I didn’t start learning a foreign language until high school. Two years of a foreign language were strongly advised for all students in college, yet few language learning opportunities existed. The only options available were Spanish or French. In fact, the same is true of my alma mater today.
We live in a multicultural world. I knew I wanted to raise my children bilingual and always envisioned that they would learn Spanish as I had. However, my daughter chose another direction when she was five years old, “I want to learn Chinese,” she told me. She will be applying for college this year. As a homeschooler, she was required to prove competency in a second language. She chose to take the Chinese Language & Culture AP exam and worked hard this past year to prepare for it. It was offered only once a year in May. We learned recently that she passed!
Language acquisition takes time. While this success didn’t happen overnight, there are several things you can do easily to more rapidly acquire your target language.
Tip #1: Relevancy
Focus on a language that is relevant to you and make language-learning a lifestyle change. As you develop your vocabulary, create mental or visual images on which you can build.
Seek out curriculum or apps to help provide structured learning opportunities. Duolinguo approaches grammar with games, while Anki aides in memorizing vocabulary with its “intelligent” flashcards. Intelligent flashcards are essentially words themed for a subject you are more likely to talk about.
- Watch un-dubbed versions of your favorite movies – without captions, of course.
- Check out TuneIn.com (a free app) for a vast selection of live-streamed radio from your country of choice.
- Look at what’s trending on YouTube in that country or buy your favorite TV series dubbed in your target language via Amazon or eBay.
Tip #2: Immediacy
Use your new language as a tool to communicate from DAY ONE! The more you invite a foreign language into your daily life, the more your brain will consider it something useful and worth caring about.
- Label every object in your house with your target language.
- Read children’s books in this language.
- Listen to podcasts or music as you exercise.
- Learn 10 verbs, 10 nouns, and 10 adjectives, then start building 1000 possible phrases!
Tip #3: Active Listening
Interacting with others is, of course, key. Find native speakers near you or set up a language partner online.
- Italki.com connects users around the world for one-on-one Skype-based lessons for as little as $5 an hour.
A “language mentor” is invaluable when learning a language. A mentor is one who works to understand what you are saying. She does NOT correct your mistakes. Instead, she confirms her understanding by using correct language and uses words you already know.
Focus on getting the overall meaning, the “core” first. Do not worry about the exact translation of the individual words. When you first understand the message, you unconsciously acquire the language.
While the reasons for learning a new language are varied, the importance of learning foreign languages is universal – the stimulation it offers your mind. So, what language(s) have you chosen?
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