In the past year I have made huge efforts to bring my German to a higher level, to be able to communicate with Austrian customers in their native language. This included a lot of private lessons and much more. German is my third foreign language – the first is, guess what, English, the second is French. Now my French and German are at about the same level. In February they weren’t even close.
So I have some experience in language learning, and some also fresh, so let me share some good piece of advice with you fellows trying to master some foreign language.
- It’s okay to make mistakes. One of the most difficult lessons for the perfectionist me was this. Yes, I understand, but to apply it, I needed to speak a lot. I admit to have some space to improve here, but it is going way better than before and even better when I am tipsy. 🙂 Now really, just think it over. Who has the right to criticize you? Someone who speaks the language better than you? Is it a foreign language for them? Then they will know exactly what an effort it takes to learn it and won’t even think of laughing at you. Is it their mothertongue? Do they speak a foreign language? Yes? See the previous point. No? Then they should feel some respect for you because you are trying.
- It’s okay to forget stuff. Sometimes the words just don’t come, even the simple ones. But think of it, sometimes you can’t find the right words even in your mothertongue, so don’t stress about it. Just say whatever sounds the second best for the situation. As long as they understand it, it’s just fine.
- Practice all the time. You can’t master a language by taking a lesson once or twice a week. Sorry if it disappoints you, but if you are not in a country where everyone around you speaks the language all the time, you will have to actively find the sources that can teach you the language and spend a lot of hours in their company. Use your spare minutes to add a few words to your vocabulary, use the time you travel to listen to an audio book. Make it your firm goal to improve and manage your time so that the language always fits in there.
- Now something really practical. What are the best methods to learn a foreign language? First the bad news: you will have to find out for yourself what works best for you. Word cards? Mind maps of grammar? Relaxation? Music? Go for it then! What you shouldn’t miss are four ways to improve the four areas: listen to learn to understand what is spoken, read to learn to understand what is written, write – to write better, and speak – to speak better. That is, practice. What has worked best for me:
- Watching a series that I love, without subtitles(!). Even if I don’t always understand what is going on. Believe me, subtitles draw your attention away. You will read them if you have them, so don’t have any. Series are good because you don’t have to think what movie you should watch next – just go on to the next episode. And watch something you love so you won’t give up so easily.
- Read something you know and love if you have problems with understanding. Read something you are interested in but you haven’t read yet if you can basically understand what is going on. Read real books, not simple ones. At the time when I started to learn French I also started reading Narnia. I had already read the first four books in Hungarian, so in the first one I didn’t really mind not really understanding what was going on, sometimes for pages or half chapters. Do not use a dictionary, only for key words, otherwise you will be translating, not reading. When I started with the fifth book, quite a few months later, which I had not read in any language before, I could understand what was going on. If you are confident enough, read original literature, not translated books.
- Find natives of the country whose language you are learning and talk to them. There are ‘language exchange’ sites where you can teach your own mothertongue and in exchange someone else will teach you their own. Or you can have discussions with other learners of the same language. There are institutions for most languages with great programs like movie nights. There are Facebook groups for getting together and chatting in a certain language. Find them!
- Find natives of the country whose language you are learning and exchange written messages with them. Do you have friends who speak the language you are learning? Great, start chatting with them. No? Find some and chat with them. For example, find forums of your interest in the given language and get to know the people there. You will get familiar with your hobby’s vocabulary and make friends. Awesome, right?