What does it take to learn a language? Is there any kind of magical formula or something we can do to become proficient in a very short period of time? Sadly, I don’t think so, but I can only speak for myself: learning languages is a task that requires patience and motivation.
Generally we start to learn a new language driven by a specific reason, but if that reason doesn’t motivate us, it is very probable that we end up losing interest. I personally find grammar lessons totally boring, and I think we end up moving away from the essence of learning a language which is to communicate, to understand and to be understood. Some language courses that I’ve attended dedicate too much time to describing the language, its rules, and general theory, and little time focusing on the real thing which is talking (only closely followed by writing). It is true that we can’t start writing texts without knowing grammar rules, but it is also true that children learn to speak a language and create logical sentences without having the slightest idea of what grammar is. I have even met many adults that don’t even remotely know what an adjective is, sad as it is.
Here I have prepared a list with some of the techniques that have helped me to learn languages (although they might not be the most effective) :
- Listen to music in that language. Some might say that it’s not advisable since we also learn weird and maybe even incorrect structures. Well, I’m sure the language they use is not formal but it doesn’t bother me, I want to learn the real language, and avoid sounding like an academic as much as possible.
- Refrain from learning single words. Learn words in context instead! I try to associate words in a funny or a meaningful way, so that it reminds me of something personal, an experience or a specific moment. I also try to pay attention to the words in catchy titles from songs, movies or slogans, I rarely forget those.
- Read in that language. It doesn’t matter if I’m only an advanced beginner, it doesn’t matter if I only understand 4 out of every 10 words. Generally I start reading easy texts just to capture the general meaning of them. But it pays off! The more I read, the more I understand.
- Travel to the country where that language is spoken. This is one of the most expensive, but also one of the most enriching (and effective) techniques. You not only learn much faster but you also end up learning much more than just a language.
- Speak up! Talk no matter how many mistakes you make. If you don’t find the right word talk with your hands, do drawings, use a word in another language, but don’t keep quiet… (singing also counts).
- Bombard yourself with information in that language: listen to the radio, watch tv, chat, translate, etc. Immerse yourself in the language and culture as much as possible.
- Be curious! Ask yourself why, question things, look for that perfect word you want to use but you can’t seem to find, learn the formal way of saying it and the colloquial way as well, and find out why it is said like that. Sometimes the answers to those questions have given me a better understanding of the logic of a language.