Second language strategies to help you stack your skills
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! Something I preach constantly when it comes to second language acquisition is the importance of a variety of resources. The reason for this is simple, you should never be bored when learning a foreign language. Ideally you will be learning something while learning your new language, but that is certainly easier said than done. For that reason, I wanted to lay out a basic guide/framework you can introduce into your comprehensible input. Hopefully when following this recipe you are able to find great joy in language learning for months and years to come.
Step by step breakdown
Here is what it looks like as a step by step breakdown from one step to the next. For a more in depth look at things make sure to read to the end.
1. Write down your interests
2. Write down the things you do every day
3. Pick 3-5 things you want to focus on
4. Find 2-3 different resources for each of those things
5. Listen to 1 source, read 1 source, write a recap
6. Find a new more challenging resource
7. Repeat 5 & 6 until you feel comfortable explaining the concept in both languagesd
This is the overview of the steps. In all reality, learning a language is simple. However, simple does not mean easy. It is going to take time, but these are the steps. If you want to take a look at what they look like on a deeper level, continue reading.
Following the recipe
The easiest way to picture this as you look to integrate it into your life is by learning to cook. Follow along with videos of people teaching different recipes on YouTube. Do your best to not translate anything and see how much you are able to understand simply through watching the video and listening to what is being said. See how close your final product turns out to the one they end up with and then evaluate what went right and what went wrong.
Having a recipe to follow is key because even if you are missing one or two words there are only so many possibilities. That is why it is important to start out doing this exercise with things you already know. When you have a cursory knowledge of something, the terms used to discuss it are usually pretty similar across languages. Technical terms are often Latin based irrespective of which language you are working with and if they are not then you will need to find a pattern. Sometimes remembering the differences is easier than trying to remember the similarities.
Here are just a few ideas that I have sent out resources for in the Spanish Resource Newsletter:
If you have an interest and you can find it on the internet in English, you can almost certainly find it in your target language. The ability to follow instructions in your target language is vital for your longterm success. Writing about this experience will help solidify it all the more. You might be surprised at just how many ways you can add this directly into your daily routine today.
Develop your language skills by honing others
You are going to spend months learning a new language. With this in mind, it is important to do things you can maintain interest in for long periods of time. If you put emphasis on learning more about topics you already have an interest in you can ensure that no time you spend learning a language is wasted. Spending time watching television can turn into a waste of time, but if you do it in a foreign language then it never will.
Listen to YouTube videos and follow along. Find out how well you actually can understand the language. In all likelihood you will have to follow directions early and often when you are learning to speak a new language. By doing it in the comfort of your own home you can ensure you carry confidence into your other interactions. Once you are sure, or mostly sure, that you have understood the entire video, cooked the meal, built the furniture, or whatever you chose, then it is time to comment.
Commenting on YouTube videos or articles you read is a no lose situation. Practice you writing while interacting with someone who has similar interests to you. There is often a high chance you get a response and you will learn a great deal about the writing style of native speakers by reading through the other comments. Focus on different phrases and ways to work new words into your sentences. For even more practice with basic phrases and sentences ensure you are reading often.
Watching videos about these subjects is fantastic, but you should not only watch things. Ideally you are reading at least as much as you are listening and watching content. While it is certainly more difficult to find resources to stick with when you are reading, once you do it will change how you approach second language acquisition. Not to mention you will instantaneously increase the amount of vocabulary words you have at your disposal. Of course, if you really want to remember it there is one thing you can do to make it more likely irrespective of your learning style.
Recap the things you are learning and the key words associated in your target language in a journal. Write every new word down and as many grammar rules as you can. Repeat until you are sure you have found the correct usage of different terms in your new language. There are countless language learning strategies, but the ones that do not involve writing are rarely worthwhile. You have to get curious and dive deep into different topics. Writing all these things you learn down will make it far easier to recall what you learned.
Get curious and dive deep
As you develop a deeper understanding of different topics you are going to have to rely on your own curiosity and self evaluation. From the beginning you are going to build your vocabulary and grammar skills, so maintaining a healthy curiosity for other subjects will be vital in getting you to fluency. From there, you will need to speak about the things you are tracking. With this many things to cover, a variety of topics is not all that matters. It is equally important that you do not jump too eagerly to new topics.
When you spend at least a week on a topic you give yourself the chance to work with at least a few different pieces of comprehensible input. Fluency is no easy feat, it is going to take months. Sticking to some things for at least one week at a time is good practice for the attention foreign languages demand. Working on things you are already interested in using your target language is a powerful tool in your second language acquisition belt. That said, you are going to want somewhere to track things.
If you are learning Spanish, you can check out our Spanish Language Logbook available on Amazon with the French and Italian versions to be finished before Thanksgiving! Find those here:
On the other hand you can always use an unstructured notebook and simply track the things you are working on that way. Either way, writing what you learn is what will set a good language learner apart from other language learners. Writing is learning to think and when you can think in your target language you can easily finish the rest of the road to fluency.
Developing your language skills is far more enjoyable when you are able to focus on the things that you love. Diving deeper into topics that you already have a cursory knowledge of is helpful because the barrier to entry is lower. You will likely go in understanding terms you did not expect to understand. This should give you confidence to continue forward. It also should help anyone who has selective attention issues stay engaged with listening comprehension, reading, writing, or speaking.
Whether you think grammar or vocabulary is more important, you need to focus on both throughout your language learning experience if you want to develop your language skills to be well rounded. Learning a foreign language is no easy feat, it will be difficult irrespective of how you approach it. 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.
Be sure to check out Second Language Strategies to catch up on anything you missed, find me on Twitter or Instagram for some short form content. If you are struggling to get speaking in your target language, join our Discord! I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.