Ah...the beginner. This stage of learning your target language is very exciting. Maybe you have considered studying it back and forth (thought and changed your mind several times) for a long time, or maybe you were too busy to take a class before. But now you can finally start.
The beginning stage of learning a language is when you learn the fastest. You will go from knowing nothing at all, or only a few words, to speaking sentences. You will begin to pick up words or phrases, making you realize that you’re starting to understand native speakers in your target language.
But there are times that you may need to motivate yourself to continue. Confidence is almost always the issue here, as in any language-learning. Therefore, here are some good ways to increase or maintain your confidence:
1. Practice the same time every day
At least, try. This way you’ll get used to studying on a regular basis, and that will make you feel good about yourself. If you don’t, you’re liable to forget practicing or put if off--and then beat yourself up (really blame yourself). You may not want to practice every day. For example, from another type of experience, I briskly walk for exercise (and to lose fat) every day. There are many times I just don’t feel like walking. So I tell myself, “Just start. If you really just can’t stand to (dread, hate) do it, stop”. Then I know at least I tried. The same is true with you and practicing your target language. If you really feel wiped out (exhausted), take a day off from practicing. But only one (unless there’s an emergency, etc,). Don’t take off two days in a row, if possible. That will disrupt your momentum.
2. Set small, but regular goals
This is similar to expectations above, but setting goals is something you can control. When you practice with a tutor or by yourself, decide what is most important to you when learning your new language. (Of course, you should be learning all aspects of the language simultaneously.) But if vocabulary is a prime reason because you’re going to travel to the land of your new language, then set yourself up for learning tourist terms.
3. Don’t apologize!
You apologize for something you do wrong. Making a mistake in learning a language is not something wrong; it’s called learning. If you keep apologizing to native speakers or your italki teacher, your self esteem will take a nosedive (to drop down fast, like an airplane). A good teacher will tell you to not apologize, but simply correct you. After an error, you could say, “I think I made a mistake. How do I say it?”
4. Keep your spirits high by lowering your expectations
Of course, many of us beginners hope to become fluent one day in our new language. But it’s going to take a good amount of time practicing--either formally in a class or with an italki tutor, or on your own. Therefore, don’t expect to be able to understand, speak, write, or read in a few weeks. If you’re bothered by competition in a class, take private lessons, instead. By lowering your expectations, you’ll be proud of what you do accomplish.
And after all this, guess what? This advice about keeping your confidence up isn’t just for beginners; it’s for any student at any level of speaking English.
So try these tips, enjoy yourself, and let me know how you do!
Ilene Springer is a longtime English tutor and writer for italki. She has taught English abroad, and has written for magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe. She is the author of The Diary of An American Expatriate. Ilene lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico (US).