By- Kelli Drummer-Avendano
You can bet that the goal “Learn a new language” is on almost everyone’s bucket list. Unfortunately, few people actually get to cross that one off. There’s no doubt that learning a language is difficult. After all, we don’t really remember how we learned our first one—it just kind of happened. And while there’s no shortcut to becoming fluent in a new language, here are some tips to help get you well on your way.
1. Input, input, input!
Think about how you acquired your native language. You spent almost two years taking it all in before you could produce more than just a few utterances. As an adult, you have the ability to begin speaking a new language right away, but maximizing input is just as essential now as it was when you were a baby. However, input is just noise without the context to understand it. That’s why you need comprehensible input—words that are paired with pictures, gestures, or both. If you’re learning a language with a book or app, make sure you don’t have to rely too much on a dictionary when learning new vocabulary.
2. Conversation partners can be as effective as classrooms.
Of course, it depends on who your partner is! Nevertheless, a native speaker with a sympathetic ear can truly encourage the learning process and make bumbling errors more bearable. It might seem intimidating to talk to a native speaker when you’re first beginning, but you can pick up loads of new, authentic vocabulary when you break out of your comfort zone. If you and your partner have at least one language in common, there’s an even greater opportunity to expand your speaking abilities, because he or she can offer helpful hints and instruction when the conversation gets more complicated.
3. Learn the most common words first.
Some language programs are structured thematically, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that, unless you’re trying to learn vocabulary for a specific situation, you might not be able to communicate meaningfully even after hours of practice. So why not give yourself a head start and try learning the words that are most commonly used. Anywhere between 80 and 100 words can make a significant impact on what you understand (comprehensible input!) and what you’re able to convey.
4. Consistency is key.
There really is no “one-size-fits-all” way to learn a new language. The most important part is finding a method you like and sticking with it. Learning a new language takes practice, dedication, and consistency. Most people who study a language in high school or college don’t retain what they learn because they don’t consistently use it once class is over. That doesn’t mean you have to pack your bags and move to Portugal if you really want to learn Portuguese, but you do have to make yourself practice regularly and look for ways to immerse yourself in meaningful input. Remember, much of language learning is repetition … Do I need to say that again?
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