Speaking fluently for work and life…July 27, 2011 4 Comments
Many people live and work in a foreign language environment daily for years and never learn much more than the very basic words in the language. I know, I have met many such people. Then there some of us would like to also learn a language with which we have no direct contact.
How do you break into that other language community?
There are three main scenarios here for the would-be-language-learner:
1. You speak one language at work but live in a community where another language is spoken, which you cannot speak well or at all
2. You work or live in a bilingual or multilingual environment and there is a language you want to learn
3. You have no or limited exposure to the language you want to learn
The old speech about people being flattered if you show an interest in learning their language is true in most circumstances. Build on this positivity.
There is normally no rush to learn a language. It is not a race. In fact, most people I have met/seen who learn languages quickly tend to forget them just as quickly. Why is this?
Languages need a bedding down period to really sink in!
OK, so here are some practical steps to take to pick up and practice the language you want to learn. Try out what you feels comfortable for you and adapt them to suit your needs.
1. Make time. Don’t be scared if you miss a day or can’t move forward because a point in the language is still unclear or not fully committed to memory. Many of us get that feeling of “I am just too tired, I can’t be bothered, it’s too hard or what’s the point? I feel like I am just treading water”. You need to break through those negative feelings. If you really are not in the mood, just revising old material for ten minutes a day is better than having huge gaps in your studies. You could even just listen to something you know, if you are really pushed for time. This is particularly important at the beginning of your studies.
2. Think about the language or in the language, if you can. This is as simple as thinking about what you can say in a language: naming objects you see during the day, trying to remember phrases, dialogues, texts and words. Use mental hooks to remember things, associate words and phrases to things you find memorable. Do whatever you need to do to make the words and phrases memorable.
3. Involve people in your learning. Use it with those around you and ask about things you want to know or to understand better. In an office you could practice the basic phrases each day then build up to ask a speaker of the language to join you at coffee or lunch break. Talk about what you like, dislike or anything that you feel confident saying.
4. If you live in a place where the language is spoken, go shopping for things (even if you don’t need them – no purchase necessary!) in town just to see the signs, labels or even ask for items to practice the words and structures. You can prepare for this before you leave the house. Check out translations, like this bilingual one in Wales. Think of related words too. For example, “glo” is “coal”, but “pwll glo” is “coal mine” and “pwll” is a “pool” and is used to make “pwll nofio” which is a “swimming pool”. Think of how words change in different sentences, depending on how they are used.
5. Go to places where new vocabulary will present itself to you, like the zoo or theatre or anywhere else you might not usually go. Revise vocabulary and sentences you might need beforehand.
6. If you are in a place for long enough, join a club, group or sign up for a course in something that interests you. I have done this a lot myself, including salsa lessons in Czech, a Greek course in Dutch and an Albanian course in Macedonian. You may sign up for a course or language group in the language you want to learn too.
Using language to communicate
We use language to communicate and this is what you need to have in mind when you are learning. It sounds obvious, but it is easy to forget that in the beginning if you get bogged down in too much detail. Don’t forget why you are learning it. It is important to keep you motivated.
There is a reason why most language books teach you to talk about the weather, asking for directions etc. We use these topics in our daily life in conversation with other people. We can use them to build friendships. These things are key, so try to practice them as much as possible. This will build up your confidence, even if it does sometimes seem boring.
If you are not in a place where you can use the language, then you can do a lot of this online. You can chat to people on Skype or via SharedTalk and write on forums that interest you. You might meet also natives learning your language on busuu.com or livemocha.com.
You are not on your own in finding it tough to break through those language learning pain barriers. Keep your goals small to build up your level. This helps to keep your focused. Saying, “I am learning X language” is a lot different to saying, “I am studying about how to talk about the weather today”.
Ignore all of the other people talking about how much they are studying, speak and know. The bacground noise from this can be distracting. If they have useful advice, then listen to it, try it out and judge it for yourself. There is no one size fits all in language learning. You need to see what suits your learning style. There is no competition here, you have already learnt at least one language fluently and you can learn others too.
You’ll be speaking fluently before you know it! 🙂
Categorised in: Language Learning Tips
This post was written by Richard