Top 5 tips for learning a language.
By Philip Bamber, Co-Proprietor at The Language Space
A lot of people talk about wanting to learn a language. For some it is to enhance their travelling experiences; for others it is to enhance their work prospects; and others still are just looking for a new challenge. Being able to speak a foreign language can change your life, expand your horizons and make you an all-round great person.
There are no miracle cures, so avoid being sucked in by products which tell you you'll be fluent (whatever that means) in a foreign language within two weeks. It's just not possible - you'll end up getting frustrated and will want to give up. That said, however, I can tell you that there are certain habits and techniques which, if put into practice, will make your journey a lot easier, and therefore quicker. So, here are my top five language learning tips:
Tip 1 - Find foreign friends.
In my humble opinion, this is the single most important thing you can do when learning a foreign language: after all, what's language for if not for communication? Finding a language-friend will put you ahead years and will give you the chance to hone your skills in the 'real world'.
Tip 2 - Be realistic.
Rome wasn't built in a day. I remember when I first began learning Spanish I would tell myself that I must become 'fluent' within X amount of time. After X, Y and Z amount of time had elapsed, I realised that 'fluent' is an empty and meaningless word and just got on with tip three.
Tip 3 - Enjoy the Journey.
Yes, there are commonly agreed-upon levels of language-learning , from A1-C2 (and beyond), but they are only useful up to a point. Language-learning isn't simply a linear process and no two learners, even of the same 'level', possess exactly the same knowledge. Much better, in my opinion, is not to get too hung-up on levels: use them as mere markers of progress and focus more on enjoying the journey. For every step forwards, don't forget there can be five steps sideways.
Tip 4 - Set a routine.
Practice little and often. A five-hour binge once a fortnight is nowhere near as effective as spending twenty minutes every day studying. It doesn't even have to be twenty consecutive minutes, just touch base with your chosen language as often as you can. Your best friend in this endeavour is the habit of multitasking: finding twenty minutes of peace and quiet can be difficult, but listening to a foreign language while doing something else is easy. Think of all the times in your daily life when you could be listening to a podcast and it really starts to add up. Walking the dog? Listen to a podcast. Driving the car? Podcast (though not on headphones). At the gym? Podcast. Kids being annoying? You get the idea.
Tip 5 - Embrace grammar.
The mere mention of the word 'grammar' sends many learners running for the hills. The reason for this is that most of us barely know what a verb is (let alone the subjunctive) in our own language and thus lack the tools to take it on.
However, grammar is your friend, giving you the framework to express every kind of idea, so you should embrace it.
Bonus Tip - Think laterally!
All too often, language learners back themselves into a corner by being too intent on expressing something in the exact same way they would in their native language. Common sense tells us that this isn't wise, as we'll always be more proficient in our mother-tongue and therefore we will run into situations where our ability to translate on-the-fly fails us. My strong advice is to think of other ways to express the same basic idea. For example, if you can't remember the word for 'grandmother', you can always say 'the mother of my mother'.
We think that learning a language is a pretty exciting thing to do, and love helping people along the journey. Our classes are all small, with a heavy emphasis on conversation, located in the city centre. Why not stop thinking about learning and language and start doing it? We’d love to hear from you.