‘I’m just not a language person,’
‘Languages don’t come easily to me…’
‘I’m rubbish at learning languages’…
are the type of opinions I had after ‘studying’ French for several years at school. Quite honestly I was never interested back then and I never made an effort.
Some people actually have a great and have a natural flare at learning languages, I naturally, wasn’t one of them. Now, I speak Spanish and a basic bit of Italian, but if I can do it, for sure anyone can…
First and foremost, there must be some motivation for learning a language. Are you planning to head to a foreign destination? Is it on your bucket list? When I was trying to get a job as a dolphin trainer back in 2006, the bosses told me if I wanted employment with them, I had to learn Spanish. I couldn’t think of a better motivation. So, find a great motivation and refer back to it when times get tough.
How to learn
When we are babies, we don’t learn to ‘translate’ we learn our mother tongue with listening, speaking, repetition and by being corrected. This is by far the best way to learn another language too instead of translating. It allows you to start thinking in another language more quickly and not translating in your head first. You won’t be able to communicate your ideas at first but its only the beginning part of the journey… Listen to it, try to speak, repeat.
I find it a lot easier to learn with visual links. When I started to learn Español, I put up heaps of post-its all over the place ‘wall/pared’ ‘chair/silla’ and stuck them on the appropriate objects. It’s not necessary to but the English translation on either, as you want to be looking at the new language anyway, learning to see and think in that language.
If possible, surround yourself in the language.
Not always an option for everyone and completely inconvenient, by plonking yourself in a place where you cannot speak your native tongue you have no option other than to practise, try and learn. This goes without saying, the best way to pick up quickly a language.
The best tip. Ever. Listen to music, how often do you sing along to music you have no idea you knew the words? That’s repetition. That’s how we learn. So get to youtube, sing along to the lyrics, find out what they mean, listen some more. The next thing you know, you’ll be learning and pronouncing brand new words you never knew you knew. I only allowed myself time to listen to Spanish music like Manu Chao or when I lived in Italy only Italian music for me. Result.
Check out the back of some of your DVD’s. You may be able to change the language and/or put up subtitles. Especially good if you already know the script by heart. I used to have Shrek available in Spanish. I listened to it constantly in the background. I also slept with it playing, convincing myself I was surrounding myself in the language as much as possible and learning while I was sleeping…
There are heaps of podcast out there now, on every subject, I am a big fan of podcasts and although it wasn’t available when I started learning Spanish, I’ve seen loads of language podcasts – for free, and also stories being read, great for those all important listening skills!
Stream Foreign Radio Stations
When you first get started you probably won’t understand a thing! I didn’t. But by constantly exposing yourself to the language it will eventually begin to nestle itself into your brain. Streaming radio stations online is not only great for music, listening skills, understanding the culture a bit more but you also find yourself singing along to those all annoying adverts in another language!
Forums and Language Exchange
Meeting up with other people and doing language exchange is a free and perfect way to practise and make friends! One hour in one language, the next hour in the other. You can arrange skype dates through forums and probably end up learning a lot about your own language too!
Talk to People
Obvious I know. But practise as much as you can. No-one likes that awkward moment when you can’t express yourself and even you can hear your rubbish accent, but it’s the only way to get through this fun journey. Laugh at yourself. I’ve been tricked into saying many, many stupid things to strangers, thanks to all the Mexican guys I worked with, but it ensures you definitely won’t forget.
Start off with a children’s book. I found myself really improving when I began to read in Spanish. For my first book I had the help of a friend who would help me with words and pronunciation and we read together. Then I’d find a book I loved and read it so quickly – even when I didn’t understand all the tiny details.
Be it with your friends on facebook, or in your diary to yourself, practise writing your chosen language as much as you can. I’m sure my diary is full of Spanish and Italian grammatical errors, but the first step is communication and expression!
Congratulate yourself often on your progress.
As with any goal, keep personal tabs on your progress, see how far you’ve come. Some day you’re not going to feel so good and other days you’ll feel on top of the world. Remind yourself how far you’ve come and give yourself some treats for your efforts! Positive re-enforcement works a treat!