Learning strategies that make you want to study
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! Second language acquisition is difficult, but that does not mean it is complex. At the end of the day, if you spend your time immersing yourself in your target language then you are going to learn it. All the language learning strategies in the world cannot beat consistent effort and progressive overload. There are things that can enhance and accelerate your language learning journey, but if you are not consistent with it then nothing will work. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when it comes to language learning, so you might as well enjoy the time you spend immersing yourself.
If you are not having fun you are doing it wrong
It is probably beginning to sound a bit like a broken record, but with how much material is available to you there is no reason to spend time doing things you do not enjoy. Of course it is never fun to make mistakes, but when no one is around the only person holding you back is you.
Then, when it comes time to have a conversation with a native speaker, you will likely wish you would have started sooner and not worried so much about mistakes. An easy example is articles: the, le/la/les, el/la/los/las, die/der/das, etc. After experiencing public schools you may feel compelled to memorize the proper articles so as not to lose points on the test. In reality, no one cares if you do or do not use the correct article and even if they notice they will rarely point it out.
The idea of doing the things you enjoy does not mean you avoid things that are difficult. In order to master the language, you will need to do the things you find difficult. However, if you do difficult things using material you enjoy then it is easier to come back and try again the next day, even if you feel like you have been failing. That is why YouTube is such a powerful tool. You can find just about anything in just about any language meaning you can play to your interests. Learn about the things you have a background in and add in language learning tools to maximize the return on your time.
Language learning tools to apply anywhere
One thing people often forget when they are working to develop their language skills is that they can and should use material they enjoy for the exercises they are doing. It will be necessary to actively work with the material. As great as it is to passively consume content and learn words in the background using context clues, active learning will take you further faster. Here are some tools you should be using with every piece of comprehensible input you use:
The first tool you should be using early and often throughout your language learning journey is dictation. While it is probably one of the least enjoyable tasks, it will enhance and accelerate your language acquisition. All it means is to listen to something and write down what you hear. At first you will likely get the majority of the words wrong, but the important part is that you are looking for and writing down words. This will train you in several areas. Your listening comprehension will improve, your writing will improve, your speaking will improve, and most importantly, your ability to think in your target language will improve.
Listening to content you are interested in will keep you coming back, but by writing down the things you are hearing is difficult. That said, the more you do it the easier it will get. Once you can understand and write down word for word the things people are saying in a YouTube video or an audiobook or a television show or movie then speaking to native speakers will be easier. If you are already understanding everything that is being said you can spend less time translating the incoming words. This opens you up to focus on your response and making it before the conversation moves on to a new topic.
Hand in hand with working on your listening comprehension is working on your ability to speak. The best way to develop this skill early on is reading aloud. When you read out loud you can speak with seeming fluency without ever having to make up sentences on your own. If you do read the things you write on your own you will get even more benefit from this exercise. Irrespective of your learning style, reading things out loud will give you an insight into key words, the correct usage of basic phrases, and the variety of grammar rules you will be facing. With enough practice you will find that speaking fluidly is not an issue, even if coming up with sentences is, for the moment.
The method for this is relatively simple, but by adhering to it you will ensure your language skills develop efficiently. This is what the 4 step process looks like:
1. Choose an input: books, YouTube transcripts, news articles, podcast transcripts
2. Read 1 sentence aloud until you can read it fluidly without error
3. Add 1 sentence and read it aloud until you can read it fluidly
4. Repeat step 3 until you are reading entire chapters aloud without error
As you progress towards reading fluidly, you will likely find that you are less than happy with your accent. While it is absolutely understandable that you might speak with an accent, especially early on, eventually you may want to get away from that. The best way to do that is by repeating after orators who you wish to emulate.
Listening to audiobooks in your target language is an excellent way to build your language skills. To add another layer to it, repeat what you hear and trying to mimic to accent of the orator. This is one of the second language strategies that will move the needle most for you. Accents are something everyone battles with, but when you find a voice you like and mimic it until you sound almost identical you will not have to worry about that for long. Many language teachers lose out on massive opportunity here because they have the students focus on reading rather than repeating. Reading is great, but if all you do is read then you will struggle to speak for quite some time.
That said, when you are learning a foreign language there is something you can do to be better than the average language learner. Most people will stop at the audiobook. They will listen to it, maybe spend some time working through the context to determine the meaning of a word or group of words, and that is it. If you take the time to actually pause the book or movie or podcast and search for the unknown word in a physical dictionary before writing it down, you will be leagues above average language learners.
Writing down new words
People often lament the fact that they have searched for the meaning of a word several times only to need to look it up again later. The reasons for this are numerous, but there are simple things you can do to avoid, or at least reduce, the frequency at which this occurs. Looking up the words and keeping a running log of them is the easiest way to get started. Rather than searching for something on your phone, get a bilingual dictionary and write down every new word you come across. It will not prevent you from having to look things up multiple times, but it will lessen the frequency. Not only that, but it will make the other exercises you are doing easier as you will have a larger pool of vocabulary words from which to pull.
Learning new words is great, but if you do not use them then you will not remember them. In order to develop your language skills you need to go beyond step one in everything you do. If you are doing dictation daily, ensure you are constantly raising the speed of speech you are tracking. When you are listening to audiobooks, listen carefully and try to find out the meaning of words you do not recognize. Finally, if you are going to be doing all of these things, try taking the training wheels off and writing your own responses, even if you are not the person being addressed.
During conversation you will have little to no time to think of your response. You can certainly take your time to respond, but the longer it takes the more self conscious you will be. A good way to avoid this is by writing out the ways you would respond to certain scenarios. This is, in essence, teaching yourself to think in your target language which is paramount for successful language learning. Ideally you will already be immersing yourself in stimulus you enjoy, this will make writing the responses even easier. The more you do it the smoother the process will be.
One of the better language learning strategies that many miss out on is continuation. Once you have a conversation going be it in your head or on paper, you should continue it constantly. Always add no things, keep the conversation going in your head, play out different situations and how you would handle them. Thinking in your target language is the ultimate goal and when you get to the point when you no longer have to translate, you will know it was all worth it. Writing out responses to podcast questions or interjecting yourself into the conversations being had in the audiobook you are listening to will accelerate the process.
When it comes to language learning strategies, nothing matters if you are not able to remain consistent over the course of months. Irrespective of what some online influencer might say, fluency in under a year is extremely rare. Without complete immersion it is likely to be near impossible. Finding stimulus that you are interested in returning to consistently is vital to your success. You will be returning to it day after day and if you find yourself bored or worse then you will likely not be able to keep up with your language studies. If you are not enjoying the time you spend learning a new language you are simply doing it wrong.
Learning foreign languages is no easy feat, it will be difficult irrespective of how you approach it. Using the 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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