How to Learn a Language
By Lauren Albenice
It is a misconception that a person can become fluent in a language by only attending a class a few hours a week. Language learning requires immersion and dedication: you need to surround yourself as much as possible with the language on a regular basis. Make it one of your favorite hobbies and an important part of your daily routine. The time you spend outside of the classroom is proportional to the rate at which you become fluent.
Learning a language is like learning to play an instrument: anyone can play a little bit at first, but being able to play a masterpiece takes practice and dedication. You need to start with the basics and then work your way up to the more complex structures. Don’t be frustrated when you cannot understand what someone is saying; instead try to get the general idea by picking out words and by paying close attention to the person’s body language. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: every attempt to speak and understand is an investment.
Your brain is programmed to naturally decode and acquire languages, and this happens best when you hear it used in context during real life situations. Reorganize your life so that learning experiences become readily available to you. Here are some excellent strategies to learning another language:
1) Travel to a country that speaks the language and spend as much time in a “survival” situation as possible. Make it a point to speak only in the target language to obtain all information and tend to your needs.
2) Meet friends in person or online that speak the language. Agree not to speak in English while with each other. It does not matter whether they are native speakers or learners of the language.
3) Watch videos in the target language. If subtitles are available, watch them first without subtitles, and then watch them again with English subtitles to see how much you understood. Pause to look up the words that catch your attention.
4) Read in the target language. Choose media that has accompanying pictures to assist you with the meaning. Look up words in the dictionary that catch your attention.
5) Listen to music in the target language. Obtain copies of the song lyrics in both languages to sing along and to understand their meanings.
6) Study with apps, audio and video programs that teach you phrases and sentence structure. Access them on your personal device for when you have free time.
7) Research with language learning websites and reference books. Read them in small doses and use them to reference phrases you have heard or read.
8) Create flashcards on index cards or with a a flashcard app for studying words you want to learn. Look at the words whenever you have time.
9) Use mnemonics, “mind tricks”, by which you associate difficult words or phrases with a vivid mental image. Make sure the image somehow relates back to the meaning of the word. The more ridiculous the association, the easier you will remember it. The associations will eventually fade over time, but the word and its meaning will remain yours.
10) Talk to yourself out loud and think in the target language as often as you can. Routinely write down ideas that you are unable to express in the target language and find out how to say them.
11) Harness the power of positive thinking. Wake up every day and say out loud “I am learning so much Spanish very quickly, and am having lots of fun doing it!” Believe this is true and it will become so.
12) Utilize a variety of language learning methods; don’t just stick to one or two. Keep your study interesting and make sure to enjoy yourself. Become passionate about learning and you will succeed.