Is it a bit hypocritical to write this when my own ability to speak a second language is, ahem, lacking? But although my Spanish is far from where I want it to be, I have picked up some tips from studying, teaching, and witnessing others study a second language. To me, languages are something you never stop learning, even if you can class yourself as fluent. There are still things I am discovering about the English language too! But although it can be frustrating to not be able to express yourself at times in a second language, it is important to keep up with the practice and not lose motivation.
Immerse in the Culture
Not a direct way to grasp the language, but something I consider to be oh so important. When studying a language, unless you’re an absolute linguist nerd who gets excited about grammatical rules, it’s unlikely the typical structure of studying will make you enthusiastic about the language. In a classroom, be it in high school or an evening class for adults, language can become tiresome and dead. However, to ignote a passion for the language you should explore music and films of countries that use the language, even visit the countries (any excuse to travel!), talk to native speakers and learn about their culture and history. It can remind you that the language, which is always a huge part of any culture, is a path to exploring and understanding the culture further.
Celebrate Little Achievements
When you’re nowhere close to being fluent, it can be frustrating to feel like you’re getting nowhere. This may cause you to miss out on realising what progress you’re making. So when you understand a phrase you previously wouldn’t have, or automatically respond to a question, or even can just remember the alphabet (I still struggle to remember ‘h’ and ‘j’ in Spanish…), be proud of these achievements!
Have a little Dutch courage…
This is not, I repeat NOT, what I teach my students. However I know I’m more inclined to practice Spanish and experiment more with speaking it when I’ve had a couple of beers, as are others. This is why language exchanges at bars are a good idea, because you meet new people and can gain enough confidence to dive out of your native language. I think one of the biggest hindrances to language learning is confidence: even I know that I understand more Spanish than I use, it’s just a matter of using it. Not being afraid to have a go with a conversation, rather than just resorting to your native language (which, when it is English, is far too easy to slip back into). Plus with Dutch courage, you’re less embarrassed when making mistakes, as it’s all part of the learning process! But if alcohol is not your thing, there are other ways to develop a relaxed attitude before trying your second language tongue!
Ignore Anyone who Laughs
One of the worse things to do to a language learner is to laugh at their attempts. It ties in with the confidence issue, especially if someone is nervous about practicing, – even just smiling as they speak can put them off! So what happens when you’re practicing a new language and your attempts make someone burst out laughing? Take it on the chin, in fairness the person probably isn’t being rude, we just don’t realise what we’ve said! Even laugh with the person, as there’s no harm in laughing at yourself (today in a class one student laughed because she accidentally said she ate her family at Christmas!) Don’t let these slip ups hold you back from practicing more.
Speak to both Natives and Practicers
Of course speaking the language is the best way to learn and improve, but I feel it is best to speak with both a mixture of those who are native speakers, and those who learnt it as a second language. The native speakers, of course, know the language best and through them you will grasp the natural rhythm of the language. They are also happy to help those wanting to learn the language, and will guide you through the conversation! However with those who have learnt the language, I always find they speak the language slower and clearer, which is easier to understand! They are also more sensitive to the difficulties in learning the language, and will perhaps confuse you less.