If you read my article on why you should learn a language this summer, then you’ll know that I’m a real language nerd. Having developed an obsession with Italy when I was seven, I’ve been fine-tuning my language learning skills since then. I realise that it’s all very well and good for me to say, “Hey guys, you should learn another language, it’s awesome!” but here’s what I didn’t tell you: it’s kinda hard. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but it’s not the sort of thing where you can flip through a dictionary and be like, “by Jove, I think I’ve mastered French!’ Learning a language properly takes time and patience and a lot of practice. Of course, if you’re new to the language learning game, it can feel a little overwhelming. If you don’t have the time or money to dedicate to an actual class, don’t fret, though. There are lots of things I’ve done over the years outside of the classroom which have significantly increased my fluency in more than one foreign language. Here are the the ones that work best for me:
– Buy a grammar book: As boring as they might appear, grammar books are pretty much an essential item. There’s little point in learning a load of vocabulary if you have no idea how to construct a grammatically correct sentence. Grammar books can be bought to suit any level, from beginner to advanced, and do a good job of explaining how to properly express yourself, as well as allowing you to practice the rules yourself, with little exercises that are often included.
– Make use of a good dictionary: Likewise, there is no sense in learning the grammar if you don’t know the vocab, so invest in a good dictionary. A good one will be massive and include a range of different uses for each individual word. For example, a good dictionary will tell you that the Italian word tempo can mean either ‘time’ or ‘weather’, depending on context. For a free alternative, www.wordreference.com is like the holy grail of online translation dictionaries and, as a plus, it also gives you the option to conjugate verbs.
– Listen to music in your chosen language: Did you know that there is a ton of amazing non-English music out there to be listened to? Well, there is. Listening to Italian music was how I first learnt to translate and learn the meaning of certain words. The best way to find the good stuff is to head over to iTunes and switch your settings to the country of your choosing and then take a look at their chart. Sure, a lot of English language music still makes their top ten, but if you hear one catchy tune in your chosen language, it will get the ball rolling and soon half of your music library will be foreign.
– Watch films in the language: Foreign cinema is awesome and an excellent way to practice your listening skills whilst also learning a ton about another culture. If you’re a beginner, use the subtitles and try to pick out words you recognise. If you’re more advanced, then try watching with the subtitles in the language of the film or, if you’re really brave, try watching it without.
– Speak the language: Speak the language: there’s little point in being able to understand a language if you can’t actually speak it. I’d say that speaking a foreign language is the most nerve-wracking aspect for most language learners because you have to think quickly about what you’re wanting to say and will never be sure of the response you’re going to get. My advice is to get a language partner and just practice, practice, practice. Sites like www.mylanguageexchange.com allow you to find other learners that want to practice your native language in return for theirs. I’ve had many a Skype session with some really cool people from all over the world using services like this, but just remember to be safe and be careful with what info you give out about yourself online.
– Read in the language: The first real, tangible piece of literature I ever read in Italian was a kid’s comic about a bumblebee; I was sixteen. Yes, it may have been aimed at six year olds, but it was awesome to read something in a foreign language and understand it. Reading will familiarise you with both grammar and vocab as well as introducing you to a whole new range of words you may have never come across before. Don’t jump straight into reading epic novels if you’re a beginner, as it will only ruin your confidence. Instead, try newspapers and magazines first. The bonus with these is that many can be accessed online. Another thing to try is to read a book that you’ve already read in English. You’ll already be familiar with the plot and therefore be better equipped to understand what’s going on.