Written on: November 21, 2017
by Elisa Coleclough
As I was having coffee with my friends one of them came up with the question of how to improve your language skills. She thought that I have learned English as a kid, and that was why I have a good level. The truth is that I learned English as an adult, because I like Languages. Usually, learning a language implies more than just words for me, it is about getting to learn the culture, history, literature, customs, country (or countries), idioms, etc. So it is like a journey which takes days, months and even years.
I also believe that when you are a kid, we all get to learn faster because we do not possess all those mental structures that fight in our brains to learn a language in the logical structured way we want as grown-ups. However, I do think that the more languages you get to learn the easier it is for our brains to understand that each language has a structure, a logic, a set of words, verbs and pronunciation.
Currently, I am learning my 4th language: Polish. That language makes all the rest look (the ones I speak) like a field trip. The alphabet is slightly different to mine and the pronunciation requires subtle sounds that I struggle to produce, but I try hard. The point is that I see that my brain does not fight this new set of rules. Actually, it helps me to relate to other languages I do know, but does not interfere.
Coming back to the topic of how I get to learn and love a language, here are my tips, hope you find them useful too:
Watch movies. This is a fun way to get used to the sounds of a language and words. When I am bit more intermediate, I use subtitles in the same language. Of course you might not understand it all, but trust me eventually the brain finds its way around it and you generally get the gist of it all and get to learn new words, vocab, expressions, etc.
Listen to music. One of my favorite way to learn. Take German, I love rock so “Die Toten Hosen” band Lyrics were one of the first things I got to translate and sing in that beautiful language. Yes, I love the sound of “Hochdeutsche”.
Magazines and Internet. Usually the more you read and even if your eyes are just scanning for words you actually know, it does help, beside it is a fun way to build on your skills. Then you are curious to know words and there are usually online dictionaries that help you.
Read books and one-language dictionary. Take French, though a romance language it is different to Spanish. So I decided I could read some books adapted to basic an intermediate level. Eventually I ventured to read regular book and guess what? I was able to understand it, finish it and enjoy it quite a lot. With books comes the dictionary, I recommend a dictionary with same language. Although at the beginning you might need one that is bilingual, push yourself to have one in the same language. It does work out its magic into your brain.
Repeat like kids do. Oh yes, that’s the secret of kids, they repeat and repeat like parrots, until they get it right. Do the same, it is fun and you will get it right eventually.
Ask for help. You can always tell others to help you and correct you. If you have friends or teachers who are native speakers, seek their input. Usually native speakers do help you, of course they will not correct you a 100% which is also not the point, because the point is you start coming out with some words. Or put another way as my Polish teacher says, you get it right, just your accent is sometimes French, other make it like German or English. She is right, but I do talk and try and try over and over.
Be humble and persistent. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. What is the worst thing you can do? Say a bad word in a formal context? If you do not know what you say, clearly it will cause not world war incident. When we are learning people realize that some mistakes are done inadvertently so they do not take them amiss. So do not be so stiff about it.
Travel. This is the best part, if you can travel to the country where the language is spoken, eventually you will realize you made some little progress after holidays. I have a terrible pronunciation in French, people say my accent is a mixed between Spanish and German. Hahahaha and it is true. But when I went on holidays to France, by the end of the holidays I was speaking to anyone and everyone in French and was not so “bad”. After all the point of a language is to communicate, mastery comes with the use and experience.
Finally, let me tell you a story of mine, I worked for a German company and when I travelled to headquarters, I usually took the opportunity to brush my language skills. Once I was taking a training and I wanted to ask something so instead of saying “Die Schweiz” I said “Schweiss”. My Spanish “S” played me making a big difference between saying “sweat” instead of “Switzerland”; the end of the world? Not really, everyone laughed, and of course I realized and corrected myself, but it was quite a hilarious moment and I blushed from pink to red, because, well in the end, what would be life without some blunders, right?
⇒Once you stop learning, you start dying – Albert Einstein⇐
Tell me what are your tips to improve your language skills? Share with me some fun stories. Have a great day/week, Eli.