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Best Way to Learn a Foreign Language

By Edited Sep 9, 2016 0 3

Find out the best way to learn a second language.

Here are some of the best ways for you to learn a new language at home.

In my experience, learning a foreign language effectively is an overlapping two phase process. The first phase takes place in the classroom, where you learn vocabulary, the ins and outs of grammar, pronunciation, practicing reading and speaking, etc. The second phase is taking what you have learned in class, and then independently practicing and progressing on your own even when you are not in class, do not have homework or are not currently enrolled in a course. You can't solely rely on a language course, even an advanced one, to make you a fluent speaker. Fluency comes from putting yourself out there and practicing day in and day out for functional language use, even when nobody is forcing you to. I feel that those of us who step into Phase 2 are much more likely to achieve fluency than others who don't because we are distinguishing ourselves from others in our dedication to learning and taking our education into our own hands. Just like with learning everything else in this world, learning a new language requires strong dedication.

So how do you move into Part 2 of the learning process? The answer is surprisingly easy. Anything you can do on your own to help yourself practice and better internalize something, or expand your skills beyond what you have learned in class counts. It could be as easy as watching French Youtube television clips for 15 minutes per day, or picking apart with a dictionary the lyrics to a Spanish song you really like. The possibilities are endless, but I would like to put forward three techniques I use on a regular basis and have found to be extremely helpful for practicing my own language skills in German.

1. Play the game of speaking to yourself

The only way to get good at speaking a new language is to do it. Problems with pronunciation, grammar use and comfort/ability to talking for extended periods of time can all be resolved through speaking in the language you are learning as much as possible. But how do you do this when you aren't in a country where the language is spoken? Just turn it into a game you play with yourself while out and about by yourself. Pick a topic and see how long you can talk about it. Sometimes you may lack a wide vocabulary for the chosen topic, but don't give up! The goal is to become comfortable with talking, and even if you don't know specific words to use for a subject, you will still improve your ability to say what you want on the spot without having to think too much.

The other thing this will do is help you gain confidence about approaching native speakers and talking to them. You will inevitably make mistakes, and you can't get better without being willing to make them. It's just part of the process, so throw caution to the wind and just start talking! The time is now, not tomorrow!

2. Carry a dictionary with you everywhere

The ultimate goal in learning a language is the ability to speak it with nuance. The only way to develop it is to broaden your vocabulary with words and phrases not normally taught in a course. If someone asks how bad it is outside, we don't want out response to be limited to, "The weather is bad. It is cold and raining.", rather we would like the ability to elaborate and say something closer to, "The weather is out there is horrible. It's freezing cold and hailing ice the size of golfballs." This is where beginning to use your Smart Phone as a dictionary comes in handy.

Just start looking up words and phrases that are off the beaten path, or you use frequently. By doing this you can begin to enable yourself to closer to how you would in your native language, English. Constantly thinking of new phrases to look up, or searching the translation to that billboard or sign you passed a few minutes ago is an easy way to expand your word count. After you look something up, try incorporating it into the speaking game I listed above.

3. Read Some Comics and Children's Books

The first ever unassigned book in German I ever read on my own from cover to cover was a translated version of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. I had a blast reading it, and learned quite a bit in the process. Comic books and children's books are fantastic for learning foreign languages. The pictures provide context to help understand what is happening, and they are packed with useful colloquial phrases that you'll never learn in a course, or may not even think to look up. And since children's picture books and comics typically only have a few sentences per page, it is easier to get through them without getting frustrated by an overload of unfamiliar terms to look up. It is, of course, a good plan to eventually tackle more advanced reading, but reading comics in other languages are quite fun and entertaining to read. To find books to read in your target language, try checking out the International Children's Digital Library online, or see what Amazon.com has to offer. There are plenty of resources to find reading materials for your respective level.

So Just go out there and practice!

The thing I want you to take away from this article more than anything else, is that consistent and constant practice of your foreign language is a must for success in achieving fluency. Don't solely rely on language courses to teach you everything there is to know. Take your education into your own hands, and find creative ways to practice and broaden your knowledge outside the classroom. I promise that your skills will benefit greatly if you do. Best of luck!




Jan 4, 2013 5:23pm
Great tips here, I especially like the idea of using children's books.
I think that instead of learning by speaking to yourself, it is best to learn by finding someone who is fluent in the language you are trying to learn, and speaking it with them. But if you can't, speaking to yourself is the next best thing.
Jan 4, 2013 5:34pm
Speaking with a native speaker is naturally always the ideal situation.
Mar 30, 2013 5:27am
After 5 years of living in China I can vouch that speaking to yourself is effective! If you happen to have a dog...they're pretty good listeners too. Actually maybe a parrot would be a good option...It could speak back and give you some ideas as to how your practice is progressing ;-)
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