A hint – it’s not so-called natural ability.
What’s your friend called, you know, the one that speaks 5 languages?
(I am doing a lot of assuming here)
What’s their secret?
Well, I do not believe for a second that language learning is a relaxing or easy process. Trust me, I’m a teacher. But I’d like to share this analogy, which perfectly captures a way that it can be:
A young Spanish family immigrate to the UK. Both parents integrate into their new roles in British companies. Battling with cultural shock and adaption to novel cultural norms, both parents find that it is more comfortable interacting with their other respective Spanish colleagues at their companies. One parent is invited for after-work drinks but declines due to their fear of social embarrassment at misunderstanding slang in relaxed, casual settings. Their child, however, plays at the park with the other local children, immersed in a flurry of words: “swings”, “play”, “slide”, and the like, and attempts to interact with the other children in any way they know-how. Facial expressions, movement, singing, and dancing.
Who do you think is going to master English quicker?
I have heard the age excuse – “I’m too old to learn X” – countless times as a teacher, but it’s just simply not the kind of policy I subscribe to. It only serves to limit your growth. What’s more, learning is truly a life-long process, if you want it to be. And if you don’t take my word as a teacher, then take my word as a student (of French).
Here are some incredibly effective language learning tools that you can utilise every day to reach your goals:
Watching Content in the Target Language
As an English native, I realised that ultimately I just do not need to spend time practising my own language. Every aspect of my daily environment occurs in English, so I decided that spare moments in my day can be utilised to ensure that French makes an appearance. Instead of settling down to watch Netflix in English, I instead select a video by Piece of French or Damon Dominique, where I can access experimental and exciting content.
I switch the subtitles to French as well to ensure that I am not simply reading translations, but engaging fully with the target language. What’s more, I kill two birds with one stone by consolidating my reading and listening skills.
The bottom line: find a content creator with projects and ideas that genuinely inspires you to make learning dynamic.
Talking to Myself
Now stay with me on this one.
When there are no natives around you to practice with, what can you do? I talk to myself. Yes, seriously, I do.
The point here is that imitation of sound is a primary method in the consolidation of language acquisition. If we think back to the analogy of the child, unafraid to experiment with new and unfamiliar expressions, language learning becomes both a physical and cognitive task.
On the occasion that I decide to take a walk and listen to a French podcast, and randomly shout “ahhhhh” at the dynamic use of the word “encore”, I might receive some interesting looks from dog walkers and the like. So if you prefer to listen to a podcast of interest in the comfort of your own home, do it. What’s important is your internalisation of the language into your mental landscape – you are starting to think and construct the building blocks of the language in your mind.
I would recommend the app Language Transfer for this tip. Creator Miahlis focuses on the analytical uptake of language rather than the dead-beat memorisation methods we have become accustomed to in mainstream education.
Reading in the Target Language
One of the greatest tips I can bestow is encouraging language learners to read in the target language. Now, I don’t mean simply buying a book and reading in silence. Believe it or not, reading can be an active process – read out loud, in the shower, in the park. What is important here is that your target language, which currently feels mystical and foreign on your tongue, will integrate into your brain’s linguistic inventory.
Granted, I still can’t pronounce the word hiérarchie in French without splashing my entire supply of saliva at my teacher, but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying.
I am currently reading the beginner level series of French stories by Olly Richards, which encourages a method of reading where you do not have to understand every word. In fact, reading the same passage multiple times is advised to ensure a depth of understanding is achieved, rather than skipping the passage in order to impress friends and colleagues saying: “I read a whole book in French”. The idea being that re-reading the book will allow for an elevated level of understanding over time, not overnight.
Speaking, Speaking, Speaking
Booking your first lesson with a native teacher can appear daunting at first. As humans, we may consciously avoid situations with the potential to expose ourselves to embarrassment or social discomfort.
There will be plenty of occasions where misunderstandings, silences, umming and erring happens in real time. When using sites like Lingoda or italki I actually booked lessons with about five different teachers before I found a perfect match. After a few lessons when feelings of anxiety simmered down, I realised that my teacher and I were simply having a conversation. With that in mind, I began to consider language for what it actually is: a communication tool.
So, wherever you are currently in your language learning journey, keep it up and just enjoy the process!