Some people think that there is a special gene that allows you to learn several foreign languages in a lifetime. In fact, knowing five to eight foreign languages is not a special gift and not even years of hard work. Believe that everyone can do it, and follow the 12 rules from seasoned polyglots.
1. Learn the right words in the right way
Learning a new language means learning new words, a lot of new words. Some people think they have a bad memory for words, give up and quit teaching. But here’s the point: you don’t have to learn all the words of the language in order to speak it. Basically, you don’t know ALL the words in your native language, but you can speak it pretty well.
Just 20% of the effort to memorize new foreign words will provide you with 80% of your understanding of the language. For example, in English, 65% of the written material includes only 300 words. These words are used very often, and this scheme works for all other languages. You can find these frequently used words or a specific topic and frequently used words for that particular topic.
2. Learn related words
You already know a lot of the words of the language that you are going to learn. Whichever language you start learning, you know at least a few words, so starting from scratch is essentially impossible. Kindred words are “true friends” of words in your own language that mean the same thing.
For example, in Romance languages - French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and others – there are many related words with English. The English language originally borrowed them from the Normans during the conquest, which lasted several hundred years. Action, nation, precipitation, solution, frustration, tradition, communication, extinction and thousands of other words with the “-tion” ending sound the same in French, and you can use them right away once you get used to the pronunciation.
Just change “-tion” to “-ción” and you get the same words in Spanish. Changing the ending to “-zione” – Italian, “-ção” – Portuguese. In many languages, there are words with a common root that sound a little different. But still, you will have to try very hard not to understand what is at stake. For example, hélicoptère (French); porto, capitano (Italian); astronomía, Saturno (Spanish).
3. You don’t have to travel
Another reason (or an excuse, it depends on how you look at it) for refusing to learn a foreign language is that people cannot visit another country in which they speak this language. There is no money, time, etc. Believe me, there is nothing in the air of another country that would make you suddenly speak a foreign language. There are cases when people live in another country for several years and do not learn the language.
If you need to immerse yourself in a foreign language, you don’t have to buy a plane ticket – you can do it online. If you want to listen to conversations in a foreign language, here is the Tunein.com website with over 100,000 real radio stations from all over the world.
There is an app of the same name for smartphones on iOS and Android (free), in which you can find several radio stations in the language you are learning and listen to them every day, anywhere. If you prefer to watch videos in your target language, find the most popular videos in your target country on the YouTube Trends Dashboard.
Go to the Amazon or Ebay of the country you want to learn (e.g. amazon.es, amazon.fr, amazon.co.jp, etc.) and buy your favorite foreign language movie or TV series. You can use online news services from different countries, for example France24, Deutsche Welle, CNN Español and many others.
To read materials in a foreign language, in addition to the same news services from different countries, you can add reading blogs and other popular sites, and you can find them on the Alexa website. If you find it difficult to translate foreign articles so quickly, Chrome has a special plugin that will help you gradually learn different expressions in a foreign language by translating parts of the text. That is, you read the text in your native language, and some parts of it – in a foreign one.
4. We train on Skype and not only
Let’s say you start learning a foreign language. It will take a little time to learn the basic words and repeat what you already know. And then immediately connect with native speakers and start talking to them.
You don’t need a lot of words for the first dialogue, and if you start a conversation immediately after you have learned them, the vocabulary gaps will appear on the same day, and you can add the missing expressions to your vocabulary.
In four to five hours you will have time to learn a few words in another language, and among them it is advisable to include words and phrases such as “hello”, “thank you”, “Can you repeat?” and I do not understand”. All words for the first dialogue can be found in phrasebooks.
Now about how to find a native speaker and impose your society on him. And it’s not as difficult as it sounds. For example, on Italki.com you will find professional teachers, informal learning, and even just conversation partners.
Moreover, training is very inexpensive, for example, you can find Chinese and Japanese courses via Skype for $ 5 per hour.
5. Don’t waste your money. The best resources are free
It is worth paying for the constant attention of native speakers, but, as you can see, the courses cost a penny at all. As for the rest of the learning curve, it’s not clear why pay hundreds of dollars if you can get it all for free. Duolingo has great free courses in different languages.
Everything here is presented in a playful manner, so learning the language will be more interesting. If you already know English and want to learn another language, FSI and Omniglot provide a number of free courses. BBC languages teach basic phrases in over 40 languages, while About.com provides information on specific aspects of different languages under the Languages section.
With the help of the Interpals service, you can find a pen-pal from another country, and on My Language Excharge, you can find a person who also wants to learn a language and correspond with him in the target language. And here are some more resources to help you learn languages:
a huge database of words with voice acting for correct pronunciation awaits you on Forvo;
in the Rhinospike community, you yourself can suggest phrases and words that you want to listen to in a foreign language, and they will be voiced by native speakers;
if you cannot find the voice acting of the desired phrase, in extreme cases there is Google Translate;
on the Lang 8 resource you will find proofreaders – native speakers who will correct your texts, and you, in turn, will correct the texts of people learning Russian.
6. Adults are better at foreign languages than children
Now that you know so many resources to start learning a language, you have to deal with the biggest challenge. This is not grammar, vocabulary, or lack of personal resources. This is self-doubt and misjudgment of one’s potential.
The most common misconception, followed by the phrase “I give up,” is, “I am too old to learn and be fluent in a foreign language.” There is good news. One study from the University of Haifa found that adults are better at learning a foreign language than children.
Unlike children, adults intuitively understand grammar rules that have not yet been explained in foreign language lessons. Plus, there hasn’t been a single study to prove the opposite.
