There are two ways to learn another language. The quickest way to learn is through immersion, where you are basically thrown into a foreign country and you learn the language because it is all you hear. The other way is to learn it formally with a class, an app or a private teacher. Obviously, if you were learning a new language through immersion, you would just live life and start to understand the language. For the rest of us, who are stuck where we are, we have to learn formally. So what does it really take to learn a language this way?
I assume you want to be fluent enough to get along in everyday situations. If that is the case, it will take practice and a consistent effort on your part. It will also take a few other things. Here is a list of 8 essential keys to learning another language.
8 Essential Keys to Learning Another Language
First, you will need motivation for learning another language. It is important to think about what your motivation is and to keep this in mind as you go through the stages of learning. Sometimes it will seem very difficult, and you may want to give up, but if you keep your motivation in the forefront of your mind, you will more likely to keep going.
The biggest motivator for me to become fluent in French was that it was my major in college. I had to learn the material because I am competitive and needed to get As in my courses. I felt the need to show my teachers that they were doing a good job by doing my best work as a student. I wanted to live up to their expectations and have a high GPA. If I didn’t have all of that for motivation, I am not sure I would have gone as far as I did.
What is your motivation? Is it enough to keep you from slacking off when you get frustrated, tired or busy?
If your intention is to become proficient in another language, you will need to commit to learning it. If you schedule 3 lessons a week, make sure that you attend 3 lessons a week. Don’t blow off your lessons because something more fun came up or because you didn’t do your homework. By simply attending your lessons, listening to your teacher speak the language and trying your best to participate, you are learning more than you would by looking at your flash cards.
I do not mean to minimize the importance of studying when I say that. In fact, making the commitment to spend a certain amount of time studying on your own is also important. You need to practice and memorize words on your own so make sure that you also follow through with the commitment you make to yourself to study.
When you are committing to your language learning, make sure that you choose a consistent pattern for lessons and practicing. You want to make sure that you do several lessons with your teacher each week. Attending just one lesson a week will not be enough, unless you plan to take many years to learn another language. Be sure to maintain a consistent pattern for as many weeks in a row as you can. It is okay to take some time off here and there, but make it the exception not the rule.
As I said earlier, there will be times that learning another language will be very difficult. Each language presents a unique set of problems for the learner, and when you are learning the really difficult concepts is when you will need to exercise persistence.
Now this can be tricky because you have to balance it with little breaks. When you find yourself hitting a roadblock and the language doesn’t seem to make sense suddenly, that is when you need to take a break for a day or two. During this time, your mind will be working to file and sort the new language. It will also be resting. After the short break, you will find that you understand the language again!
One of the most important keys to learning another language is repetition. You will need to read, write, hear and speak the same words and phrases many times before they fully cement in your mind. Although repetition can be monotonous and boring, it can also be made more fun. I like to incorporate everyday conversation topics into the beginning of each lesson. I may ask about the time, the weather, the weekend’s activities, etc. This not only helps get students talking, but the repetition helps them remember how to talk about these subjects in their new language.
Learning another language takes time. The length of time will depend on how fast you learn and how many hours you invest each week. The main takeaway here is that you will have to spend time learning and practicing if you truly want to learn another language.
Ugh, flashcards! Most students hate making and practicing flashcards to learn new vocabulary. I have to say, though, that they are extremely effective. You get the benefit of using all 3 learning styles which will help you learn the new words faster. You use kinesthetic learning when you are writing them out, visual when you read them and audial when you say them out loud. You can also take cards out when you have memorized a word and add new words into the rotation. You can look at the new word and try to guess the meaning or look at the word in your native language and try to guess/know what it is in the language you are learning.
If you absolutely hate making flashcards the old fashioned way, there are some apps and websites that can help you. I have had many students tell me they like to use Quizlet for this purpose.
8. Using your skills
Using the skills and vocabulary you have learned is the most important key to becoming and staying fluent in another language. Try to immerse yourself the best that you can in your daily life. Try to listen to podcasts and music in your new language. Watch movies and read books, journals, and magazines in it. And last but certainly not least, make sure to speak your new language as much as possible. Have conversations with your teachers and look for a language group or club at your local University. They will often have off campus meetings for people who want to get together to speak French, German, or another language.
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