Personally speaking: it’s best not to think too much when learning a new language

The Ups and Downs of Learning a New Languagelanguage books2I don’t mean never try to learn a new language; just that it’s better not to put too much thought into learning a new language, if that makes any sense to you.

Think about it! This actually makes perfect sense, IF you already have a handle on the language – as in not being a total beginner in the first place.  Then you can start to get comfortable conversing if you don’t rack your brains trying to always come up with the right word or sentence every time. This is because we’re always afraid of making mistakes and not saying the correct thing as opposed to just giving it a shot, not making perfect sense but knowing people will still understand you or at least get the drift & failing that there’s always signlanguage. But honestly, it’s easier than it seems.

My weekly Spanish group ‘Spanish over beer + winecoffee‘ is a casual setting with little to virtually no pressure.  Sometimes we even play games (in Spanish of course). I had a breakthrough recently in this class when finally after several years months something finally made sense. It felt empowering. You can be a fast learner or a slow one but at some point it will all start to make sense and when that happens it’s a great feeling.language books

A foreign language instructor offers some TIPS:

1.      Conversation, Conversation, Conversation. If there’s a “secret” or “hack” to learning a new language, it’s this: hours and hours of awkward and strenuous conversation with people better than you in that language. An hour of conversation (with corrections and a dictionary for reference) is as good as five hours in a classroom and 10 hours with a language course by yourself.

2.      The second reason is that language is something that needs to be processed, not memorized. I’m no expert on language learning, but in my experience staring and memorizing a word in a book or with flashcards 100 times does not stick the same way being forced to use a word in conversation a mere two or three times does.

3.      You’re going to say a lot of stupid things. Accept it. When I was first learning Spanish, I once told a group of people that Americans put a lot of condoms in their food. Later, I told a girl that basketball makes me horny. Um, yeah… It’s going to happen. Trust me.

4.    “How do you say X?” is the most important sentence you can possibly learn. Learn it early and use it often.

  1. Most people are helpful, let them help. If you’re in a foreign country and making a complete ass out of yourself trying to buy something at the grocery store, ask random people for help. Point to something and ask how to say it. Ask them questions. Most people are friendly and willing to help you out. Learning a language is not for shy people.

6.    Intentions can be easily misconstrued. Nuanced conversations over important matters will likely require double the effort to nail down the exact meaning for each person than it would between two native speakers. No matter how good you are in your new language, you’re not likely to have a complete grasp over the slight intuitive differences between each word, phrase or idiom that a native speaker does without living in the country for years.

7.      These are the phases you go through. First, you’re able to speak a little and understand nothing. Then you’re able to understand far more than you speak. Then you become conversational, but it requires quite a bit of mental effort. After that, you’re able to speak and understand without conscious mental effort (i.e., you don’t have to translate words into your native tongue in your mind). Once you’re able to speak and listen without thinking about it, you’ll begin to actually think in the foreign language itself without effort. Once this happens, you’re really hitting a high level.

8.      Finally, find a way to make it fun. As with anything, if you’re going to stick to it, you have to find a way to make it fun. Find people you enjoy talking to. Go to events where you can practice while doing something fun. Don’t just sit in a classroom in front of a book, or you’re likely to burn out fairly quickly. Talk about personal topics which you care about. Find out about the person you’re talking to. Make it a personal, life experience, or else you’re going to be in for a long, unenjoyable process which will likely end up in you forgetting everything you learned.

Any other suggestions or tips?


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