How to Master Any Foreign Language
by Avoiding These Five Roadblocks

See also: Lifelong Learning

You walk into a Mexican restaurant. It’s completely authentic. You say, “Hola! Como esta usted?

Or, you just happen to be in Louisiana during Halloween and see a man dressed up as a woman, “Tu etse un homme? Une femme?

Whether it's Spanish, French, or some other language, you want to learn it in the fastest and easiest way possible. There are so many benefits to learning a language, but there are also so many road blocks that most people get shut down before they even get started. The most common mistake? Not enough practice. Here's how to cut down your learning curve and carry on a conversation in another country or in your own back yard.

Listen More, Not Less

While it's important to speak and write the language you're trying to learn, you also need to just sit back and listen. It's called a “silent period.” This is how babies learn. They spend a lot of time listening to their parents and other people before ever uttering a word. Listening can help you see patterns in a language as well as learn new vocabulary and structures.

One of the best ways to sit back and listen to a language is to watch YouTube videos. This is how you “immerse” yourself in a language even when there aren’t many people around you that speak the language you’re trying to learn.

Try finding longish videos of someone speaking at a normal conversational pace in the language of your choice. Shorter videos are OK, but they’re short - they don’t give you much vocabulary exposure.

Another idea is to immerse yourself in a podcast or lab. Yet another idea is to rent or buy films in a foreign language. Get films with no subtitles. That way, you can use your T.V.’s subtitle feature if you need help with translation or shut it off for the full immersion experience. T.V. shows are another great way to immerse yourself in a language. They’re probably also one of the best ways to learn slang or informal language, especially if you can find “reality”-type shows.

Be More Curious

In language learning, attitude can be everything.

Linguists studied attitude in language learning during the 1970s in Quebec and they discovered something very interesting. At a time when tension was high between Anglo- and Francophones, the study done then showed that Anglophones holding prejudices against the French Canadians often did poorly in French even when they had been studying it for years.

Likewise, students who were curious about the target language's culture and people did well speaking the language, and they were also more open to forming relationships with native speakers.

Think Outside The Box

Many linguists have found that students with a low tolerance of ambiguity struggle with language learning.

There's a lot of uncertainty when learning a new language. You're going to encounter new vocabulary daily, and each grammar rule has a dialectic exception or irregular verb. You have to be comfortable with this. Many people aren't. They're frustrated when the language doesn't follow the rules they've previously learned. Be willing to make mistakes.

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Learn Using Multiple Methods

Don't rely on just one method of learning a new language. Most people spend a lot of time with the listen and repeat drills of a language lab or podcast. Others need a textbook to make sense of how a language works. But, this doesn't mean you should stick to just one method. You should try several and keep switching things up until you become fluent in the language.

As well as taking a language tuition course, try reading the language you want to learn. Books are a great way to learn the formalities of a language. But, they’re not always great for learning the subtleties and slang inherent in that language.

Using flashcards that contain pictures of nouns (obviously with the translation on the back of the card) can also help bolster your vocabulary.

Language study online provides learners with a convenient and effective way to learn a new language. In addition to traditional methods like textbooks and language labs, online courses, language-learning apps, and audio-based programs like the "Pimsleur approach" can offer a variety of learning experiences. By using multiple methods, you can improve your vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing, and conversational skills. Don't limit yourself to just one approach - try different methods and find what works best for you.

Finally, actually writing a language will help familiarize you with spelling, which then reinforces all of the verbal skills you’ve learned.

Don’t Be Afraid To Make Mistakes

You're going to make mistakes. Get used to it!

Learning a new language is difficult. But, it doesn't matter how old you are. Anyone can learn a new language if they are persistent and unafraid of making mistakes. Learning a language is more than just writing in a foreign language, conjugating a verb, or finishing a vocabulary test. You need to spend time speaking the language – a lot of time.

This is where most students “clam up.” They don't know what to say, and the feelings of shyness surface, controlling the student. Unfortunately, this makes learning a new language impossible. Ditch the fear and dive in. The more mistakes you make in front of fluent speakers, the more opportunity you have for correction. This, in turn, strengthens your language skills.

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About the Author

Lisa Harold is a veteran language instructor. She often blogs about effective strategies to learn foreign languages.