7. Enrich your vocabulary with mnemonics
Mechanical repetition is not enough. Even though multiple repetitions can literally burn a word out of your memory, you can still forget it. In addition, there are some words that do not want to be memorized in any way, despite the constant repetition.
For such “stubborn” words, you can use mnemonics – the art of memorization. You come up with some short funny story about the right word and, with the help of associations, remember it tightly.
You can invent it yourself or use special resources, for example memrise.com. On this resource, users come up with different stories for easier learning of languages and sciences. You can freely use ready-made stories and create your own.
8. Love your mistakes
Languages are not acquired in order to store them for themselves – languages must be used. And when you are just starting to learn a language, it is important to immediately start communicating, while clumsy, with an accent, using the poor vocabulary that you have managed to acquire.
Of course, you can put off talking with foreigners until you can say in a foreign language, “Excuse me, could you kindly tell me where the nearest restroom is?”, But “Can you tell me where the restroom is?” carries the same information, only without unnecessary bells and whistles.
You will be forgiven for being straightforward, you are just learning a foreign language, and everyone treats with understanding. Don’t think that native speakers will be angry with you for having the nerve to speak to them in their native language so clumsily.
The best thing you can do is not try to speak perfectly. Love your mistakes instead. When you learn something, you make mistakes all the time. You practice, improve your knowledge and move forward.
9. Create reasonable goals
Another mistake in most approaches to learning foreign languages is the lack of a specific and reasonable goal. For example, if you decide to start learning English from the New Year, when will you know that you have achieved your goal, have you “learned” it? Goals like this only bring endless chagrin, something like, “I’m not ready yet, I haven’t learned the ENTIRE language.”
Reasonable goals have five essential characteristics: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-limited. To begin to strive for your reasonable goal of learning languages, it is advisable to familiarize yourself with the European classification by levels of proficiency.
This will help you set a specific goal and track your progress. Many European language schools now have the same classification, so perhaps many of you are familiar with it. A is beginner, B is intermediate and C is advanced.
And in each level there are two more subdivisions – weak (1 lower) and increased (2 upper). So, for example, a beginner who has advanced in learning a language is A2, and a weak advanced one is C1. And most importantly, all these levels are easily determined using tests.
Official educational institutions can test you and issue a language proficiency diploma. These tests can be taken in English, German, French, Spanish, Irish and other official European languages.
Typically, “proficiency” begins with an upper intermediate (B2). This means that in social situations you will be able to speak in the same way as in your own language. You can easily chat with a friend at the bar, ask the person how he spent the weekend, and talk about your aspirations and relationships with people.
Of course, this is not the level of the language in which you can conduct your professional activities. This requires a higher level – C2 (advanced advanced). But you will not work in all the languages that you learn?
To make your goal achievable, lower your requests. For example, if you work in English, strive for the C2 level, and teach German, French and Spanish only up to the B2 level, which is quite enough for speaking, reading, watching films and programs in these languages.
10. From spoken (B1) to perfect possession (C2)
To constantly improve your level of spoken language and learn to speak fluently in just three months, you need to train constantly. You should talk in a foreign language for at least an hour a day, and it is advisable to choose different topics in order to learn more and more new words that are used in the conversation.
For example, you can start your daily workout by asking the other person how they spent the day and talking about your experiences. Then go on to discuss what you have been told, talk about your thoughts and opinions. Talk about your hobbies, your aspirations and goals, what you don’t like, how you are going to spend your vacation, etc.
Going from B1 to B2 in a short time is difficult and you will make a lot of mistakes. But, as mentioned earlier, mistakes are your progress and movement forward. After regular practice in speaking, you will begin to better understand grammar rules. However, this approach does not work with everyone: some people find it more convenient to learn grammar from the very beginning.
When you get to level B2, the real fun begins. You can already get a full-fledged thrill from communicating with native speakers. But talking is not enough to jump to the next levels.
You will have to read newspapers, professional blog posts, and other articles that cannot be called “easy reading.” You can train yourself to read news from well-known foreign newspapers every morning, and it is advisable to take topics from different categories.
Achieving perfect language proficiency (C2) is even more difficult. If you take an exam for this level and fail, pay attention to your mistakes. For example, if you passed your spoken language and grammar, but ruined your listening, it is clear what to look for in the future. Your workouts should include listening to foreign radio stations, interviews, and other audio material.
11. Learn to speak without an accent
Factor 1. Your accent and intonation
The emphasis is clear. If you can’t pronounce “r” correctly in English, any native speaker will recognize you as a foreigner. You are not used to making such sounds, and the muscles of the tongue are not properly developed. But that can be changed: A good YouTube video detailing pronunciation can help you get rid of your accent.
Intonation is much more important, although it is often overlooked. Step, rise, fall and accents in words. To make your speech similar to that of native speakers, you can follow the musicality and rhythm of speech from the very beginning and try to copy them. You can practice copying intonation on the special resource The Mimic Method.
Factor 2. Social and cultural inclusion
No matter how well you know a foreign language, people of other nationalities will not recognize you as their own. Perhaps they will not even speak to you in your native language, and you will have to use either Russian or English (provided that you learned another language, it will be a little offensive).
And the point here is not even that you do not look like a resident of this country outwardly – to a greater extent you are not similar in behavior. You dress differently, behave differently, walk, gesticulate, hold your hands – it’s not like foreigners do.
What to do? As with intonation, you can simply copy the behavior. Observe people, pay attention to all the features of behavior, and you will very soon notice the differences. If you copy your behavior, speech rate, body language, and other factors, foreigners will begin to speak to you in their native language.
12. Become a polyglot
If your goal is to learn several languages, you can start learning all at once, but it is better to stop at one until you reach at least an intermediate level and can speak it with confidence. Only then can you move on to the next language.