Saturday, October 07, 2006

How to Learn a Foreign Language


Do you want to learn a foreign language? Have you already spent a huge amount of time and money on classes, books, audio courses and CD-ROMs to no avail? You are not alone. Every year, millions of people get disillusioned with their progress after starting with plenty of enthusiasm. Do a search on the net for language learning products and you will find many that offer guaranteed results, easy formulas, no memorising necessary etc. But they just dont work. At least not for you, you think. Here are some guidelines to make your language learning experience more effective and perhaps more enjoyable.

Lighten up!

The one big thing that stops many people from successfully communicating in a foreign language is the fear that they will get laughed at for their mistakes or bad pronunciation. For shy people, this is a major handicap, and can be likened to the fear of public-speaking, which ranks high in the list of fears. You will be surprised at the patience, toleration and even admiration that you will get when you make an effort to speak the language of your interlocutor. I still fall into this trap when speaking French, but most people are usually really complementary, and tell me that they wish they could speak English as well as I speak French! Learn to laugh at yourself, and you will find that others will laugh with you, not at you.

Memorise key sentences

Yes, I said memorise. Advertising that tells you that memorising is not necessary is simply false. I think that they want to tell you that you dont need to learn parrot-fashion, which is a tedious pursuit. The opposite of memorising is forgetting, and that is even less acceptable! To speak a language means learning words, not reading them once then immediately forgetting them.

You need to learn by heart some correct sentences. By correct I mean a grammatical structure. If you are busy learning new words, you can substitute them for words in your correct sentence to produce other sentences. This is essentially how babies learn to speak, and is far more efficient than learning rules of grammar. Your brain is just not able to make the co-relation between a rule of grammar and using it in conversation. If you have a good vocabulary on the other hand, and you know how to say for example I didnt know you were coming then the chances are it will be easy for you to say I didnt think he was working in your target language. The grammatical structure is the same in both sentences.

Read and listen as much as you can

You have to practise speaking a lot to master a language. But what can you say if dont know any words? Not much, and thats the frustrating part. Listen to the radio in your target language every day and read the local newspapers. Its so easy to do today with the internet. If you are just starting, you wont understand very much, but it is still really important to do it regularly, in order to tune your ear to the wavelength of the language you are learning. Repetition is the key here. Over a period of time you will start to decode what once sounded like a constant stream of language where you couldnt even tell when one word ended and the next one began. Your passive understanding will eventually turn into active speaking if you keep at it. Good luck!