Shawn
How to Learn a Language

So many people ask me how to learn a language or even still how to learn one efficiently, as if I am the master of learning languages or something. However, there are some techniques and steps which I think are key to learning a language and which I have been using along my journey to become a polyglot. I'd like to discuss a few here and get your opinions on them.

 

Step 1: Start

 

The first step I think that is important is "to start." This should be a no brainer but it seems like so many people get caught up in questions like "What should I study first? Grammar? Vocabulary?" that their studying never gets off the ground. I think the simple answer to this is that you should be studying both vocabulary and grammar, since, it doesn't make sense to only be concentraing on one alone. How are you going to communicate effectively with someone in another language if you know a bunch of words but you do not know how to glue them together correctly with grammar? Likewise, how are you going to be able to say much of anything if you know a lot of grammar and function words but have a limited vocabulary? So you need to constantly be fleshing out both of these.

 

So many of my fellow Americans say to me, "Wow. That's cool that you are studying Japanese. I wish I could learn German.", but when I tell them "You should start now then. Even if you put in only 5 to 10 minutes a day of studying, after a month or two, you will know so much more than you did when you first began.", they take no action on it. Then, five months later, they are telling me once again in chat about how much they would like to learn a language, as if in telling me, somehow they will magically pick up language skills without putting the work into it. This is definitely NOT the way to learn a language. So go out there and pick up a grammar book and a phrase book as well. The grammar book will teach you how to glue stuff together. The phrase book will show you example phrases which you can then experiment with to create new sentences. For instance, if the phrase book contains the question "Could you recommend a bar?", you could change it to "Could your father recommend a nice restaurant to us?" or "I can recommend a good movie."

 

Step 2: Make Mistakes

 

I think the next important step is to make mistakes. By writing notebook entries on italki and having someone correct them or by making mistakes while speaking and having someone tell you "No, you should say this instead...", you are actively experimenting with the language and learning it. So don't be afraid to make errors. They will help you get a deeper understanding of how a language works.

 

Step 3: Practice with Simple Material First

 

Another thing that I think is important when learning a language for the first time is to get material that is basic to practice reading with and listening to. For instance, buy some comics off of Ebay or watch some cartoons on Youtube. How can you expect to pick up a novel written for an adult reader and tackle it right away? That's just insane. You need to work from the ground up!

 

Step 4: Keep a Journal

 

I think it is important to keep a journal and to write at least one or two entries in it a day. Italki even takes this a step further by giving other users who are native speakers the ability to correct your notebook entry for you. Plus later on, you can go back to the corrections and review them if you forget something. More importantly though, selecting vocabulary to practice and then using it in a notebook entry is a good way to begin solidifying the words into your memory since by doing so, you are creating associations in your brain with the words on a personal level. So start writing right away, even if your first notebook entry is "Hi. My name is Shawn. I live in Sunderland. I have a horse. His name is Prince. Where are you from?" Is this going to sound like you are a child in American English? Yes, it is. But hey, have you actually written something grammatically correct in English? Yes, you have! Could people actually understand you? Yes, they could! And as you keep writing notebook entries, you will be picking up more vocabulary and grammar and will be sounding less and less like a child and more and more like a native speaker. So don't be afraid to sound like a child at first. Everyone does. It is part of the process. :)

May 6, 2014 5:12 AM
Comments · 13

Not that long time ago I found myself very frustrated about my English level.I went to vacation to Sedney and it was quite difficult for me to communicate with receptionist in one of hotels I stayed in.Back than I started searching web for some great course which will give me opportunity to improve my language skills.After long hours or days on wab I run into this cool webapge http://www.bellsenglishonline.com/. and from there I started learning proper English.I recommend it to anyone beginners or Intermidate levels.

December 31, 2014

I wanna see you writing in Thai too. :)

May 6, 2014

So true, Doris. I think that is why all these people fail too. They need to just roll out of bed, turn the alarm clock off, and get dressed and out the door. Otherwise, they will be 50 years old and still won't know a word of German. Hehehehe :)

May 6, 2014

Sounds good, Haru. Maybe I just have an American attitude when it comes to my notebook entries. Hehehehe I am thinking "Oh well, they will have to read about how I went to Starbucks YET AGAIN but I need to repeat these words over and over again abd interact with them on a personal level for them to get solidified in memory." Then I think, "Hey, I have to read stuff that they have repeated over and over again in English too so they really cannot complain about it." Hehehehe I haven't had anyone bitch me out for what I have written yet though. I guess that is a good sign. :)

 

Right now, I am concentrating on mostly mundane topics. Stuff about what I did yesterday or what I am planning on doing today. I think I need to pick up some vocabulary doing that first before I tackle writing about something more complicated. Especially with Spanish. I took four years of Spanish in high school but I haven't used it much since then so my Spanish is so rusty right now. Hehehe.

 

Today, I talked once again about going to Starbucks in my Spanish notebook but I talked about going to a different one today. Not the one in Hadley but the one in Holyoke. I also worked the verbs "encontrarse con" (to meet up with someone) and "trabajar en" (to work on something) in once again, saying I was meeting my friend LJ at B&N today to work on our website. Along with that though, I worked in some more grammar patterns that I hadn't used before. Plus I used the verb  "hay" which people kept listing as a correction on several of my Spanish notebook entries and used the preposition "en" instead of "a" like people kept telling me to do in the context of meeting someone AT Starbucks or buying a green tea AT Starbucks. So I am bringing it together piece by piece. Hehehehe. :)

May 6, 2014

Thank you for shaing your experience, Shawn. I'll definitely take your advice. It has been a long tine since I wrote my last italki notebook. Hehe. I was worried people might get bored if I kept writing some trivial stuff about life using some simple grammer and sentence. You said you kept talking about some of the same things but trying to add new stuff the next time. Sounds like a good idea. Maybe I should also put it into practice to learn the langauge. I want to write some beautiful aticles but somehow I do not know what to write about at the moment. Maybe I should read more books and ponder over life more often. Haha. Thanks again for your suggestions. Have a nice day. =)

May 6, 2014
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Shawn
Language Skills
Danish, English, French, Gaelic (Irish), German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Russian
Learning Language
Danish, Gaelic (Irish), German, Italian, Japanese, Russian