As an inhabitant of Belgium I have the benefit of living very close to the neighboring countries, about half an hour by car from both France as well as the Netherlands. This only has one drawback: the language barriers, even more if you take into account that already within the country we have three official languages: Flemish in the Northern part, French in the Southern part- Wallonia- and German in the Eastern part, on the border with Germany. But this drawback in some way also has a benefit: we are from childhood forced to speak foreign languages and this way learning a new language seems to be in some way easier to us. Nevertheless, it never comes by itself and it is unavoidable to do many efforts and to spend many hours studying to be able to achieve a new language. Summarized, there are uncountable ways to learn languages, some of which will be more efficient depending on the kind of learner you are, whether you are a visual, an auditory or a kinesthetic learner.
From my own experience, I want to recommend you some of the techniques which have helped me to learn foreign languages more easily. The first and most important tip is to practise the language as much as possible and without being afraid of making mistakes, preferably by speaking with native people directly and about subjects which are of common interest. You have to practise the language every single day and (try to) find fun in doing so. The ideal would be to go abroad to a country where people are native speakers of the language you want to learn and to stay with a host family, but as this isn’t always possible, you can apply some of the many different ways to learn a foreign language.
For example you could improve your knowledge of a foreign language by connecting the learning process to one of your hobbies, being watching movies, listening or playing music, practising sports, etcetera. It is already a good start to watch a movie in the original language –for example English-, with subtitles in the learner’s native language –for example Spanish-, but the ideal situation would be to watch it in the original version, subtitled in this language as well, an option you can often find for the hearing impaired. This way both your pronunciation as your vocabulary knowledge will get better and expand easily.
If you listen to music it can also often be useful have a look at the lyrics while listening to the music. Many YouTube videos provide the lyrics with the songs and the Spotify application also has a karaoke-like feature which shows the lyrics. If you are really motivated or there is a song you like very much, it is recommendable to pause the song and look up the meaning of the words you don’t understand. This way you will appreciate the song better and it will also be easier to remember the lyrics if you understand the meaning of them. Apart from listening to music and watching movies, I personally expanded my vocabulary knowledge greatly by playing video games as well.
Especially reading books can also be extremely helpful! Although you don’t understand every word of the novel you are reading, you will still get the gist and step by step you will acquire a lot of vocabulary as well as a more profound understanding of the use of certain grammatical structures. Try to find books adapted to your level. If you are a basic or intermediate-leveled student try not to read books which are too hard to read, as you might not be able to enjoy them and this could discourage you from keeping on reading.
The more auditory learners will easily acquire new vocabulary items by just hearing them, while visual learners will first want to see the words written and might also want to write them down as well before being able to remember them. There is another kind of learner, the kinaesthetic one, for which a good recommendation might be to make many post-its to stick to objects with the name of the object written on it in the language you want to learn. As you will continue with your daily life, cooking in the kitchen or relaxing in the living room, you will encounter the different post-its with the vocabulary items written on them and by seeing these words so often, you will automatically remember them, without having to study.
There is one thing all types of learners have in common, and that is that they need to put into practice what they have learnt to be able to consolidate this knowledge, preferably by having conversations –this is in the end why you learn a language, to be able to speak it-, but there are many other ways to have fun and practise your new language at the same time, such as writing poetry, making a radio programme or going out eating and ordering the food in the language you are learning –but don’t order in English when you go eating at a French restaurant.
When doing so, always bear in mind that making mistakes is normal, and even very important for learning languages. Therefore it is essential not to be afraid to make mistakes, as admitting that you don’t know anything and that you are going to make mistakes, is the key to be able to expand your knowledge. In the beginning you will make many mistakes, being grammatical, syntactic, and semantic, in pronunciation or a mistake of another type, but in the end your comfort zone will become every time bigger as you accomplish to get certain things across and as you become able to communicate in the foreign language.
Finally I would like to refer to the YouTube video ‘Matthew’s 9 Language Monologue’ , as I think it is very motivating to see how an English native speaker can quickly and flawlessly switch between as many as nine different languages, while these aren’t even all the languages he has studied, as he is able to understand more than a dozen languages more. The guy shows to have great fun in learning languages and this might maybe be the most important recommendation to learn a language: it is very important to find the right motivation and stimulation, and once you have found this, it will be a lot less effort to study the language. Your motivation might be mere interest to learn a specific foreign language, with a practical goal for example to go travelling or for your job, but sometimes it can also be a more private reason such as wanting to be able to have a fluent conversation with your boyfriend or girlfriend who speaks another mother tongue.
Thomas Surmont, Teaching Assistant at EOI La Orotava