In the last post I wrote about some of the things I’ve learned since I started studying my second language. We looked at the importance of planning your studies, making time to practice, and being consistent with the way you learn.
If you’re learning a new language, it’s important to focus on receptive skills (reading and listening) and productive skills (speaking and writing). When you’re studying a language by yourself, it’s easy to get reading and listening practice, but much harder to practice the productive skills which are so important if you want to become fluent in your new language. I hope that the next four tips help you to include more speaking and writing practice in your daily routine.
5. Make your new language part of your everyday life
Even if you’re not living in the country, you can find ways to immerse yourself in your new language. The easiest way to do this is to read articles or watch short videos online. I love to bake, so I spend a lot of time watching some German baking video blogs on YouTube. I also like to read German newspapers while I’m on the train, or listen German radio while I’m cooking. I think that keeping up with the news in my new language is helpful because it allows me to join in with conversations about current events more easily.
On the other hand, I’m not a fan of watching films in your new language unless you’re already at an advanced level. Because of the length of films, it’s easy to ‘tune out’ and become distracted. Worse still is keeping the subtitles on in your own language, as that makes it far too easy to stop listening. If you are determined to use this technique, the subtitles are the most important. I learn more when watching a film in my own language while reading along in German than I do the other way around.
After you’ve managed to immerse yourself in your new language this way, it’s also important to practice your productive skills as part of your daily routine. Watching and listening to material gives you experience of the rhythms and real life usage of new phrases, but you’ll notice the most progress when you start speaking and writing every day. To practice writing, whey not keep a diary, write short stories, or even just write your shopping list in your new language. Again, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to remember new words when you have to use them every day.
6. Speak from day one
Even if you’re learning a language alone at home, there are ways to get yourself speaking. Speaking is essential. Your passive understanding might be excellent, but until you can produce sentences in your new language and keep conversations going, you’re still going to be frustrated. I find it to be the most challenging skill, but it’s also the most important because it ‘joins the dots’ between the other skills you have learned.
So read aloud to yourself in the mirror, speak to an unsuspecting family member, find a tandem and meet in person or find someone to speak with online. Either way, get used to pronouncing words, making sentences, and seeing all the links in your new language.
7. Be smart with vocabulary learning
Before you note down a phrase or commit it to a flashcard, ask yourself whether you’re really going to use it. It’s said that you only need 1000 words in your new language to speak fluently, so it’s not necessary to write down every new word you come across. You’re far more likely to forget a word if you don’t need to use it straight away.
I find it useful to remember the words I hear in conversations and note them down. As you listen to native speakers you will notice patterns and words will jump out at you. Ask questions, look the words up, and then use them in conversation yourself. You’ll probably remember the words you discover in this way.
If you are on mission to learn new words, it’s best to learn them in sets. Try thinking of a topic, then planning what you would like to be able to say, then finding the words. I love to read books, so I might want to find out how to describe my favourite books (novels, crime, or science fiction), say why I liked them (it was exciting, a page turner, there was a plot twist, it had a happy ending) and then say why I liked to read (it’s relaxing, it’s interesting, and I learn). You could try learning adjectives and their opposites in pairs, or learning a word and a context sentence together. Be as active as you can about learning new words and always plan to use them.
Finally, if you are taking a class, I urge you not to be tempted to write down every new word that you hear. This can often distract you from the main teaching point or mean that you miss other important information or instructions. Time in class should be used for valuable communication rather than note taking. You’ll always remember more than you think.
8. Be ambitious, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Never stop learning your new language! It can be easy to reach a good level of conversation so that you can comfortably travel to or even live in a new country, but if you keep challenging yourself you’ll find there’s always more to learn. Read more widely and find more advanced texts, find new friends to speak with, and always keep asking questions.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We all have stories of moments when we’ve ’embarrassed’ ourselves in our second language, and I’ve found that the most fluent speakers I know have the most stories. The more you speak, the more your confidence will grow. You could be surprised by where your new skills take you.
Those are all the tips I have for now. Why not leave a comment about your own experiences of language learning? Or if you’ve been studying alone and are looking for a change of pace, please feel free to message me about tutoring services.
Until next time
Mairi : )