Roughly fifteen years ago …
“Please return to the text dear.” … “Please go back to the passage.” … “Enough now! Return to the questions, you can go through this one during your break time!” …
It was my French teacher constantly telling me to return back to the passage we were studying in class that day, while I was busy checking out the last chapter in green, entitled, Why Learn Latin?
Today, I can confidently speak five languages, with two others on a basic level. If you think that must have been mountains of effort put in, you’re totally right! But if you’re thinking you can’t do it, then it’s not really being fair to yourself. Afterall, we both have as many hours a day as Beyoncé, remember?
Let me share with you some tips that I believe would work for anyone, whether you’re a rookie starting your second language or a linguist envisioning his tenth.
Mix and Slow
Way many people try to memorise a whole phrasebook in one week, or ten new words daily for the next two weeks, or only grammar one week followed by only vocabulary the next week … Trust me, that does not work for normal human beings.Start little by little and MAINTAIN little by little. You need to give your brain time to assimilate.Learning ten new words a day is cool. But what will you do with them if you can’t put them in a sentence? It’s better to learn one subject, one noun, one adjective, and one verb a day, where by the end of the day you are able to make a useful sentence out of it! Agree?
Whatever new words you learn, make phrases with it. It can be something as simple as - for example, let’s say you are learning Spanish. Today you chose to learn two colours and two words.
red = roja
white = blanca
table = la mesa
flower = flor
You can start by matching them in your head (or on paper) and saying the combinations out loud:
red table = la mesa roja
the white table = la mesa blanca
the red flower = la flor roja
the red and white flower = la flor roja y blanca
You can do this for five minutes with the new words, and then adding words that you learnt in the previous days for another five minutes. Make sure to enter the best ones in your notebook to use them in sentences later on!
Write, Recite, Repeat
Compared to reading and listening, writing down helps areas of your brain to memorise things in a concrete way. It’s also easier if the area in which you are studying encompasses some unavoidable distractions. Writing down has also been scientifically proven to free up mental RAM and make you stay sharper!I, personally, write down whatever I learn in scrap lined papers for a minimum of five times the first day. While revising them, I write them anew for another three times, then once, until I am sure to know them. If that sounds boring to you, start journaling!
Talk to Yourself!
Ridiculous, init?Most probably you will feel hesitant to speak to others in a language that you have just begun learning, or you would start off nicely with the basic phrases but then play for time with the words hanging on different hangers in your brain … until you laugh the conversation off, right?Talking to yourself helps in gaining that confidence. Rehearse speaking to an imaginary someone in different situations. If you can’t imagine the person in front of you, or get put off, use a photo that would fit in the situation.For example, let’s say today you’re going to learn about the topic “Accidents”. Write down your list of new words first, memorise as much as you can for 10 minutes. Envisage the situation - you should be the movie director here. Then talk to the photo of a policeman, as if the situation just got real.It works like crazy! Don’t worry, you can cheat using your sheet whenever you feel like. Just keep the conversation going with your policeman.
Record & Scrap
Whatever situations you’ve enacted, make sure to have yourself on record. Don’t worry, this is only going to be for you to listen to, and if it’s embarrassing, you can delete it AFTER you have noted the whole conversation down in your notebook. You need to keep a separate notebook for this.Get in the good habit of always writing your title on top/bottom, the new words and other points on the left, and the mini conversation you created on the right. Every page you turn in your conversation notebook should show a different situation. Revise all of them once a week.To make it easy to browse through them (especially before you practise it in real-life) leave about four pages at the beginning of the notebook for the Table of Contents. Add your new title and page number each time. You will be super pleased with yourself after you have completed the notebook, all pages filled with your own ideas in a different language!
Now, that’s a huge challenge, indeed! Many learners do complain about not grasping the right pronunciation despite endless hardworking hours. I believe this goes hand-in-hand with your objective for learning the language.If your main focus is to make yourself understood, the basic syllables would be enough, not even lurking close around the accents’ turmoil. If you want to impress your manager, colleagues, or other people, you would most probably want the right pronunciation and some of that original accent. And if you’re heading towards the linguist’s venue, you would want to score the full marks for all.To be honest, depending on your focus, you should surround yourself with people in those environments, or carry yourself to those environments yourself. For instance, if your goal is the last one, you would rather move to the country of that language itself, and your pronunciation and accent patterns shall start adjusting with time.
A pretty tip would be using the online dictionary and play the microphone icon each time – the Macmillan and Oxford dictionaries are great helpers. Repeat as many times as you want after it and you will soon discover that your brain is automatically picking up the right pronunciation pattern, without you evn having to figure the logic behind it. Lucky you, if you also have the option of choosing which nationality’s pronunciation you wish to listen to!
So, pronunciation, stress and accent … are just a play of focus.
Thankfully, they are easing language learning a whole lot! From chats with foreigners to trial-and-error comments, it does help. So, don’t be shy to comment on forums, chats, blogs, and any other casual websites and see if you can communicate effectively.Language Learning mobile applications are also awesome, like Duolingo, Busuu and Babbel, provided that you design your study plan effectively (baby steps again). And many also include games to make the learning fun. You can alternate between the software and hardware games (I mean to say, Lexicon, Scrabble, and the like) weekly.Following language institutes, language learners and teachers is also helpful, as you will see their tips on an almost-daily basis. If you don’t want everybody to know that you’re following a ton of these and get them teasing your back from time to time, just follow the common hashtags, like #languagelearning #languagetips #(thelanguageyouwannalearn). There you go!
Books, magazines, YouTube clips and movies are a great way of enhancing your skills too. And with the range of topics, it always gets more interesting. However, it’s best to go with baby steps. Why? Simply because our brains cannot focus for too long and will start to wander.So, instead of watching a full movie while only reading the subtitles, or a 300-page book while skimming the dictionary after every few pages, go for 10-page story books and mini clips on YouTube instead. You can gradually increase the length of each as you progress.It also plays psychologically. You would feel more motivated if you see yourself completing 10 small books in 10 weeks, instead of 1. Or having watched and understood 15 mini clips instead of 1 movie. This is also true to keep you going. Always remembering why you started in the first place is a cool motivation, but you have to kind of force yourself each time, and, trust me, your brain won’t like that. On the other hand, you will mostly never give up if each time you can visualize how many notebooks you have written and decorated (like “I won’t let all of that go to waste) and how many short clips you have watched (like “I didn’t spend all these hours for nothing”).