Learning a new language? That’s awesome! You’re boosting your career, making your brain more limber and creative and opening the door to better collaboration with coworkers.
If you’re just starting out, fluency in a new language might seem a really long way off. We wish we had a fast-forward button that would let you wake up tomorrow sounding just like a native speaker, but, sadly, that hasn’t been invented yet. What we can give you is our best advice for getting fluent faster: Practice. Then practice some more. And, oh yeah, more practice.
That really is all it comes down to. The more time you spend with the language you’re learning (mind you, we don’t mean reading or doing grammar drills), the more rapidly you’ll become fluent. So today I wanted to pass along some of my favorite ways to practice your new language daily. If you’re taking language classes, these tips will help you make even faster progress.
1. Text. A Lot.
Did you know that there are apps that let you text with a native speaker of the language you are learning throughout the day? You might especially like these apps if you feel nervous about face-to-face conversations in your new language. You have time to think about your responses, and your conversation partner can’t see you, so that reduces the pressure and awkwardness.
I recommend HelloTalk and Tandem. While you will always learn the most from in-person conversations, text conversations are a great supplement — or substitute while you work your way up to face-to-face practice. Text away!
But remember, nothing replaces real conversation – your ears cannot get trained to the sounds of the language through a text message. So even though you might be able to understand writing better, this will not change how well you understand the spoken language.
2. Ditch the Flashcards.
Japanese can be one of the most challenging languages for English speakers to learn. One reason for this is the kanji system of writing.
If you feel like you will never get the hang of kanji, I recommend the app WaniKani. WaniKani can help you learn 2,000 kanji and 6,000 vocabulary words in one year. Every hour, the app gives you a review of the past kanji you learned and adds in a few new ones. It’s a brilliant use of the science of learning.
There are apps for almost every language. Apps with games or activities are better than straight flashcards. And straight-up vocabulary words are good unless you’re learning them in context. Beware of memorizing what words mean, as you might be thinking of this translation in a different way than intended (and also, most words have many meanings!).
3. Download Pimsleur.
If you are learning one of the Romance languages — which include Spanish, Portuguese and French — I suggest installing Pimsleur on your smart phone. In the car, you can listen to conversations between native speakers. The conversations are then broken down by sentence, and then by vocabulary. Everything is said in English as well to make sure you understood.
To further enhance your learning, the app has repetition practice and questions to answer out loud. There are also games for vocabulary drills. Pimsleur allows you to learn in context, so you won’t waste time learning words, only to then realize you’re using them in the wrong situations!
4. Watch YouTube. YES!
On FluentU, you practice your language skills by watching fun YouTube videos that are 2-3 minutes long and then taking quizzes on them. These are real videos, not ones made for language learning. And that’s good and bad.
In these videos, you’ll hear the real-life vocabulary people actually use, spoken at the speed native speakers actually speak. There’s no “program” per se, but you do get to choose the video level, and there are tests afterward.
However, not all of the vocabulary is exceptionally relevant – these are YouTube videos, after all. But Fluent U is still great for ear training and just plain amusing. You’ve got to spice up your language studies from time to time so that you don’t burn out!
4. Netflix and Chill.
Well, maybe just Netflix. No, not to watch “Stranger Things” or “Bird Box” again. I want you to check out Netflix’s international offerings. Netflix has revolutionized how easy it is to access TV shows and movies from all around the world. As a language teacher, I constantly use Netflix programming to energize my students. They have fun and feel excited watching real shows in the language they’re learning.
So here’s how to use Netflix for language learning:
- Choose something to watch in the language you are studying.
- Turn on the subtitles in that language.
- Watch the program for two minutes at a time, writing down all the subtitles. If you have to peek at the English subtitles from time to time just to be sure what you’re hearing, that’s fine.
- Then, after figuring out what’s being said, turn off all subtitles and just allow your ears to hear the new words.
Being able to read a word is very different from being able to understand it spoken, so make sure you close your eyes and listen a few times. Most foreign accents come from having read the words first, guessing how they sounded, and then saying them outloud. If you had heard the word first, you likely would have come much closer to the actual sound of the word. That’s why listening is so crucial FIRST, not years after learning all the grammar.
6. Focus on the Dialogue.
Similarly, you can also improve your fluency by writing down the dialogue from a best-selling book in your target language. Why dialogue? Because that’s what you speak every day. If you were to focus just on watching the news or reading the newspaper, you would learn nothing about how to have a conversation and the vocabulary used in everyday conversations.
Try some of these ideas for practicing your new language skills and see if they help you learn your target language faster. If you have any questions, or you’d like to learn more about Fluency Corp’s language classes, contact us for a free consultation: firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 401-3159.