Commit the Time
Some language software reviewers claim that one hour per day is enough to learn a new language. If that’s all you can spare, it’s a start, but the more quality time you can devote to your new language, the better. Try to book out a time and stick to it – resist distractions like TV, MSN and phone calls from friends. Treat this like a job. It may be tough to start, but blocking out a time will get easier and really help you in your learning.
Set Goals and Reward Yourself
What’s your most important reason for learning a new language? Is it travel, business, or marriage to a foreign sweetheart? Whatever it is, place a picture representing the goal where you will see it every day, like your fridge or bedroom. This will act as a natural motivator. Then set smaller achievable step-goals with rewards to help get you there. If you’re using a software program, follow the guidelines they offer for progress or create your own. Make them reasonable so you don’t get discouraged. And reward yourself when you reach these step-goals: for mini-goals achieved it might be a special drink or a chocolate bar you set aside for the occasion. For bigger goals completed perhaps a movie, or dinner out. Make progress fun!
The Ears Have It
Take time to listen to others speaking your new language every day. This may mean using your MP3 player with your software program while you run errands, or watching a television program. Becoming familiar with the sound and cadence of a language is as important as learning the vocabulary. If you’re learning one of the Chinese dialects this is especially important. If possible, read what you are listening to.
Adapt and Survive
Even the best software or classroom course may leave gaps in your learning. Perhaps you approach learning slightly differently. That’s okay. Look for ways to fill in any gaps. If learning vocabulary in an unusual way is ‘you’, then do it. For example, carry a notebook or use your cell phone with recorded words to practise your speaking (most have a voice recorder option). You could also ask a friend to quiz you – whatever helps you to move forward with your learning.
Watch the ‘Head Games’
Work to get away from translating conversations in your head. For example, if English is your first language, resist thinking in English, translating to your new language and then speaking. The quicker you can get to skipping the middle step and thinkig in your new language the better. You will find it less tiring and you will be able to carry on longer conversations more easily.
If It Walks Like a Duck…
As the saying goes, if you want to ‘walk like a duck and quack like a duck’, hang around with ducks. Find people who speak your new language near you and get to know them. Most will be happy to help if they know you want to speak their language. Perhaps you could invite them for coffee with the goal of speaking only your new language at that time. What a fun way to learn. Note of warning though: not everyone has a good grasp of grammar. Unless you really want to sound like them, avoid groups that are heavy into slang or language affected by a particular neighborhood.
With email you have the world ‘at your fingertips’. Hook up with a foreign penpal and write as much in your new language as possible. They may even be willing to correct your writing. And if they are learning your language, you can help them in return.
Blog, Blog, Blog
Check out online blog forums and language forums that cater to speaking a foreign language. Some like MyLanguageExchange.com offer both penpal opportunities and chat rooms. This is a great way to extend your learning.
Tip # 9
Enjoy Your Learning
Have fun with your learning! If you start to bog down, take some time to think about what you are finding difficult and think creatively about how to solve the problem. Sometimes learning with a friend who is doing the same program can be helpful. Ideally you can encourage each other when you hit a learning ‘bump’. Remember, you will learn more successfully if you enjoy the process.
Okay…there you have it. A few (hopefully) helpful tips. Now don’t forget to check out the other article on choosing learning software and the Resources page.