The Straightforward Approach It is easy to believe that there are tricks and cheats that will help you learn a language. It is even easier to believe that there are certain people who are pre-dispositioned to learning languages. However, the truth is that learning a second language is quite simple and straightforward. Much of it depends on things that are well within your control. It is up to you whether you are willing to put the time and effort into it. Learning another language isn't magic –it's common sense. If your curiosity has been piqued, great. Now here are eight things you should know to help you take that step to becoming bilingual.
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The Best Time to Start - NOWProcrastination is easy and will keep you from doing a lot of things. It doesn't matter what you have going on now or how busy you are, you can learn another language if you start now. The best way to show this is to consider how long you have wanted to learn another language. It's probably been years. What if you had decided this time last year just to do it? You would already be a year down the road instead of still being a newbie. If you start today imagine where you will be this time next year. It's a much prettier picture. The longer you wait, the more you will have to work around before you can learn. It will also be more difficult because you will have been building up more excuses about why you can't start. There is no time like the present, so make the most of the present to improve your future.
If It’s a Habit, You Will Stick with It Consider how much of a habit you have of getting up early for work or school. Often that habit bleeds over into the weekend, even if you don’t want it to. Eventually, habits are simply something you do without having to think about it. Language learning is no different. Plan to make it part of your daily routine and it will simply be one more thing that you routinely do. Here are a few things that you can do to make sure you work it into your daily routine.
- Use the vocabulary in everyday situations. You don’t have to say it aloud – just thinking in the language can go a long way to reinforcing your vocabulary.
- Set aside dedicated speaking time in the language, and then refuse to use English. Admittedly, this tip is tricky, but that is why you need a language partner. Banning English for a set period of time will force you to rely on what you know and work on the areas where you need to improve.
- Use the language as often as possible for your regular tasks. For example, write your to do list in the language. Not only will you get practice writing in the target language, you will have to read it again later, giving you double reinforcement.
- Make your learning experience interactive. Flashcards are only so effective. If you have interactive components to your daily learning, you are much more likely to keep coming back.
Music as a Soothing Reminder Find songs you like in the language you are learning. You can listen to them over the course of the day when you can’t actively learn the language. This helps you learn the sounds, and over time you will start to recognize the words as well. Don’t tune out the songs either. That means rotating the music list so that you do not get complacent. If you can get karaoke versions of songs you enjoy, that is even better. You don’t have to sing when others are around, just make sure you sing so that you can practice the sounds and structures that are part of the language.
Find a Language Similar to Your Own This only applies if you have not already decided what language you want to learn. It is a great guide if you are unsure about where you should start. Learning a language that is similar to your own will give you a better sense of accomplishment because you are able to work through the hardest parts with easy comparisons.
It Takes Time – Don’t Rush and Don’t Give Up There is a lot of excitement early on because you have this image of what you want out of the experience. The further you get into it though, the harder it is to see the ending. You must be both patient and persistent to succeed, not matter what language you are learning. Do not compare your progress to others. Everyone learns differently, and the less you know about how other people are performing, the more focused you will be on succeeding. Even the fastest learners need a long time to learn a language. If you feel frustration setting in, do the following steps to gain perspective.
- Take a deep breath.
- Step away for a bit.
- Find a pace that works for you – it may change based on what you are learning (certain aspects of grammar are incredibly difficult, you may need to be slower as you go through them).
- You will make mistakes. Don’t get discouraged – learn from them.
- Talk to someone about issues you are having and see if they can help.
- Go online and ask questions.
- Be reasonable about your goals.
Enthusiasm is a great motivator, but it will only get you so far. Most of language learning is about being patient and persistent, and you need to keep that in mind the further into a language you go. It’s about Quality,
Not Quantity You can learn 1,000 words, but if they aren’t the right words, it was likely a waste of your time. Of course, you want to start showing off as early in the process as possible, but simple memorization isn’t learning either. Target what you learn to things that actually matter to you. Remember your overall goal instead of trying to make an impression. In the end, your skill will be much more impressive than if you focus on little pieces of the language for short-term gain.
Use Your Passion to Your Advantage If you are incredibly passionate about a certain aspect of a language or culture, you can use this to your advantage rather easily. This means remembering why you want to learn the language. Keep your eyes on the long-term goal that made you start down this difficult path so that you will keep going even when it gets tough. This is a lot easier when you set realistic expectations. Also, keep in mind that if you are procrastinating undertaking a serious study session by watching a TV show in that language or reading the news in that language, you are not doing anything wrong. You are learning the language so that you can do those things, so you are just putting what you know to good use. Nothing wrong with that.
Languages Are Not Meant to Be a Solo Effort This reminder should be obvious, but too often we get lost in our own little worlds and forget that language is about learning to communicate. Communication generally requires at least two people (unless you frequently talk to yourself) - learning a language should not be an effort you make on your own. Whether you seek out a tutor or teacher, or a community of people who are learning the language, or even a language partner, make sure there is someone there to help you learn. You will find that your chance of success is significantly improved.