It was 2014 when I first learned the Greek alphabet. It was 2015 when I started learning some vocabulary and a few lessons on grammar.
Back then, I was the proud owner of a Greek Travel Phrasebook, and I thought that picking ten phrases out of the book on a daily basis and memorizing them was the way to work towards fluency. It's now July of 2016, and I have not even reached the B1 level, nor can I easily express myself quickly and clearly.
So, what happened over the span of two and a half years? What went wrong? Much of it could be blamed on frustration, which in turn led to laziness and finally to me giving up. However, if I had known right from the beginning what the most efficient and effective ways to master a language were, I wouldn't have wasted all that time.
Therefore, in this article I have included a comprehensive list of the things that I wish I had known the day I started learning another language.
I wish I had done more research
Be on the lookout for websites, blogs, books, podcasts and apps that can guide you through the entire process of learning a language. There are plenty of excellent resources out there for language learning. Some blogs contain a sizeable number of articles that will point you to more blogs and other useful materials. By utilizing these resources, you can learn from people who have already tested the waters. Savor every bit of information they share with you.
I wish I hadn’t attempted to memorize my entire phrasebook
This method caused so much frustration, but unfortunately I didn't have a clue what I was doing wrong. I was memorizing ten phrases or twenty words every single day, but only retaining ten words at the end of the week. To make matters worse, I would forget five of those by end of the following week.
Mnemonics are a much better way to neatly absorb new words. A simple definition of a mnemonic is a word, phrase or song that helps you remember something useful (such as a rule or a list of names). The idea is that if you create a story around a word, for example, it becomes easier to remember.
I know that this takes much longer and requires much more effort, but slow and steady learning is the foundation that will help you to achieve the results you want. Trust me, simply repeating the word out loud ten times doesn't work.
I wish I had watched more movies or TV shows in my target language
When I was starting out, I had no idea how to go about acquiring a new language; I just did what I thought would work. Boy, was I wrong!
In order to learn a language, you need to read, listen, write and speak. I also found that you need to watch TV and movies too. All of these things help to reinforce what you have already learned. The sound of a word, especially in conjunction with an image, creates a memory.
I mentioned earlier that connecting a word to a vivid story can help you put a troublesome word into your long-term memory. For example, if I watch my favorite movie dubbed into Greek, I will be able to form an association between the words I hear and a character, object or scene. If you can't find a dubbed version, you can still watch movies with the subtitles in the language you are learning. Watch the ones that pique your interest most; this way the activity is both entertaining and informative. Maximize the power of the Internet, and remember: YouTube is your friend.
I wish I had made more mistakes
Mistakes are a great way to learn. It's true! Kids are a great example of this, whether they're making a mistake on their homework or bruising their knee because they didn't know how to ride a bike. All of these teach them what to do and what not to do.
Another good example is of this is being in a long term relationship with the wrong person. Occasionally, after spending a long time with a person, you realize that it was a mistake!
However, as frustrating as these examples can be, they can also be a good thing. Our brain tends to remember things more after you make a mistake than if you had gotten it right the first time. So, go ahead and don't be afraid to make more mistakes. Painful as they may be, they are still valuable.
I wish that I had engaged in more conversations
Unlike reading and writing, talking to someone requires you to be quick on your feet. There's not enough time to think about which declension is correct, or whether the arrangement of words makes sense.
If I had done this earlier, I would have honed my listening and speaking skills. Sure, I would have made a thousand mistakes and would have been stringing words together at a turtle’s pace, but I still would have improved. I wish I had discovered italki years ago. In my country, they don't teach Greek. I thought there was no other way.
The difference between having a conversation with someone and listening to a podcast are miles apart. Though they both have their own strengths, conversations are like training wheels before you enter the real world. Practicing with a real person will introduce you to the natural speed that natives use when talking. You will start hearing words that are shorter when used in speaking. You will hear words the way they're supposed to be pronounced, rather than a recorded computer version. Aside from all of these things, italki is generally a great platform in the sense that it gives you a lot of flexibility and many options. You can choose your teacher and your schedule.
I wish that I had read more
Over time, I read less and less because I became lazy and, therefore, I missed out on the benefits of reading. One of these benefits is that you can set your own pace. You can take all the time you need to understand the material.
Another benefit is that it gives you a chance to understand words in context and to see the structure of sentences. In addition, reading materials show you how words are spelled, which allows you to learn what letters to use when it's your turn to write. In some languages, the written form itself even shows you how to pronounce a particular word. You can sometimes even tell which syllable needs emphasis from the writing.
Remember, start by choosing a topic that you're interested in. Whether it is from a magazine, a book, a newspaper, italki's article section or a comic book, it’s up to you. Personally, I used to read the Santorini travel guide. I liked it because it had both the Greek version and the English version. Do this regularly to receive the full benefit of learning and memorization.
I wish that I had written more
I only began writing in the language I'm learning a few months ago. Sometimes, I would have a set of words ready for my writing entry. Other times, I would write using random words off the top of my head. This is effective; when I tried to recall the words I'd previously studied, I would remember them more quickly.
The problem is figuring out whether or not your writing is correct. Some apps and websites aren't as accurate as others, and some are too literal because it is a computer that does the translating.
italki has found a way to solve this. They have what they call The Notebook, where you can have your written work corrected by actual people who speak and use the language. This is much better than by a computer, since these people can explain your mistakes to you, and give you useful tips on how to improve.
I wish that I hadn’t given up and stopped for a couple of months
After giving up, I later deciding to resurrect my love for language learning, only to find out that it was too late. I had already forgotten many words that I wouldn't have if I had just pushed myself further.
So, what's the takeaway? We're fortunate to have so many resources at our fingertips: why not take advantage of them? There’s no need to give up. Learning a language is actually one of those activities that can give you small doses of accomplishment and gratification all the time. Just remember the fact that you're learning something new each and every time you learn a new word, phrase, or something about a country's culture.
Then, one day, you’ll realize that you are already speaking the language with ease.
I know that this is not a walk in the park, and that there will be days when it seems that it would just be easier to throw in the towel. However, I hope that you don't give up, because no matter how much we may want to take it back in the future, we can't jump back in time.
So, just remember, be strong and you can do it! Ask yourself how much you want to learn, what your goals are and how committed you are.
With that, I’ll leave you with a quote that has always reminded me to continue, even during those times when I’ve been tempted to give up:
- "I didn't come this far, only to come this far."