Start with Short, Simple Dialogue
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! During the early stages of the language learning process one of the most important things to do is stack little victories. Much of the success that will come later on when speaking is due to the confidence that was built during at the beginning. Going big is great, but consistency beats intensity. Stacking little victories from the beginning to the end will make things easy when progress begins to plateau.
Once the short, simple dialogues begin to feel repetitive and more tedious than helpful, it's time to up the difficulty. If the starting sentences are 5 words long, the next iteration should be 8 words long. If the sentences are already 8-10 words long, the next target should be 12-15. Incremental progression is everything. Once sentences are that long, the sky is the limit. The best way to track these, in my opinion is in a logbook. Luckily, I developed a free one you can download!
Writing stories, poems, and articles in the target language can make all the difference as things progress. With all of these writings, there's one other important thing to keep in mind, pronunciation.
Study Pronunciation Very Early on
Reading the sentences you write is the best way to practice pronunciation. The reason for this is simple, these are the words you use the most, therefore they are the words you will need to say most often. Luckily, this means you will have the most opportunities to get them right. That is why it is so important to start working on pronunciation early and often.
Most importantly, remember that pronunciation is not so important that it should stop you from speaking. Many people struggle to pronounce every word in their native language correctly. After all, what is the correct pronunciation of gif? Tomato? Potato? Renaissance?
Speaking is more important than perfect pronunciation every single time. But there are some things you can do to improve your pronunciation:
Beyond that, the next thing to focus on is ensuring you're learning the right words.
Learn the “Right” Words
When I say the "right" words, I mean the words that you use every day. The vocabulary you want to build is the one that corresponds with the vocabulary you have. Due to the fact that most language learning takes place as a solo endeavor later in life, one of the biggest issues isn't a lack of material, rather too much material. Duolingo seems irrelevant to many people because those aren't the conversations those people have. However, many of the phrases, not all, are extremely useful, especially in their individual parts.
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That said, I can understand not wanting to use Duolingo. If you don't want to use it, that is fine, but I recommend using an app. You can use this link for up to 55% off a Babbel subscription if that’s more up your alley.
Until you're able to start writing sentences of your own, an app is a great way to have different phrases given to you. Of course it is always possible that you start by reading Voltaire or Cervantes and translating sentences directly from their works, but that is a far more difficult road. Irrespective of how you decide to begin, the important thing is to begin writing and speaking sentences aloud as early into the journey as possible. The longer you go without nailing down the vocabulary the more difficult it will be to fix in the future.
If you DO want to use Duolingo, on the other hand, I encourage you to join us! We are already over 50 strong (at the time of this publication May, 9th 2023). Here are some crude instructions on how to make this happen:
Start Using the Language All Day, Every Day
This is something I like to refer to as "Localized Immersion". It is undisputed that immersion is the best ways to learn a language. Unfortunately it is not always possible and for many people it is one of the more difficult things to facilitate. On the bright side, there are things that anyone with internet access can do to build an immersion environment. Even better, they are all things that can be personalized and built to work on an individual level.
Set up your morning input
- An article about something you're interested in to read with coffee, news articles in your target language, music in your target language, a book in your target language, the Bible in your target language. Anything to start the day with a bit of reading/listening comprehension work. Ideally reading the material aloud.
- Write down 3 goals for the day or 3 things you're grateful for in your target language.
Force yourself to see and use the language
- Change your phone language to your target language and force yourself to interact with it.
- Join us on Duolingo
- Find native speakers near you
- Write sticky notes and put them everywhere
Replace one thing you do in your native language with something you do your target language
- Listen to new music
- Start watching movies and television shows in the target language
- Change the language of your video games
- Change the default language of your most used apps and websites
There are even more suggestions for you here:
With these tools the ideal next step is learning to think in the new language.
Think in Your Target Language
There are many language learning techniques, but the ones that don't at least mention developing the ability to think in the target language are next to useless. At the end of the day, the goal is to no longer have to translate from one language to another. That means the end goal is to think in the language. Fortunately, the ability to think is a not only useful for the development of language skills. Here some ways it will serve you during the language learning process, though:
- Stop translating sentences before saying them
- Develop the ability to jump into group conversations
- Make future goals easier to accomplish
- Start speaking quickly
Laugh off mistakes
Simply thinking in the target language does not mean that mistakes will suddenly disappear. Common words will continue to flow, but getting the conversational language used day to day down will take time. Eventually, though, there will be no need to translate from one language to the next.
However, when you are first starting it is going to be just translating from one language to another. While this can feel monotonous, it is important to start with this as early on in the language learning journey as possible. Everyone has to go through the same thing, putting it off only delays the mastery of the conversational phrases that are vital to speaking with native speakers.
Even if you don't plan to say them, though you should, practicing by translating every sentence you say, every thought you have, and every conversation you are part of is a potent strategy to expedite language learning. Even if they're just basic conversations, understanding how they sound in the desired language is key to becoming conversational.
Different languages have different grammar rules and structures, so reverse engineering those sentences into your native tongue will help in the creation of your own sentences in the future. One of the primary reasons for this is that the better you understand the structure of the new language, the easier it will be to learn new words the natural way.
Use Context Clue to Learn Words the Natural Way
Context clues are powerful when taking on the challenge of learning a foreign language. It's also one of the things most language learners seem to struggle with when getting started. The best way to get started learning with context clues is by getting started reading and writing early. Reading comprehensible input is vital, but being able to understand every single word is actually detrimental to progress in the long run. Most people are not fully 'fluent' in their native language. That is to say, the tests most people have to pass to translate in certain settings would not be widely passed by the majority of people who speak the given language natively.
For this reason, a good general recommendation is to advance in difficulty when there's a consistent understanding of 80% of the material. As the level of language proficiency increases, this number will also increase as there are only so many words in any language. It is rare to read anything, even for native speakers, and understand 100% of what is written. This holds true for people who have been speaking English for their entire lives.
The good news is, that means there really is no reason not to just go all in on a foreign language. If even native speakers don't know every word in their language, what does it matter if you make a mistake or two or three hundred when you're just getting rolling? This will help with learning a language fast, but there are no short cuts.
Learning a foreign language is no easy endeavor. While it can be simple, there are many things that make it complex. That said, all that really matters at the end of the day is consistency. That's why we started the Duolingo movement. It's not the perfect app, but being able to see other people working towards the same goal as you is powerful. Especially when all of those people are rooting for your success, too. There are countless language learning programs, but half an hour on Duolingo, combined with the above second language strategies, will allow the average person to make more progress than most online courses.
It is not impossible to learn a language fast, but if that is the goal it is imperative to understand that it will be difficult. Picking up a foreign language at any speed is going to be challenging. But you can do difficult things and be great. So go do difficult things and become great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same. I'll be here rooting for you and watching out for your successes in the meantime.
For more content find me on Twitter or Instagram. If you are struggling to get speaking in your target language, get up to 55% off a Babbel subscription using this link. I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.