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Learning a Foreign Language: 7 Fool-Proof Tips

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Learning a foreign language is hard.  I have learned two foreign languages myself and can attest to the frustration and hard work that encompasses the endeavor.  Throughout my escapades learning French and Spanish, I have discovered 7 effective tips for significantly increasing fluency and comprehension.

LISTENING: audiobooks, Netflix, and lyrics

When we learn our first language we spend the first 7 or so months JUST LISTENING. Trying to understand and differentiate between all of the different sounds that make up our mother tongue.  This listening step is also incredibly important (and I would argue the foundation for) foreign language acquisition.  This is the premise for the first 3 tips.

1. Watch most TV shows and movies in your target language. If you have Netflix and Hulu, many shows and movies are offered in multiple other languages.  Using subtitles either in your first language or in the target language often helps with comprehension.

2. Download an audiobook in your target language. I recommend it be a book that you have previously read, especially if you are just beginning to learn the language. I also recommend the book be a children’s or young-adult chapter book.  These typically use more conversational phrases, useful vocabulary and verb tenses.  Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone is a good example.  Listen to the audiobook while you are going to bed, getting ready, showering, eating breakfast, whatever.  Try to aim for a chapter a day.

3. Make a playlist with songs you like in your target language. Play them in your car while driving.  Soon you will start to learn the lyrics and sing along to them.  You’ll notice increased comprehension, pronunciation, and memory of the words and phrases in the songs.

STUDYING: words, verbs, grammar, conjugation, everything

Whether it be classes at your university, high school, community center, or online language learning like Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, or Babbel; Studying does facilitate the retention of new words, correct grammar, conjugation of verbs, etc. However, how you are studying is important and indicative of your either impending success or struggle.  Here what I recommend:

4. Try to focus on verbal learning. Often times foreign language learners find themselves in the awful predicament of being able to write a complete and complex essay in their target language but unable to have a simple conversation with a native speaker of said target language.  This is often due to a disproportionate focus on studying spoken vs written.  In too many classes, whether in person or online, students spend approximately 80% of their time learning and studying focusing on writing and reading the target language and about 20% focusing on speaking and listening.  I would argue that it should, in fact, be the opposite.

Converse, whenever, wherever and with whoever you can

5. Having conversations in your target languages helps build and improve almost every aspect of fluency. I always find it helpful to tell the person I am speaking with that they should feel free to correct me whenever I am wrong.

Go to where the language is widely spoken

6. Say you live in Texas and you are trying to learn Spanish. You have so many options: visit the Spanish-speaking neighborhoods around where you live, fly to Mexico, backpack through Spain.  Say you live in Kansas City and are learning French, you also have many options: Join the Alliance Francaise (a group that meets often around the city to enjoy French conversation), take a road trip to Montreal, Canada or Fly to France.

Give yourself grace

7. This is an extremely difficult thing you have set out to accomplish and you should be proud of and patient with yourself every step of the way.  Even when you can’t remember a simple word or phrase.  Even when you have no idea what the person in front of you speaking in plain Chinese just said.  Give yourself some grace, and then get back to practicing those verb conjugations.

You can do it. Puedes hacerlo. Vous pouvez le faire.

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