Language Learning Tools the Public Education System Neglects
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! Approaches to language learning are vast and varied, but irrespective of which language you are trying to learn, there is one thing that will enhance and accelerate your second language acquisition. Unfortunately, it is something most people try to avoid at all costs. That said, avoid it is also why most people struggle with fluency even in their native language. That game changer is, of course, writing. Yes, the end goal is to be able to speak fluidly, but without the ability to think in your target language you will never get to the point of fluency when it comes to speaking your target language.
1. Writing in a new language to develop language skills
As standards have fallen the ability to write has become more and more rare. Unfortunately this is to the detriment of more than just the public education system. Being able to write is being able to think and the better you write the easier it will be for you to think. There is a reason that writing things down will help you remember them whether you are writing down the tasks you need to accomplish or you are writing down new words you are learning. Not only does it help with your memory, but it helps with your thought process.
Often when people are faced with a problem they do what they can to think it through in their head. This rarely works, however, because it is rather difficult to remember your train of thought as you get further into the self discussion. By writing these things down not only will you get it out of your head, which may result in you not feeling the need to worry about it anymore, you will also be able to reason through the thought in a more thorough way. While this is to your benefit within your native language, it will also enhance and accelerate your second language acquisition.
Different approaches to writing in your target language
Fortunately, when it comes to writing, there are many different approaches which means you do not have to spend hours forcing yourself to do something you dislike. Most people spend their time writing essays in school, and while this can be beneficial in helping understand and demonstrate an understanding of the covered material, it is often tedious and even boring. Now that you are in control of your education, you get to decide what you want to spend you time doing. If you like to write poetry, write poetry in your target language. If you like to write short stories, write short stories to develop your language skills. On the other hand, if you are one of the people, like myself, who enjoyed writing essays after reading, then do that!
Irrespective of what you are writing, the fact you are writing is what matters most. The problem with many language teachers is that they end up having their students focus on the things the teachers find important. While standardized tests are useful in ensuring the school continues to get paid, they are rarely a quality measurement of proficiency. That is why many native speakers often find themselves failing language classes that are being given in their native language. It is rare that someone understands to a high degree the grammar rules of their mother tongue. So while you can certainly approach language learning in the same way the public education system does, if you do you may find yourself bored, discouraged, or worse.
The last form of writing that many do not consider when embarking on this adventure is journaling. Whether you call it a diary, a journal, or something else, maintaining a written record of your day is often worthwhile. However, being able to do so in your target language comes with a few unique benefits. For one you will be forced to think through your day and recite it on paper. Thinking in your target language is the goal, after all, and by writing about your day you will force yourself to think in your target language in the same way you think in your native language. The benefits of this are numerous, but the greatest benefit is that you will be easier for you to recall the words that correspond with your every day vocabulary.
Not only that, but you will also be able to go back and assess what you have written to ensure you are making progress. When you go back and read what you did on a given day, you have a chance to relive it and reassess your actions. But when you write about the day in your target language then you can take a look at the language you used and whether or not it accurately and completely encompasses the way you felt and the things you did. The average language learner will never go back and check their work, nor will they go back and improve upon it, even when they know that it the best way to progress. Doing that one thing will advance your language skills more than you can imagine.
2. Improving every time
Editing is one of the least enjoyable activities because it means being faced with the fact that what you wrote initially is perhaps not the best it could have been. However, forcing yourself to do this is what will make all the difference. Often it is the things we wish to do least that help us make the most progress. For those who hate speaking, the solution is to speak more often.
For those who hate reading, the solution is to read more often. For those who hate writing, the solution is to write more often. As you increase the frequency at which you do these things you will find they become easier, not more difficult. It will be slow, at first, but if you perpetually avoid these things it will be slow indefinitely.
One of the reasons reading in foreign languages often is so helpful is because without outside stimulus it can be difficult to encounter new vocabulary words. When you are constantly inundated with new words you will be able to use them. That is why it is so important to go back and revise the things you wrote. A month after having written a poem, you may go back and find that you have learned ten new words that are not only more precise, but more eloquent.
When you go back to revise a short story you will find that not only have you improved, but you now know enough to improve the communication strategies of the characters in your story. The same goes for your personal writings whether they are diary entries or a memoire. All of these things coincide and will result in an improved ability to think in your new language.
3. Learning to think in a new language
Learning to think is no easy feat, learning to think in a new language is even more difficult. However, if you are taking your language acquisition seriously it is absolutely necessary. The reason translation is so useful is because you will be translating things in your head for a long time. For more on the utility of direct translation, check out this article:
Until you get to the point where the objects you see in your every day life are associated with the words in the language you are learning rather than in your native language, speaking fluently is going to be difficult. People often ask if there is a magic switch. A day when you no longer need to translate before you speak and the truth is that, yes, there is.
One day, months after you have begun translating sentences and thoughts in your head, you will suddenly no longer need the translations ahead of time. As with losing money or gaining weight, it happens slowly, then suddenly. That said, the more you do it the less time it will take and, conversely, the less you do it the longer it will take.
Part of thinking, though, is ensuring you are being as precise as possible. That means, if you do not know a word and you want to use it, then you need to look it up, write it down, and practice with it. The words you use when you are thinking are rarely one time use, so keeping a running list of these words has countless benefits. A large pool of vocabulary words will serve you in more ways than one and if you want to see just how many ways, be sure to take a look at this article:
Having a large vocabulary is an essential part of developing your language skills. Grammar is important, of course, but there are things that you can get away with far easier than if you have a small vocabulary. As mentioned above, already most people do not know the grammar rules in their native language and therefore they make mistakes frequently. That never stops them from speaking, though, and it should not stop you. Mistakes are part of the process and if you wait until you are perfect to speak the language you will be waiting for a very long time.
Speaking a new language
When you are first beginning to speak, mistakes will happen frequently. Putting an emphasis on your mistakes, though, is where the public education system fails most people. Mistakes are inevitable and in order to develop your skill over time you need to be able to take them in stride. If you focus only on what you got wrong you will never be able to appreciate what you got right and without that context it can be easy to lose momentum quickly. Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent. The plan is to develop your skills over the long term and in order to do that you are going to spend a lot of time listening and reading and writing long after the beginning of your language learning journey.
That said, it is not always fun to take baby steps, even when that is what is necessary. Starting out you are going to spend far more time listening than you do speaking. This is normal and being able to listen effectively will teach you lessons that textbooks cannot. When you listen to the key words and phrases people use in their every day lives you will hear words that you cannot find in a textbook.
The way people speak and the way people are supposed to speak are rarely the same. Understanding basic phrases in context will not only help you improve your listening comprehension, it will also arm you with the tools you need to hold basic conversations, even if you do not entirely understand them.
As unfortunate as it may be, the best lessons are often taught outside of class, especially when it comes to foreign language learning. So start with baby steps. Learn how to maintain small talk. Whether you enjoy it or not, a majority of the time you are speaking to people in a foreign language you will be using small talk.
However, being able to have basic conversations is powerful when it comes to building confidence and confidence is half the battle in getting to fluency. Once you can handle small talk, move on to topical conversations. Learn how to discuss the things that are important and interesting to you. After you master that, you will have the confidence to dive into deep conversations which will catapult you towards fluency.
Speaking is one of, if not the most difficult pieces to master when it comes to language acquisition, but when you teach yourself to think in the new language everything becomes easier. Second language acquisition is no easy feat, it will be difficult irrespective of how you approach it. Using the second language strategies listed here can and will enhance and accelerate your language learning experience, it will not be easy. But you can do difficult things and be great, so continue to do difficult things and be great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same.
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