Steps to Learning a New Language

Taking on a new language can be very difficult. If there is one word to describe the feeling, the word “frustrating” comes to my mind. This is especially true when you are giving yourself a time frame to learn and grasp the basics of the language. Now, of course there are plenty of books and Youtube videos available that preach various techniques on how to learn a language. However, one important aspect of language learning is often forgotten, which is:

/// We learn best when we are not under pressure or stress.

That is to say, our brains are generally more receptive to new thoughts and ideas when there is peace of mind. I will give you an example. Last year, around this time, I decided to seriously try to learn another language. I have an interest in languages, cultures, behaviours, rather than mathematics and fields of that nature. So, since I live in a bilingual country, in the “Great White North”, being Canada, I dedicated my time and effort to learning French.

At first, I did not like it. It was becoming more and more frustrating as I had to start from scratch. I began translating almost every word from French to English using the website Google Translate. But I also noticed that as I kept translating 10-20 words a day, I was retaining very few of the very words I had studied only a day before. This made me feel more frustrated and stupid.

HOWEVER, I kept reminding myself of the fact that I speak another language since childhood (my mother-tongue) besides English and I only learned its grammar at the age of 17. More importantly, I remembered how I gave up studying it, even though I was receiving free tutoring from my father. I remembered how frustrated and hopeless I had felt.Yet, I still pushed through, and within a few years, I had learned to read and write in my native language.

The point I would like to emphasize is that it WAS a long process. Contrary to popular belief, there is not such thing as learning a language in a course in 6 months, unless you are a savant. The fact is, it takes plenty of patience, dedication, but also lowered expectations and the elimination timetables to learn a language.

So, with all that in mind, one must know that there are three phases of language learning:

1) Grammar Learning Phase – One must learning the very basic vocabulary of a language. Try to learn enough without pressuring yourself. This means, you may learn 10 -15 words in one day, but you should NOT try to learn another 10 -15 the next day. The reason is simple: our brains are not bags you stuff things into. Think of words like concrete, but before it dries. You need the words to dry before you coat another layer of concrete along the way. Once it dries, then it sticks.

2) Listening Practice Phase – The transition to this phase is probably the most difficult. This is especially true if you are learning a language that does not pronounce every letter in each word, like French, for example. This is something I had trouble with for some time as I became well capable of reading news articles in French, yet unable to listen to the news in French. Therefore, in this case, I realized, it is okay if you do not understand everything. Just be persistent and confident in yourself and bare in mind that even when you think you are not comprehending everything that is spoken, your brain is still adapting itself to the language subconsciously. I will give you an example. I began to watch a French talk show where I could barely understand anything that was said, and everybody seemed to speak very fast and incomprehensible to me. Then, I went back to listening to more basic and slower-paced conversations, and I understood the normal-paced conversations a lot better. I had noticed that my brain had worked faster and much more quickly at defining meaning, among other things. So, listen and listen often!

3) Speaking Practice Phase – This phase is difficult but has less to do with knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure, and more to do with confidence. If you are at this phase of your language learning, be aware that making mistakes will not get you in jail. So, there is no harm in trying. If you are too shy, or fear that your friends you speak to in that language will judge you or make fun of you, then try other techniques. If you do not know anyone who also speaks the language you are trying to learn, then try “acting” in front of the mirror when you are alone as the interviewer and the interviewed. This is a great exercise as you are not under any pressure to be 100% correct, and more importantly, you can be creative!

For example, you can act as though you are an actor or an actress in a press conference at the Cannes Film Festival, and you are asked simple questions like: “How did you like working on this film?” Then, you can try to use basic words or phrases that you have learned to explain basic concepts.

Be imaginative! It is the only way one can learn new things and become open-minded. So, never pressure yourself, enjoy the process, and be sure that you WILL improve!

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