First of all, I would like to start saying that there is no magic potion, no way you can learn a language in just “a few days” or in a couple of months. Learning is a process that requires your dedication everyday of the week for a long, long time. And the more you know, the more you understand that you don’t know anything. We learn a language by practicing the listening, the reading and the speaking (and also writing in case you need it for a job or university). Obviously, you will feel comfortable with one of those more than the others, but you need to practice ALL of them.
First, basic grammar is strictly necessary, and even more if you need that ”writing” part. I am not one of those persons that learn a language fast by assimilation (I am incredibly slow), so for me grammar is everything. Besides, I love grammar – something that not everybody can say. After grammar, the tip that I can give is that you cannot be afraid of speaking. When I started learning Italian, I used to think that first I would get a good comprehension of the language so then I could start talking. That’s wrong. If you don’t start since day one, you will never start, because it always feels that you need to know more in order to speak. So not being afraid of making mistakes, as stupid as it may sounds, is the rule number two. As a third precious advise, you should act as if you already know that language, inserting yourself in that world. And that is the reason of this text. How do we do that?
I like reading, so I will start with this one. Reading can be challenging, but you can like if you know how to choose the right things to read that have the grammar on the same learning level you are. In the beginning, you can start with comics, for instance. Comics are easy childish grammar and contains a lot of expressions from the spoken language, it is different from literature language, for example. Plus, images help you to assimilate the meaning and understand what is written. In case you don’t like it, you can also read books from your childhood in the language you are learning. I think that is wonderful! Maybe the language you are learning now is the original language of that book you used to read as a child. But perhaps, children books aren’t for you. Do you know that there are versions of your favorite adult books in different levels of the language you are learning? Yes! Check it up online. They do different editions of famous book titles for kids of all ages. There are many options.
I know it will be difficult in the beginning. But think that reading is the most easy way to insert yourself in the new language. When you read, you can stop and search for that word or expression, you can read and re-read it again as many times as you need, until you get it. There is no pressure, besides your own. Maybe you won’t understand every single word, but the important is to get the meaning of the text, capisce? However, you cannot read something each year and think that you are doing a huge effort. In order to learn something from reading, you must read a lot. But no worries, after some time the reading part will come easily, you’ll see.
This is a fun one. Imagine to cook something you got from a recipe in the language you are learning? Here you are going to have a different terminology: cooking words, kitchen utensils and etc. But, at least for me, this is a very important vocabulary. I mean, you need to eat everyday, don’t you? It is important to know the names of the food you are eating, for instance. But if you decide to search for that recipe online, bare in mind that there are different blogs and websites with that same recipe made in different ways. There are the ones that write down a huuuge text and the ones that go straight to the point. Check and compare a few of them before you gave up.
Since we are talking about searching recipes, when you are looking for something on internet, anything, why don’t you look for it in the language you are learning? Since you want to insert yourself on that language, that’s the way to do it! If you type it in Portuguese, for example, your search engine will give you results in Portuguese. That’s a very good tip. One of the things that I noticed with myself, is that we restrict ourselves too much in our own language. There is a whole world out there in different languages that perhaps can help you even more in what you are looking for.
Reading the news on your target language. I started with this one in Italian, and no, this is not an easy one. The language on the news are not day by day language, it is a formal one. But it’s the same as reading any other thing: first, you will start slow, reading a sentence or paragraph, and then re-reading it until you understand what the text is saying – and not every single word. If you are persistent, with time you’ll be reading without much effort.
Reading the news is an important part of ”inserting yourself on that world” for obvious reasons. You’ll be reading a journal or magazine from the country of your target language, checking about current events there and learning about that culture. And, again, internet is here for us, so we don’t need to actually buy a journal or a magazine. You can look up for local journals of your target language country and then follow them on Twitter, for example. So, give it a go and be persistent!
It seems obvious, but people actually don’t do it. And I can give you many reasons why to do it: watching a movie that was made on your target language country is good not just because you will be hearing the language in use, but you will be watching about local problems of that country, or understanding what is the concept of ”comedy” of this country, for example. Again, you’d be inserting yourself on the culture.
But my tip here is a bit different. Maybe you don’t want to get out of your comfort zone. Maybe you don’t like French movies, for example. So why don’t you take movies that you’ve already seem and watch them now on your target language? They can be American movies or whatever. A movie that you have already watched, maybe in your mother tongue, will help you with the comprehension, even if you ”don’t remember anymore” what happens. In the beginning you’ll start watching them with subtitles, but after sometime allow yourself to take them off. Listening is also just practice. On the second movie or series you see without the subtitles, you will be already understanding a lot. So every Friday night or weekend that you decide to watch a movie, watch it on the language you are learning, ALWAYS!
There are many educational games to learn a language, as Duolingo and Memrise, everybody knows. In my point of view, the only problem about them is that the players want to learn a language and don’t do anything anymore, just pass the days playing with that game. These people full themselves, and they know that. This games are good for vocabulary and for maintaining yourself on that language world, and I think they can be useful mostly in the beginning. However you cannot assume you will just play Duolingo and the language will come to you like that. This is just a small contribution you’ll be doing to your brain. Much more is need to be done yet. In the beginning, they fill they purpose and, of course, playing is something you do for fun, so everything is easy peasy. However, after you reach a good level on the target language, you don’t see much utility on this games anymore.
This one everybody knows. It is so obvious that shouldn’t even be here. I am from the time we needed to download musics one by one and risk to download with them 81628127 viruses. Now with Spotify, our lives got a bit easier. You can type there “French songs”, for example, and listen to this album with just French musics while doing your chores. And from that you can start creating a file just with the musics you liked the most, and then just listen to that file. Music will help you with your listening, but it is also important to check for the lyrics online. You will not understand what the singers are saying in the beginning, but when you read the lyrics while you listening to it you’ll start understanding. And then, when you see next time you play that music you will be singing together. With music you can listen how they pronounce the words, and even learn some expressions and slang. And, comm’on, it is something that you can do while working, for example, so there is definitely no reason why not to do it. In fact, there is no reason why you are not doing it right now.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way, you need to start all this advises since the beginning of your language acquisition. Going to the country where they speak the language is still the best choice, even though I think it is not so fair, since not everyone can afford that. In case you don’t see yourself travelling so soon, there are always other options, as conversation meet ups. Even if you do not live in a multicultural town, usually capitals always have this meetings – most of them in English and Spanish. Another tip is to talk to yourself. Yes, it may sound weird, but the secret of talking to yourself in the language you are learning is to put and maintain your mind on that language. You don’t even need to speak out loud, just thinking on the language you want, and when you see you’ll be automatically thinking in Chinese, for example. Not that easy, I know, but after doing all my last advises, you will be already able to formulate sentences in your head, so there are no excuses. For last but not least, you can search for messaging websites on the language you are learning. Yes, they exist, and I bet there are plenty of them in the language you want! Make this effort and start looking for them today and sign up. You may found some perverts (I am sorry, but it happens, this is the internet), but just ignore them and talk to the next person. And don’t give up!