as the cure-all for language learning.
Needless to say, finding resources that best complement the way you learn will make the process of learning more personalized, efficient, and effective.
2) Start Small
If you’re just starting out, you’re not going to be reading War and Peace in a second language anytime soon. Remember that it’s important to start small and grasp the basics before delving into more complex grammar structures or vocabulary.
One way to start small: write down new vocabulary and place it where you’ll see it every day. For instance, if your goal is to learn furniture vocab, place sticky-notes of these words on the items, themselves.
3) Don’t Let Frustration Be Your Roadblock
Certain words, grammar rules, and pronunciations will be incredibly frustrating to you. Go into it with a mind to jump these hurdles instead of letting them become roadblocks.
Most importantly, don’t be a perfectionist. At least not in the beginning. The point of learning a language is communication. Getting people to understand you is more important than ironing out all the slight mispronunciations or grammar errors you’ll stumble over in early language learning. Fluency will come with time.
4) Learn to Listen
The late and great Greek philosopher, Epictetus, once said: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
In teaching language, I’ve found that in their desire to practice speech, most students forget about listening. Their language learning suffers for it.
Practice active listening, whether it’s to foreign music, movies, TV series, news, or your conversation partner.
5) Practice Speech
I mentioned my brother and my friends, Lyudmila and Teah. Although their learning processes differed, they all had one thing in common: they practiced speaking with native speakers.
Although this is probably the most intimidating of the steps to learning a language, it’s also the most rewarding. To see your second language being understood by locals is a proud moment. All your efforts are rewarded when you’re able to order a ticket at a train station, ask for directions (and understand the answer!), or just chat about the day-to-day with a friend in their own language.
So while language learning is certainly a tough and time-consuming process, it serves to remember that the end goal is one of the most satisfying of any life accomplishment.