Learn a language well, and you can have a high level of fluency after as little as one year of study. Learn a language badly, and you can still be floundering over the basics after 20 years. Although living in the country and immersing yourself in the language is a great way to learn, some people still struggle to order a coffee after 20 years in-situ. So what is the best, most effective way to learn a language, and to ensure that your language learning has a successful outcome?
The most important thing to know is that learning a language is NOT like riding a bicycle – if you don’t practice it, you WILL forget it.
How To get the most out of your language study:
– Study and be exposed to the language everyday. If you are given homework in class, don’t leave it until the night before. Do it little-by-little throughout the week. Ten minutes of study every day is better than 2 hours once a week.
– Don’t take a break from your study when your language school does. If your school closes for 2 weeks between terms and for 2 months over Christmas, make sure you don’t. Keep listening to music, watching films, reading books and articles, practicing grammar exercises and reviewing vocabulary throughout the break.
– Review what you have already learned again and again. Its not enough just to be able to recognise a word or grammar structure – you need to be able to recall it automatically and effortlessly in any situation.
It is also important to know that the concept of good and bad language learners is basically a myth. Although some people may grasp grammar concepts and pick up new vocabulary faster than others, the real indicator of a language learner’s eventual success is how regularly they are exposed to and practice their chosen language. It is therefore incredibly important to keep yourself motivated, to keep you practicing your language.
– If you hate grammar or learning vocabulary, don’t do it outside class, or keep it to a minimum.
– Love watching films, reading books, listening to music? Then THAT is how you should be learning your language. Watch a film in your language, dissect a newspaper article on a topic that interests you, or learn the words to a song. This will keep you motivated and learning the language where other activities will have you struggling to stay awake and avoiding your daily language practice time.
– Don’t study anything that is too difficult. Needing to use too much brain power will exhaust you and make you mentally less willing to open that book tomorrow. Instead, take nice, easy, regular steps. Over the long term, you will learn faster than if you try to take in too much in one go, and then lose motivation and stop studying at all.
Learn the script! If your chosen language isn’t written in the roman alphabet, make sure you learn it. Don’t transliterate words into English. This will slow down your language acquisition in the beginning, but it will be worth it in the long time as it will allow you to learn through reading and writing, and will speed up your learning later on. You will eventually have to learn the script if total fluency is your aim. Even if your sights are set lower, the written word is incredibly important in this media rich age. And if you learn the script early on, you can practice reading and writing at the same time as you learn other aspects of the language, making your learning more effective.
As you can see, the best way to learn a language is more about learning and being exposed to the language regularly than doing certain listening, speaking or grammar exercises. Have fun with your language learning, and if you loose your motivation, remember all the reasons why you wanted to learn this language in the first place, and how great it will be to speak your language fluently.