While total immersion is absolutely the best way to learn a new language, not all of us are able to uproot and relocate. Here are four simple tips to make learning a new language from home much easier.
Perhaps it is obvious, but lists are very useful. Lists help us remember what to buy, what to do or, in this case, what to say.
Search for vocabulary lists that you can cut then paste to your own device or download in an app. A few minutes here and there throughout the day, waiting for the train, the lift or food in a restaurant, can add up to a lot of words learned.
You can also find lists for specific purposes, such as shopping, eating out, transport and so on. When you find a gap in the list, which often happens, look up the word and add it. Chances are by having to find the word in a dictionary or Google Translate you will own it for life.
There is also another form of lists one step up from individual words. Sentence mining is somewhat similar to how babies hear and thereby learn to speak, without learning grammar or lists of vocabulary.
Of course, for adults, a series of commonly used sentences flashed in front of them ad nauseum will never teach them anything. There has to be a context and some vocabulary already inside their brains.
With time and lots of exposure to reading, listening and speaking entire sentences, understanding will arrive. You will have acquired the ability to cut and paste, as it were, to form different sentences specific to what you want to say.
People sometimes forget that learning a new language is not just about grammar, vocabulary, reading, writing and speaking. Listening is probably more important than any of the above, at least if you want to gain any level of fluency.
Listen to music in your target language. You will not understand everything coming through the headphones, but after a while you will begin to pick out familiar words.
Lyrics can easily be found online, sometimes with translations, although these are not always accurate. If you are really motivated you could try translating the lyrics for yourself.
Learning the words to a song is fun, especially when you are able to sing along and actually understand what you are singing.
Watching programmes and television in the language of your choice on Netflix, or other sources that include subtitles, not only helps hone your listening skills, it also gives you insights into the culture and tastes of other countries.
To begin with you can watch with English subtitles. As your aural skills improve, watch with subtitles in the same language. If you keep it up you will eventually find yourself only glancing at the subtitles as you begin to understand more and more of what you hear.
No one expects a beginner or even an intermediate learner to pick up the equivalent of the Financial Times and read it through. That’s because newspapers generally use specialised language that is not within a beginner’s grasp.
We recommend using a digital reader with a dictionary installed so you can easily fill in the gaps and add to your vocabulary.
If you are unable to access books in your target language, you can always make small changes in your everyday life to aid your learning.
For example, change the language on your personal devices, at least for part of the day. You will soon pick up the vocabulary for ‘enter’, ‘password’, ‘search’ and a bunch of other useful words and phrases.
You will be surprised how different they can be in another language, sometimes bearing no resemblance to the English.
Now to truly own a language- it comes down to the biggie, the speaking part. You might blush at the thought of making a fool of yourself, but accept it right now, you’ll make mistakes.
How many times have you listened patiently to a foreign visitor asking you the way to the nearest station or bus stop or fast food restaurant? Did you laugh in their face? Probably not.
You helped them if you knew the answer to their question. You also helped them another way. You listened and understood what they said and by doing so you boosted their confidence.
Give people credit for accepting that you are a learner. They will listen and help, perhaps by correcting what you say, but hey! free lesson, right?