Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why you still don't speak that language

There are 3 big things you need in order to learn foreign languages successfully: passion, right methods and time. Let's look at them closer.

Passion is something that pushes you forward, helps you when you're tired or discouraged. When you're passionate enough, it's easier to make the necessary sacrifices and make language learning your priority. If you don't really want to speak this language, it's gonna be easy to give up as soon as it gets too hard. Language learning requires a lot of effort, after all.

Right methods: methods that are right for you and your goal. Know what works for you, remember why you're learning this language, how you're gonna use it. Don't listen to generic advice, like “everybody should use this book/course”, be flexible and adaptive – if something doesn't bring results, then just try some other method.

Time: find it. Everybody is busy. You can read your phrasebook while standing in a queue or learn words using Anki while watching TV – in that language. You can think in your language while washing dishes/driving/etc. Surround yourself with it.

Answer these questions for yourself:

  • Why am I learning this language?
  • How am I doing it?
  • How much time and effort do I put into it?

If you fail to learn a language, there is a big chance that either you don't want it badly enough or you're doing it wrong. For example, I can clearly see that I don't practice speaking Finnish often enough, so that's my priority now.

Here are some examples of wrong and right approaches to language learning. Remember: there is no one right method for everyone. These examples are not rules, they are guidelines.

How to learn a foreign language:

Wrong: I want to speak Japanese, so I read grammar books.
Right: I want to speak Japanese, so I speak a lot with my language partners.

Wrong: I'm a visual person, but I try to learn languages by listening to radio.
Right: I'm a visual person, so I don't rely on radio and audio courses only.

Wrong: I keep learning this language by doing A, but still there are no results.
Right: When A doesn't work, I try B.

Wrong: I bought all the expensive courses I could find, because others recommend them for everyone.
Right: I evaluated my own needs and preferences and found what would work best for me.

Wrong: I only learn the vocabulary from my textbooks.
Right: I also learn words relevant to me, my profession, hobbies, etc. This way I'll be able to talk about things interesting to me, because I'm learning this language for myself.

Wrong: I want to speak French because it's cool! I want to show off!
Right: I want to speak French because I'm interested in French culture/want to travel to France/want to read French books, etc.

Wrong: I study/practice my language for about 20 minutes every other week; I started it 5 years ago and for some reason I'm still not fluent!
Right: I study/practice my language for hours daily.

Wrong: I mostly study grammar and read dull but smart books. It's very important to be serious!
Right: I have fun with my languages. ;-)

Wrong: I watch a lot of TV, check my Facebook and email hourly, read gossip, hang out with friends, etc. - all in my mother tongue.
Right: I find ways to use my language everywhere, like chatting with foreigners and reading news in it. I use every opportunity for language learning. I even try to inspire my friends to join me so we can practice together!

Wrong: I'm not even trying to learn that language I really like because I'm not talented/rich/young, etc.
Right: “I believe I can fly!”


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