10 Tips for Learning a Language

As I sat this morning drinking my coffee and staring into space, it suddenly dawned on me that I had some homework to complete for my french language class today. From my earliest memories I can remember dreading homework. Once I’m into the swing of it I’m OK. I think it’s just the lack of motivation that I need to get started and I always leave it until the last minute and try and cram in as much as possible. This is not a good idea. To be brief, I completed my homework, it was about past participles of French and irregular verbs, and after scanning my material I realised once again that doing this task actually paid off. The information we had covered the week before had cemented in my brain and I felt more confident attending my class again. So why am I writing this short post?! Well, I was thinking about my own personal experience of learning French over the past 2 years and tried to come up with some tips for you if you decide to give language learning a go.  I feel comfortable giving you these ideas because I have experienced it firsthand.

1.. Attend a class if you must, but I also think that learning at home at your own pace is also efficient. A class when given once a week for a couple of hours is great, but I feel that because the learning is so spaced out between classes you tend to forget quite a lot. I do anyway. Join a class by all means, but supplement your learning by doing language exercises each day by using websites and apps as there are plenty out there.

2..Buy a phrase book. These are great for seeing how words fit into common sentences that you use in everyday circumstances. They usually have a dictionary at the back.

3..Buy a frequency dictionary. These contain the most common words used in a language. They can be difficult to purchase though. All the book shops I’ve been into to enquire don’t stock them, and that’s the biggies like W H Smiths, Waterstones, and even the main library in my town centre. You can buy one on Amazon but they are around £20, so are not that cheap. Failing that, go onto the web and download lists of high frequency words. Buy a good dictionary too.

4..Look around your local area or ask at colleges if there are any groups that meet for conversation in your target language.There is one in my hometown, but it’s advanced, and If I went there at the moment I’d be sitting there like a lemon and twiddling my thumbs. I’m currently looking for an intermediate one. These do work because you need to saturate yourself with the language as much as possible.

5..This is really important. Purchase yourself some flashcards. Visual images work so much better in the brain than writing reams and reams of words and information, and this has been proven to work for language learning and revision for tests etc. Write your first 100 high frequency words on flashcards and add small drawings or print off pictures from google images and stick these on. By going over your flashcards on a daily basis, the visual images will stick into your mind with the related words. You can then move onto sentences in the same way.

6..Learn the spellings. At first I couldn’t understand why this was necessary because I just want to converse in the language, yet we need to understand how things are spelt to understand instructions, directions and so on. It’s the way children learn their phonics in Pre-school and it’s important for us. To eat in French is ‘Manger’ as the infinitive. But to have eaten in the past tense is ‘Mange’, with a little comma about the ‘e’ (sorry I haven’t got that function on my keyboard). They are written differently but sound exactly the same. So of course we need to learn the correct spellings for everything.

7..Get the pronunciation learned at the very beginning. As time passes, it will become second nature to pronounce each letter in the correct way, as you keep repeating similar words. Pardon me for using French as another example, but it’s the only other language I can speak. Two ‘ll’s in French are pronounced with a ‘y’ sound, hence the the word for girl is ‘fille’ pronounced ‘feeya’ not ‘fil’ as we would say in English; there is an exception though for the word ‘ville’ which is pronounced with the ‘L’ sound. Have a look at Wikipedia for articles on the ‘IPA’* or International Phonetic Alphabet, eg..IPA for Spanish that will give you all the sounds for your target language.

8..Buy some children’s language story books or borrow from the library. The basics are great as you will be able to see how simple sentences are constructed. Also watch your chosen language TV programmes, websites and Youtube video tutorials

9..I felt at first when I was a beginner, that I had to try and translate my target language with my mother tongue word for word. This cannot be done. I think it is a good idea to try and forget your own language whilst you are learning a new one, to an extent. You will obviously need the translations to begin with for words in your new language like monkey, car, weather, sun and so on, but once you start translating whole sentences, it becomes very different. An English sentence may contain 9 words and it’s German equivalent will only contain 6. You need to keep this in mind.

10..Find someone as a language buddy online.There’s quite a few websites out there of foreigners who want to learn English and who are  willing to trade practice time in their native language for practice in yours. Here’s a few apps and websites that you can use.

Bilingua, HelloPal, NiceTalk Tutor,Tandem, Hello Lingo, Conversation Exchange.

* IPA..The International Phonetic Alphabet.

I am a mother of two children, and have had many experiences in my life that I have been through and had to overcome. I feel it would be beneficial (at least to me, and perhaps you) to share my experiences. I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions. x

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