Throughout my teaching career, I have been asked the question: "How can I quickly improve my English?" The simple answer to this is that you need to take an English class and practice. However, this does not mean you need to practice anything, but rather you need perfect practice! Perfect practice means that you need a teacher who will teach you the correct pronunciations, the correct intonation, the correct rules, the correct sentence structures, and the correct tenses.
I know grammar can be boring and many people would rather just learn by having casual conversations. Unfortunately you cannot have a real conversation in the foreign language unless you know the basics. In order to obtain fluency in your language of choice, you need both the correct mindset and the correct practice. To examine this further, let's take a look at how you describe the language learning process itself. When you talk about yourself learning a foreign language are you someone who says something such as:
Sam: "Language learning to me has been a cornucopia of incremental gains with gallant efforts of independent practice."(Optimistic Approach)
John: "Language learning to me was a tedious process, frustrating at times, and all I have to say is that it was rather uneventful." (Pessimistic Approach)
Let's face it, we have all felt like John at one time or another during our foreign language learning process. But don't let this temporary negative feeling dictate how you proceed to apply yourself in learning the language. Don't get discouraged that three months from when you started learning, you are still a little confused about certain concepts, sounds, and vocabulary. I subscribe to the notion that language learning is a journey and not a destination. Therefore, I prefer to talk about language learning and language acquisition in the present continuous tense or present perfect tense rather than the past tense. As a matter of fact, our learning is never done! Even teachers keep learning. We get more training and more certifications. So it is imperative that you, the student, should learn and practice in order to improve in learning a language. We are all lifelong learners. So continue to be thirsty for knowledge.
2. Face the Challenges but Don't Give Up
We may face a multitude of challenges that make us feel like talking about learning a language in the past tense, but we need to change that mindset. Let's think about it! To do well in the game of basketball, you need to practice shooting free throws, dribbling the ball, and playing defense. Playing basketball is a skill. Speaking a foreign language is also a skill. This means that you cannot short-circuit the independent practice process.
3. Embrace the Optimist that lies Within
Simply put, you need to embrace that optimist that lies within you. This applies to any skill. In your undergraduate psychology class you might have learned of a "self fulfilling prophesy". A self fulfilling prophesy is a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it is already true. This means that if you think you will do well at something, you will do things that will help you do well. You will pay attention in class, and do your homework. As a consequence you end up doing better than if you had a negative approach to the whole process.
4. Get a Speaking Partner / Teacher
One way to accelerate your functional language knowledge and use is to listen to people speaking the language and also speak the language in real-time conversations so that you can learn and practice what to say and when to say it. We all know that one of the fastest way to improve your language learning is by getting a teacher. Another fast way is to simply immerse yourself in the culture where that language is spoken everyday. You will start to understand nuances of how spoken language is different from written language in different parts of the same country. Your language learning is like building a muscle. To build any muscle you have to really practice regularly, eat the right diet, and not give up.
5. Use Prediction to Your Favor
As you get better, try predicting what others will say next in the conversation. This way you are already prepared with the sentence and there is less work that your brain has to do. Hence you are not constantly translating your thoughts from your strongest language. One of the top demotivating things to learning a foreign language is the stress associated with constantly having to translate your thoughts. Translation is slower than auto-pilot! You want to be in auto-pilot mode. This is when you start speaking, listening, reading and writing like a native speaker of that language. Fluency in any language has to do with being prepared to respond to different permutations that a conversation can take and being able to comfortable speak your mind without hesitation. Now this level of fluency, which I call being fully fluent in that language, does take time and it requires regular practice.
In order to do well in learning a foreign language, you need to personally put in the effort. Teachers can teach you the grammar, the sentence structures, the rules, and show you examples on how to apply the language, but they will not do the independent practice for you. You have to do this by yourself. You will thank yourself later for doing the work because a few years from now, you will look back and be amazed at the realization of how much you have improved!
7. Use Other Resources(Dictionary, Podcasts, Songs, Videos, Radio)
If you cannot afford a teacher or speaking partner, use the technology that is out there. You can utilize Youtube videos, songs, radio broadcasts, podcasts, or even movies with people speaking in that language. It is important to get a bilingual dictionary when you get started, and as you get better in the language move on to a monolingual dictionary. A dictionary allows you to expand your vocabulary exponentially since now you can look up the meaning of words that you hear or read and cross-reference it with even more words. Look up synonyms and antonyms of words you come across and use them in your casual speech.
8. Don't Ignore Passive Learning
When you read something, or hear something from any source, try to rephrase it using your own words. This will help expand your working vocabulary and make you a more precise speaker of the language. There is something called passive learning where you learn by just hearing people speaking around you, or just from listening to songs in that language. Active learning will surely give you the largest language acquisition and language learning gains. However, do not ignore passive learning because you can benefit from the way babies learn to speak their native language by just listening, trying and observing. We unconsciously learn certain things just from listening to it again and again and practicing to say it on our own. Carry a notebook with you that you can use to jot down words that pop in your mind. Later you can find out their meaning and how to correctly use them in sentences.
9. Practice Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening to enhance comprehension
We now live in the technology age. Make good use of the tools that aid you in your comprehension and fluency. To be fluent in a language you need to be able to read, write, speak, listen to and most importantly understand normal everyday usage of the language. There is no use parroting things you do not comprehend. You also want others to understand you when you speak. Use tools such as closed captioning, and subtitles to see the print associated with the spoken words when watching a movie or watching a Youtube video. You need to be familiar with the printed form of the language so you can read menus, road signs or newspapers. You also need to be able to write in the language. Try to write a simple letter or journal to yourself each day. This will help you in your fluidity, and ease of utilizing the language. You will experience gains in your spelling, reading and writing of the language too.
10. Memorize and understand the High Frequency Words(HFWs)
You should try to memorize and understand the High Frequency Words(HFWs) because these are the words that you will come across again and again. If you know the HFWs of a language, you can pick up a newspaper in that language and be able to read and understand 75 percent of the material. So you need to know the words that are most commonly used in normal conversations as well as written print. The more vocabulary you know including these HFWs, the better equipped you will be at listening, reading, writing, and speaking in that foreign language. Also know your audience. Even tough you may know a smorgasbord of big words, it would not be prudent to use them in casual conversations.
If you do all these things consistently and diligently, you will experience massive improvements in your foreign language learning and language acquisition! How has your language learning journey been? What three tips are you willing to implement today?