How to Learn English (Or Any Other Langauge)
Learning a new language is quite possibly one of the hardest things a person can set out to do. As an English teacher, foreign language learner, and serial expat I know firsthand how difficult and frustrating the process can be, so when Kaplan reached out and asked me to share my tips for learning English as part of their blogger competition, I immediately said yes.
While there’s no surefire way to learn another language (if there was I’d be able to say a complete sentence in Korean by now), there are some things you can do to make the process a little bit easier.
1. Have no fear. One of the biggest detriments to language learning is being too scared to engage in conversation with native speakers. After studying Italian for four years in university, I moved to Rome. I finally had my big chance to get past the plateau of classroom learning by communicating solely in Italian. Except I didn’t. Every time I went to speak, even to say the simplest things, I froze up and resorted to English and hand gestures. English language learners, don’t be scared. Native English speakers are used to hearing varying levels of English with a litany of different accents. And as someone who knows how terrifying it can be to speak in a foreign language, if it’s not perfect, I understand.
2. Don’t just study the books. Reading about grammar rules, practicing vocabulary flashcards, completing workbook pages. Those are all important, but they shouldn’t be the only things you do to learn a new language. For one, turning page after page of a textbook gets boring. Secondly, a lot of language isn’t just rules, it’s idiomatic expressions, slang, and phrases they don’t teach in books. I know a lot of Kaplan learners agree with me (see the infographic below), a great supplement to studying the books is watching television shows, listening to music, or reading magazines and books in English. Maybe you need subtitles, or have to Google Translate the song lyrics, or read books geared toward two year olds when you’re 25. It doesn’t matter. Start small and the benefits will be big. I used to spend hours translating Tiziano Ferro’s Italian lyrics into English and it helped improve my vocabulary and my sentence structure.
3. Take advantage of your native language. There are probably a lot of English speakers out there looking for help learning your native language. Find these people and set up language exchanges. There are many websites that have been created for just this purpose. And you don’t even have to be living in an English speaking country! If you live in a major city around the world there are probably English speaking expats living there who would love to meet you at a coffee shop or bar and have a conversation. If you aren’t able to meet in person, hope is not lost, many of these sites also have people looking to conduct language exchanges over Skype. Having the chance to talk with a native speaker will help improve your accent, vocabulary, grammar, and, in the end, your confidence. Participating in a language exchange also gives you the chance to be the expert and help out someone learning your language.
If learning a language was as easy as just watching a few TV shows or reading a book, we’d all be polyglots by now. Since it’s not that easy we’re stuck doing it the hard way. But with a lot of work (and absolutely no fear) one can surely become a confident English speaker. Or Italian speaker. Or Korean speaker. Why stop at just one?
Have you learned English as a second language? Studied a foreign language in school? Moved to a place where you couldn’t communicate? What are your tips and tricks for learning another language? Leave them in the comments!
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