Important facts about learning a foreign language
When learning a new language, it is necessary to use the language every day and to study as often as you possibly can. You should set goals that give you a long-term vision as well as short-term motivation. Your time and your resources should be organised in order to make the most of your language learning. It is therefore crucial that your language learning be broken down into manageable goals that are realistic and achievable. Never assume that the foreign language will be similar to English. Most languages have genders assigned to nouns and agreement rules for adjectives that do not exist in English. Word order might be completely the opposite, and certain verb tenses might be used in different situations. Here are a few tips in helping you to achieve the most of your foreign language learning:
Learn vocabulary in context
Memorising lists of vocabulary can be quite challenging and very boring. A great way to build vocabulary is to learn vocabulary that is relevant to your life and things around you. You could start off by writing your “to do” lists and shopping lists in the language that you are studying. Practise by giving commands to your dog, labeling household items, and playing memory games. Although repetition can be dull, it is key to your success. Repetitions can be verbal, aural, read or written, so vary these as much as possible. Reading also helps with building your vocabulary. While you read, pay close attention to words you don’t know. First, try to figure out their meanings from context. Then, look the words up in your dictionary. You can practise using these words by using them in your own sentences afterwards.
Ignore the “age myth”
The idea that children are inherently better at learning languages than adults is proving to be a myth. New research cannot find a direct link between age and the ability to learn. What makes adults different from children is that we don’t like to make mistakes, we’re self-conscious and we have little desire to play when learning. Making learning fun motivates students and helps them pay attention and stay focused on the subject. Don’t be afraid to have fun or to make mistakes while learning a foreign language. Educational games motivate students and encourage them to step out of their comfort zone. They create a compelling need to know, a need to ask, examine, assimilate and master certain skills and content areas. Games help us to develop non-cognitive skills that are as fundamental as cognitive skills. Learning a foreign language has nothing to do with age!
Find a partner
Even if you can’t get a sibling to join you on your language adventure, having any kind of partner will help you to practise your speaking and also push both of you to always try just a little bit harder. Find someone in class that you work well with and arrange weekly sessions to pratise speaking and create dialogues using new vocabulary. Use your new language in a creative way, like writing and recording songs with your partner, creating a play, drawing up comic strips, writing poetry, or simply choosing a topic and discussing it. Create healthy competition and reward achievements and success. This is always easier to do with a partner or in a team than on your own.
Step out of your comfort zone
A willingness to make mistakes means being ready to put yourself in potentially embarrassing situations. This can be scary, but it’s the only way to develop and improve. You should practise speaking as often as possible. Speak to people in your environment, even if they don’t understand you, you can use the opportunity to demonstrate what you know and then translate. Visit a restaurant where you can pratise ordering the food in the foreign language that you’re learning. When you have no one else to speak to, there’s nothing wrong with talking to yourself. This can keep new words and phrases fresh in your mind and build up your confidence for the next time you speak with someone. Don’t be afraid to find a native speaker to speak to.
You are not going to annoy people by speaking their language poorly. Most people will be patient, encouraging and happy to help, when they see you are making an effort to learn their language.
Listen, listen, listen
Most language courses supply you with written material as well as audio material. Make use of your audio CDs in your car while you drive to work or travel somewhere. Every language sounds strange the first time you hear it, but the more you expose yourself to it, the more familiar it becomes, and the easier it is to speak it properly. Get yourself music from that country and try to sing along. Listening to songs in the target language also helps with increasing vocabulary since rhymes are more easily remembered, and you can usually find the lyrics online. You can also watch foreign language films with sub-titles to further improve your listening skills. You must first learn to listen before you can speak.
Don’t take a semester off, if at all possible! You will forget your language at an alarming rate. If you are planning to go on holiday, take some exercises with you so that you can do these throughout your trip. Why not book your next trip to the country where the language you are learning is spoken. If you are serious about learning the language and getting direct pleasure from what you have learnt, you need to go where that language is spoken. Above all, enjoy the journey and never stop having fun while learning a foreign language.