1. “How do you say X?” is the most important sentence you can possibly learn. Learn it early and use it often.
2. One on one tutoring is the best and most efficient use of time. It’s also usually the most expensive use of time, depending on the language and country. But if you have the money, grabbing a solid tutor and sitting with him or her for a few hours every day is the fastest way to learn a new language I’ve ever found. A mere two hours a day for a few weeks with a tutor in Brazil got me to at least a respectable conversational level — i.e., I could go on a date with a girl who spoke no English and maintain conversation throughout the night without making too much of a fool of myself. Speaking of which…
3. Date a girl who speaks the target language and not your native language. Talk about investment and motivation. You’ll be fluent in a month. And best of all, if you make her mad or do something wrong, you can claim lost in translation .
4. If you can’t find a cute girl to put up with you, find a language buddy online. There are a number of websites of foreigners who want to learn English who would be willing to trade practice time in their native language for practice in yours. Live Mocha is a great resource of this (I’m not a huge fan of their lessons, but the ability to video chat with other members is priceless).
5. Facebook chat + Google Translate = Winning.
6. When you learn a new word, try to use it a few times right away. When you stop and look up a new word in conversation, make a point to use it in the next two or three sentences you say. Language learning studies show that you need to hit a certain amount of repetitions of saying a word within one minute of learning it, one hour of learning it, one day, etc. Try to use it immediately a few times and then use it again later in the day. Chances are it’ll stick.
7. TV shows, movies, newspapers and magazines are a good supplementation. But they should not be mistaken or replacements for legitimate practice. When I was getting good at Spanish, I made a point to watch a couple movies each week and read an article on El País each day. It was helpful for keeping me fresh, but I don’t believe it was as good as use of my time as conversations.
8. Most people are helpful, let them help. If you’re in a foreign country and making a complete ass out of yourself trying to buy something at the grocery store, ask random people for help. Point to something and ask how to say it. Ask them questions. Most people are friendly and willing to help you out. Learning a language is not for shy people.
9. There will be a lot of ambiguity and miscommunication. Fact of the matter is that for many, many words, the translations are not direct. “Gustar” may roughly mean “to like” in Spanish, but in usage, it’s more nuanced than that. It’s used for particular situations and contexts, whereas in English we use “like” as a blanket verb covering anything we enjoy or care about. These subtle differences can add up, particularly in serious or emotional conversations. Intentions can be easily misconstrued. Nuanced conversations over important matters will likely require double the effort to nail down the exact meaning for each person than it would between two native speakers. No matter how good you are in your new language, you’re not likely to have a complete grasp over the slight intuitive differences between each word, phrase or idiom that a native speaker does without living in the country for years.
10. These are the phases you go through. First, you’re able to speak a little and understand nothing. Then you’re able to understand far more than you speak. Then you become conversational, but it requires quite a bit of mental effort. After that, you’re able to speak and understand without conscious mental effort (i.e., you don’t have to translate words into your native tongue in your mind). Once you’re able to speak and listen without thinking about it, you’ll begin to actually think in the foreign language itself without effort. Once this happens, you’re really hitting a high level.
Anyway, if you have already tried many things and you cannot learn that language. You should try with someone who really cares about your learning and who really can helps you to improve your level. Not someone who is writing on the blackboard everytime.
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