How to master any language using 5 simple practices
One of the greatest rewards that you can receive as a teacher is having one of your former students contact you and ask you for advice.
Recently, I had a former student reach out to me for tips on learning Korean. I don’t know Korean, but learning any new language has the same practices behind it.
Many people believe that in order to learn a new language, you have to actually move to the country that speaks the language. I thought this for years even to the point where I moved to Mexico.
Debunking the Myth
It was in Mexico that this paradigm was broken. I taught English at a local school. At the school, I met some students who spoke English nearly perfectly. They were fluent. Had they ever lived in the Untied States?
But they learned English by coming to the language school every day and practicing. In their free time, they would watch TV and listen to music in English.
These students where of course intelligent, but not any more intelligent than you and me. If they could learn a language without living in the target country, you can too.
Apart from noticing the students, I have met many people who lived in Mexico for years and never truly mastered Spanish. Equally I have met many people in the United States who have lived here for years and have never learned English.
Conclusion: If it is not a matter of location. It is a matter of practice.
Based on that evidence and years of language teaching experience, here is what I told my student.
1. Find a Local Community
If you really want to learn a language, you have to create a need for that language in your brain. If you can’t get plugged into a community or have an outlet to use the language, your brain will regard the new language as “not important,” and you will not remember what you learn. Call a local church or community group and see how you can get involved. See if you can volunteer for events. When you do let the people of the community know that you want to learn their language. Otherwise they will want to practice their English with you and you will end up speaking English instead of the language that you went in to learn.
If none of these options work out, you can find a pen pal. I remember one way that my Spanish started soaring was when I started writing my friends in Mexico via Messenger (that’s MSN Messenger… Old School).
It works because this method feels good. Relationships and friendships make you associate the learning of the language with fun instead of with hard work.
2. DuoLingo and Other Website Resources
Please don’t use this as your only source of learning. That said, another way to learn a language well is to use websites, podcasts, and mobile apps like DuoLingo. Make sure that you not only answer the questions correctly, but that you also speak what you write. Also repeat anything spoken to you by the app. This will help build the necessary mouth muscles to produce more difficult sounds (example: rolling your R’s in Spanish).
3. Immerse Yourself in the Language.
Again, this is not the only thing that you should do, but it is an essential piece of the process. Start watching movies (even with English subtitles at first). Listen to the music. Read the news in the target language. Eat it up. It will be frustrating at first, but then you will get used to hearing its sounds. Be sure to imitate the sounds you hear. Again, you’ll have to develop a new set of mouth muscles. Music and singing are great for this.
Keep a daily journal of sentences that you use to practice what you have learned. Even using the journal to document what you did that day is a great way to learn a language. We often speak about what has happened in the past, which makes keeping a journal an amazing tools for learning conversation. Start with simple sentences and even use a translator at first if you have to (like translate.google.com). After you get used to writing certain phrases, try to remember them without an online translator. If you are unsure about the quality of what you wrote, go back and check the journal again, or have someone in the community help you.
5. Find a friend.
Lastly, find a friend who wants to learn the language with you. Most things are best learned in the context of community and relationships. Find someone who will keep you accountable to sticking with your goal, and who you can keep accountable as well. You can even get to the point where you speak to each other in the language.
All of the above points are important, but number one and number five are absolutely essential. Learning is best done in community. Without relationships learning just becomes a chore.
I know my student will soar in Korean because after giving him the advice, he told me he was already doing most of what I said.
You don’t have to move to the country. You can be fluent in a foreign language where you are.
If you are breathing, you are an educator.
Everyone is an educator of something. If you want to increase your influence and expand your impact, download my FREE ebook: “Profe Pablo’s 25 Teaching Tips that will instantly make your life easier” or subscribe to my weekly podcast “Schooled Radio with Profe and Mr. Wallace.”