Follow these five steps to make your language learning adventure more successful
Forget rope learning and memorization, and start talking
So many of us long to successfully learn another language. Some dream of mastering another language to enjoy vacations more, and to confidently order meals, ask for directions and hold conversations with local people. Others long to talk to family and loved ones in their native language, or to become proficient in business vocabulary enough to take advantage of foreign language skills at work. Whatever your ambitions are for learning another language, these tips will help you reach your goals and make the experience of learning another language a little easier.
1. Focus on speaking
Most of us studied at least one foreign language in school. We spent hours memorizing verb tables and vocabulary lists. Many of us emerged from all of this hard work with little experience actually speaking the language, and with even less confidence to try. Memorization and rope learning will bore you and dampen your enthusiasm if that's all that you do. Don't study Spanish as if it's Latin; languages are a living and evolving phenomenon and you will stay inspired and determined if you worry more about achieving basic spoken communication and less about perfecting an irregular verbs list.
2. Find native speakers
Now that you see why it's so important to focus on speaking, you need to find people to help you. Multimedia is great; videos and audio help you to become more familiar with the sound of the spoken language, but without regular feedback on your pronunciation and grammar, you will find it difficult to improve. You will also be missing out on the best source of motivation and encouragement. Look for local language exchange clubs, or look for exchange partners online. Italki.com and livemocha.com are both great places to look for language learning partners.
3. Avoid gimmicks and expensive programs that don't have proven results
It's easy to persuade yourself that the solution to your language learning difficulties is to pay for an expensive piece of software. The quality of these programs varies hugely, and they are rarely tailored enough to your skill level and goals to really meet your needs. For example, a native English speaker who learned a little Spanish in college and who is looking to pick up the language again is likely to have a much easier ride than a native English speaker hoping to learn Arabic for the first time. A totally new language, a new writing system and radically different grammar...can the same book, CD or software meet the needs of both of these people with the same approach? Usually no. On the other hand, there are countless self-study tools for learning a language online that can be great ancillary materials to help keep your studies fresh, interesting and varied. Pimsleur is a great example of self-study that really works, and you can successfully combine this program with classes or other tools. Finding local classes at a college and speaking to native speakers is often likely to be more effective than relying on software if you have ambitious goals. Look for classes that focus on conversation and offer immersive style teaching rather than classes that will bore you with hours of abstract grammar instruction and vocabulary memorization. Don't rely on the class curriculum for creating your language-learning goals; classes are just one part of learning a language.
4. Create a natural learning environment
Listen to radio in your target language when you're doing household chores. Label objects in your home with their names in the language that you want to learn. Once you reach intermediate level, ask language partners to only speak to you in their native language while you are trying to learn from them. When you're holding conversations with native speakers, worry less about translating each word back into English, and more on understanding the general meaning of the conversation. You don't need to understand every single word, and if you become caught up in trying, you will become unmotivated. Instead, make a note of words that still have hazy meanings, and you can look up translations for these later and avoid disrupting your flow of conversation. Even better, try to ask your language partner for synonyms in the language you are trying to learn, and ask him or her to try to explain the meaning this way instead of offering an English translation.
5. Give yourself tangible goals
It's important to give yourself realistic goals. If you can combine this with a reward, this will be a more powerful way to motivate yourself. Plan a trip to the country where people speak your target language if possible, and think about what level of proficiency you want to achieve by the time that you are ready to leave. Look for upcoming events at local cultural institutes and associations. Aim to meet a native speaker and discuss progressively more complex topics every week. Focus your ambitions around conversational goals rather than mastering specific grammar points. Don't be afraid of failure; a little humiliation goes a long way in helping you learn a language, and every successful language learner has experienced awkward conversations and misunderstanding. Laugh it off, remember the corrections that native speakers share with you, and move on.