To seriously advance when learning a language it often helps to think of the process like adopting a new lifestyle. If you eat, sleep, live and breathe in a language it’ll soon become second nature:
- Listen to the language as much as you can.
- Try to speak it as often as possible - even if just to yourself.
But don’t panic. While it is a commitment, absorbing a new language alongside your regular lifestyle is not necessarily as difficult as it sounds.
Immerse yourself. If you have the opportunity to spend time abroad, surrounded by native speakers, that’s great! Get out there and make the most of it! But if not, there are still ways to immerse yourself into the learning process. Aim to surround yourself with as much of your chosen language as you can. Write post-it notes and scatter them around your house. For example if you’re learning French, stick a note saying ‘sale de bain’ (bathroom) to the bathroom door. Repeat this around the house with other rooms, objects, colours etc to influence your subconscious and visual memories, and so remember more words through association. Of course post-its aren’t the only way to surround yourself, so…
Be resourceful. Use the resources around you, from books to music to films and television programmes. That way you can watch, read and listen to things which interest you, making the experience more exciting. Watch films with other language subtitles and audio to experience the language-your eyes and ears will soon adapt to the nuances and speed of fluent conversational speech-it’s a great way to enhance your vocabulary. Another option might be switching the language on your phone. This can help you continuously think in the language you’re trying to learn; most people struggle to put their phones down - so that’s a lot of extra practice potential! Your greatest resource however will most likely be the internet. Helping your reading, writing, listening and speech skills, using the net reduces the cost of learning materials, and software such as Skype allow you to practice verbally with other speakers - advancing your confidence, pronunciation, and fluidity in a way other resources just can’t match.
No excuses. Maybe you’re new to learning. Or maybe you’ve been trying for a long time and don’t seem to be getting anywhere. But no matter what, don’t let excuses stop you! Common examples-"I’m too busy", "I have no memory for this!" "I’m too old to learn," "People speak too fast!"-are either not true or are things you can change! Issues with confidence or a fear that you’ll ‘look stupid’ can all be resolved with practice, so get out there! It’s better to try than to keep putting yourself down!
Find someone to support you. Whether that support comes in the form of a study buddy, a teacher, or a native speaking friend (expand your social group and your skills will expand too!), you’ll need someone to help with your motivation, practice and to give you advice. Of course if that support is a teacher or fluent speaker, don’t be afraid to ask for help! Write down any words of phrases you come across and can’t understand, and ask for clarification. For slang or more specific words this is a fantastic and rapid way to improve your everyday speech.
Of course not everyone can study to the best of their ability alone. So while mastering these tips can greatly advance your skills, joining a language course or class may help if you’re struggling with commitment, motivation or the simple difficulties of language. But whatever your choice, get practicing, keep perfecting and don’t give up!
Lucy T. is an avid learner of foriegn languages and speaks French, German and Cantonese. She wrote this article for Ceran a provider of language training including intensive English courses.