A Unique Method to Yield Incredible Results
While I may be classifying this as a language hack, make no mistake, it will require work and effort on the part of the learner. No one and nothing can learn a language for you. There are, however, some strategies that work better than others. This one, in particular, completely changed the way that I go about learning languages. If I had to pick one moment and declare it the point in time that changed everything for me in my language acquisition, it would be the moment my youngest host sister asked me if I would read to her.
Having never spoken a word of French aloud to anyone, I was determined to keep it that way as long as possible. You can’t make mistakes if you never say anything, right? Well, true as that may be, there is no way to learn a language without using it, no matter how hard you might try. It is impossible to learn a language through memorization alone:
That said, it can be daunting to try and speak without ever having spoken before. This is where reading out loud can be truly advantageous. At the end of the day, confidence comes from knowing you have the ability to do something. If you have done it before, you can do it again. Therefore, the more you read, and the more you read aloud, the easier it will be to feel confident when the time to carry on a conversation comes. That’s it, that’s the secret. Reading out loud will change how you learn languages.
Why it Works
I have absolutely no science to back this up, but here is why it worked for me and why I think it will work for you. Reading out loud forces you to speak the language, but without any fear of criticism (other than from your harshest critic, you). The advantage to this is that the more you do it the more the inner critic will be soothed. As you improve in fluidity due to repetition you will begin to recognize more and more words. Those words that we often skim right over in English are the same in other languages and the more you are exposed to your target language the easier it will be for you to recognize words that are always in the same or similar places.
Pattern recognition is a vital skill to develop when learning a new language and exposure to language through literature is a sure way to hone that skill. Another thing that happens as you see more and more of your target language is you begin to focus on anomalies. Things that aren’t normally there in different forms, or levels of difficulty, of literature. Children’s books won’t use the same grammar, syntax, or vocabulary as a philosophical work. However, it is possible to go from one to the other and I highly recommend that you do.
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The minute you feel you are understanding ~80% of what you are working on it is time to move up a level in difficulty. It is always okay to go back down and read something a little bit easier to stack some Ws and get momentum rolling, but without leveling up it is difficult to stay motivated. You are capable of more than you think; and the more words you see and say the more you will be able to recall when the time comes.
One of the reasons reading aloud is so effective is there are multiple stimuli being used. You are seeing the words then saying them. This creates a connection in the brain between how the word looks and how it sounds.
If you don’t know how a word sounds I HIGHLY recommend finding out before you mispronounce it. I think listening to audiobooks while reading along is a great way to be certain of pronunciation. In a future post on accent work I will discuss this further. DO NOT get stuck pronouncing things wrong. It is an extremely difficult issue to correct that only gets worse the longer you continue pronouncing it incorrectly. Take 5 seconds to verify.
Strategies to Maximize Efficiency
For those who are like me, there are ways to maximize the efficiency of this method and I think it is worthwhile to at least take the time to understand why I consider these things beneficial. While reading aloud is great in and of itself, here are some things I do to take it to the next level.
Write down new words
This is where it becomes less fun and more clear that this is training to master a skill many never will master. Writing down new words is tedious, it takes time, it breaks flow, and it sets the C2 apart from the B2. As per usual, I recommend using a bilingual dictionary for this. Here are some options:
If none of these suit you, Amazon has anything you could ever want, but I would suggest checking out a local bookstore. They will usually be there for just a few dollars, they may even have some notes taken inside them you can use to your advantage.
Writing down new words will add an additional layer to the stimuli and you will be even more likely to recall the word when the time comes that you need it. Not only that, but it gives you something to refer back to if you need. I could go on about how you should use the new words you learn in sentences and start writing every day, but there will be more time for that later. For now, just know that writing down the new words you see as you are reading aloud will be beneficial for you in the short, medium, and long term as you continue working on your language acquisition.
Over Exaggerate Sounds
This one is actually a bit more difficult and it is 100% directed at people who are still getting comfortable speaking their target language. If that sounds like you, here’s a challenge:
As you read, overexaggerate the sounds you struggle with as you go.
For me, this was the French “R” and the German “ch”, in fact, I still overexaggerate the German “ch” from time to time just for practice. The reason this works is because it is far easier to tweak than to change entirely. So, if you are able to make the sound, but it is loud and overexaggerated, you can learn to scale it back a bit. No one is perfect out of the gates, and if you are, well, congratulations. The rest of us will be here calibrating and recalibrating until we hit perfection, too.
I spent weeks and months reading out loud to my host sister and she would always tease me for how loud and long my “R” sounds were, but it was the only way I could do it when I started. Slowly but surely I was able to find a good spot and now it is rather difficult to tell me apart from a native speaker. I want this for you, too!
So if there are sounds you struggle with, words you struggle with, or entire phrases you find difficult, I encourage you to speak them and speak them loudly! The only way to get better at things you find difficult is to do those things more. Understanding this changed my language acquisition for the better and it also changed the way I view embarrassment. I used to be embarrassed when I pronounced a word wrong, now I’m embarrassed if I don’t know the word at all. That said…
Every form of stimulus is important when learning a language, but when combined, reading, speaking, and writing have an incredible impact on the memory. When recall is the most important part of speaking a foreign language, the power lies in repetition and reading out loud is a sure fire way to get some repetition in with often far more difficult words than would encounter in day to day life.
What’s better than being mistaken for a native speaker?
Being asked how you attained such a large vocabulary, after they’ve assumed you are a native speaker.
That is what I want for you.
Becoming bilingual is difficult, but you can do difficult things and be great. So go do difficult things and become great. Here I’ve given you some of the tools, but in the end, there is no comprehensive guide, no tips or tricks to carry anyone across the finish line. Language acquisition requires time, effort, and consistency. That said, it is something that anyone of any age is more than capable of accomplishing. I’ll be rooting for you and keeping an eye on your progress.
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