Seven suggestions for learning a foreign language
If you were asked to give suggestions on how to learn a foreign language, what would they be?
Let's start with a reading assignment. Go read chapter 20 of Polyglot. I'll be here when you are done. If you are in a hurry, scroll to page 159 and begin at that point. Dr. Lomb was an expert at learning languages and her ten commandments for learning a foreign language are invaluable. I have already added a few new techniques to my arsenal.
In reading through the text, I thought about what would be my own suggestions for learning a foreign language. I am by no means an expert, but as someone who has been on the language learning journey for several years, I do have a few suggestions on the subject.
- Don't think that you have to live in a foreign country to learn to speak a foreign language at conversational fluency. The biggest myth that I have heard over and over again is that the only way to learn a foreign language is to move to a country that speaks that language. I see too problems with this assumption. The first is that most people who move to a foreign country sadly stay in the emigre community and don't learn a foreign language. The second is that the world is the most connected it has ever been. It's EASY to watch movies in a foreign language, buy things in a foreign language, talk to people and make new friends in a foreign language all without even leaving your home.
- Don't think that foreign language study is simply studying. Put down the textbook. The easiest way to learn a foreign language is to try to do something in your target language every single day. Read a blog entry. Watch a movie. Talk to a friend.
- Stop trying to translate word for word exactly what you would say in your native language. The biggest stumbling block in conversation that we have as adults is that we have a huge vocabulary. If you don't know the exact translation for what you want to say, say something simpler. The whole point of communication is to get your point across to another person.
- Don't be afraid to make mistakes but learn to accept correction gracefully. If you find a native speaker of your target language who isn't afraid to correct your grammar, become best friends with that person. Most native speakers tend to be very forgiving when listening to non-native speakers. A forgiving attitude is both a good thing and a bad thing. While it does encourage you to speak more (which is very important), it also can be difficult if you want to receive correction for your grammar.
- When you hit a roadblock, try something different. I have written several times about dealing with frustration. If you are having difficult progressing to the next level, try to change your learning method. There are several great tools and programs available on the Resources page.
- Keep a log of how much time you spend working on your target language. Keeping track of your time helps keep you honest about how well your course of study is working. I'm guilty of this myself. If I don't track how much time I spend on my German and Japanese study, I will assume that I have spent more time studying than I actually have. Then I get frustrated that my language study is not progressing.
- Keep track of your successes as well as your failures!
- My final tip is one that I picked up from Dr. Lomb. Write down when you remember vocabulary, when you understand sentences, and whenever you make a little progress in your target language. By keeping a log of your success, it is easy to motivate yourself to continue on your language learning journey!