Updated: May 5
How many years of foreign language did you take in school?
4 yrs French? 3 yrs Spanish?
Are you fluent?
. . .
Yeah. I didn't think so!
Most students in the United States have taken at least two years of some foreign language during primary school. Some schools, like the small private school I went to, have children attending Spanish classes from elementary school all the way up to their Sophomore/Junior year. That's EIGHT years of Spanish classes!
Personally, I don't remember a single thing from those classes, except maybe the song we sang about our heads hurting and we needed a doctor. (Me Duele La Cabeza)
It is clear that the classroom setup is not the best use of our time, energy, and resources when it comes to teaching students, or teaching yourself, a new language.
Before I share my tips on learning a new language outside the classroom, there are some things that need to be in place for one to learn. I have compiled a list of what it takes, I mean,
what it really takes, to learn a new language from scratch.
You have to WANT to learn a new language.
Or be in a situation where you NEED to learn the language in order to survive i.e. a job transfer.
This goes without saying; if you are not interested, you will not pay attention or put forth the effort necessary. You need to be MOTIVATED.
You need people around you who are fluent in the language you are trying to learn.
> You learn faster.
> You learn more accurately; they will correct your mistakes.
> You have the opportunity to FREQUENTLY LISTEN to the language.
> You can PRACTICE speaking.
The biggest hurdle to overcome is our perfectionism or embarrassment to practice and make mistakes.
So many people have told me that they (1.) want to learn to speak, let's say, German, (2.) they have a couple cousins in Germany who can help, BUT when it comes down to it, that very moment where they can possibly contribute to the conversation, they would rather stay silent!
"I have a funny accent, my grammar mistakes and pronunciation, I stutter, I can't take myself seriously and they speak English anyway so they can't take me seriously either..."
* Many phrases/sayings taught in textbooks are not useful when speaking to people casually on a daily basis.
Of course you are going to make funny mistakes! People will have to be more patient with you as you try to explain yourself. Big misunderstandings may take place. It's okay, it's not your first language!
Here are some funny examples of mistakes people make!
-“non mi piace la polluzione” is not “I don’t like pollution”.. you are saying that “you don’t like nocturnal emission”;
-“Il giorno del Ringraziamento mangiamo la Turchia” means “the day of the Thanksgiving we eat Turkey (the nation)”: “tacchino” is the Italian word for the animal;
It is hard in the beginning to learn a new language. But once you start understanding some pieces, the rest of the puzzle pieces will fit into place and begin to make sense. Now that we got the fundamentals out of the way, here are some of the tools I used to begin learning Italian, to eventually becoming fluent as a native speaker.
Tools to help you learn:
Imitate those that know the language
Repeat what you hear outloud. Try to copy their intonation and expression/gestures.
Speaking another language uses new face muscles, and imitation also helps with pronunciation. Repeating what others say will start you off with a few phrases to build from.
Spend time with children who speak the language
If you can, kids are great to be around when you are first starting out with the language;
Children speak more simply, and they think more simply.
They understand the "gibberish" we may say because they focus more on expressions than words. Children show you what the natural progression of learning a language should look like. They, too, are learning new words and phrases.
Read a book in both languages
Pick any book you like. It is good to choose one that uses simple language but is also lengthly, such as Narnia, any book by Roald Dahl (Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, etc.). Have two versions of the book: one in English, and the other in your language of choice.
Read them together, one on top of the other with the English version on the bottom. This will help you learn new words not by definition, but by the context of the sentence.
Always have a pen and paper handy
You will need to write down new words you hear throughout the day!
Ask A LOT of questions
Have no shame. Some good starter phrases to learn are,
"what is that?"
"can you say that again, more slowly?"
"I do not understand."