I need to preface by saying that I’m lazy. My natural state is sloth-mode.
But somehow, through my adult years, I’ve become fluent/intermediate in 3 languages and currently working on my fourth.
So what changed?
I have had so many failed attempts when trying to learn an new language. I even lived in Italy for 6 months and have never moved past conversational, even after being immersed in the culture and taking classes.
Finally, with French, after years of dropping in and out of the language, I am now certified intermediate and working my way to fluency.
I’ve literally been studying French for almost a decade. I took classes all throughout highschool and a little bit in University but after implementing the following strategies, I improved more in one year, than I had in almost 10 years. And no, it was not Duolingo. While I admit that it is very helpful in daily practice, I am a big believer that it is not enough. A language is the means to understanding a culture, and there’s so much more to it than just an app. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to help keep to up with a language but it’s not enough to fully learn it.
And that’s another problem I faced, I had already spent a lot of money on learning French, so I’m going to share exactly how much I spent as well.
1. Set A Goal & Deadline
Gail Vaz Oxlade always says that a goal without a deadline is just a dream, and I’m a firm believer in this quote. Now, I understand some people are self-motivated but as I mentioned before, I’m a sloth. A duck. Once I get wrapped up in my blanket burrito with Youtube, I don’t come out of that world. However, like a lot of people, I was a good student. And if you give me a deadline, I will get there – kicking, screaming, cramming with notecards at Starbucks because I hate failing exams, especially oral ones.
I discovered with my type-A personality registering for the national exam was the best motivation for me. It gave me a hard deadline. And someone to hold me accountable to a set standard. I always have the goal to learn new languages but I don’t live a life leisure enough to think it will just “happen at a good time.” Of course when you’re a student in school it’s easier, but with a full-time job I have to make the time.
It doesn’t have to be an exam but it needs to be a hard deadline. I too hate exams but it gives me a marker to work towards every year.
2. Know Yourself
Be honest with yourself. Buying a $200 Rosetta Stone Course will not help if you aren’t self-motivated enough to follow an online course. Don’t get sucked into those paid course promises. I’m not saying they don’t work, but they must work for your learning style.
However, you need a structured way of learning insome way or another. Every language has grammar rules and basic vocabulary. There are multitudes of ways to do this including
- Video Tutorials – Youtube and don’t forget about your local library!
- Online Classes – If Rosetta Stone or Rype is for you, I’d recommend trying it out for a couple of months before committing for whole subscription.
- In person Classes – Check out your local community centres
- Getting a Tutor – I found mine on Craigslist and she’s great!
Personally I find getting a tutor easiest for me. French classes are not readily available and if they are, the location is far and expensive. Tutoring allows me to focus and work around my schedule, but be cautious of craigslist ads for tutors. Remember, just because someone speaks a language, does not mean they can teach it. Find what works for you.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
While apps like Duolingo are great, in my experience they are not enough. You need to hear a real person speak the language and pronounce it correctly and someone help explain the grammatical concepts if it’s greatly different than what you are used to.
Apps and classes are not enough though is because you need to physically speak to someone You need to learn the pronunciation/ mistakes you’re making, grammar of how people speak in real life instead of textbook, slang, idioms, and that needs to be with another physical person. Also it’s easy to repeat things in your bedroom and memorize them but I struggled to have conversations. It’s that quick, thinking on your feet, type of thing that I really struggled with. There are a bunch of free resources you can try like
- Meetup – There are so many language groups of people who just want to talk! Meetup is great for making new friends too)
- HelloTalk App– Connect with people all over the world and teach your language
- Language Exchange – Whether is via Skype (find a language partner on Italki) or ask your employer/community centre if they also do language exchanges.
One of my favourite sites to get reviews and motivation on how to learn a new language is Fluent in 3 Months written by Benny Lewis.
4. Incorporate It Into Your Daily Life
This is the biggest mistake I made when trying to learn a language is I only did the lessons and took recommendations my teachers recommended. Like to read this news article, or watch this movie, or and so play and watch this French movie.
Make Your Own Rules
I tried so hard to fit into the standard language-learning world, that I would just view learning a language as just another assignment, so naturally, it felt lieke a lot of extra assignments, I got lazy, and turn to Youtube. Until I learned to incorporate it into my life, through things like YouTube.
Like I mentioned before, my guilty pleasure in life is watching beauty gurus and diy channels on Youtube. So one day, I decided to just subscribe to French beauty and diy channels. It wasn’t super easy to find personalities I connected with, but I soon found some channels I loved. And it was incredibly helpful. Because unlike watching shows and movies I wasn’t interested in, these were girls my age, talking about topics that I was really interested in such as beauty and lifestyle, and used vocabulary that I would use in my daily life as well. Some other ideas include
- Journaling 5 minutes every day
- Watching a translated version of your favourite TV show or movie
- Reading your favourite book in translated langeage (so that you can keep interested without struggling to follow the plot line. Because let’s face it, if it’s too difficult, you’re more likely to stop going. Plus, it’s not actually the plot line that should be of concern – it’s the vocabulary and grammar. You already know what happens!)
- Turn the Language Settings on Your Phone/Computer to the language you are learning
- Reading blogs on your favourite topics in the language – Personally I geek out over career and personal finance blogs so my favourite is businessfemin.com
5. Continue A Bit Every Day
Lastly it’s all about the everyday habit. Even if you become completely fluent in a language, if you never, ever use it, you will forget it eventually. Especially if you do not live in an area where it is the official language, that extra effort every day is so important. Remember, it’s the small tasks that make up the big ones.