Don’t Mind Going Slow… Posted by Sean Young on Feb 18, 2012 in Archived Posts
When someone sets out to buy a language learning book or language course, two questions most likely going through their mind are “Can this help me speak [language name] fluently?” and “How long will it take to learn this language?” Unfortunately, there is no universal standard for when a person is considered fluent in a language, and there is no miracle language course that works for everybody – that’s why there are thousands of books and software programs on the market today. Learning a language is a highly individual process and consists of a combination of factors of which the most important one is you, the learner. Let me ask you a question: What do you think motivates successful language learners?
Audio CDs or DVDs?
Believe it or not, those aren’t the most important factors when deciding to learn a language. In order to successfully learn a new language, you need to have the motivation to learn, the self–confidence to get through the lessons and a positive attitude to help you get through the tough parts.
One way to maintain your motivation is reminding yourself that you’re an intelligent adult. It’s true that it takes a bit of courage to approach strangers and ask them questions in the new language, even if you are likely to make mistakes. But the fear of speaking to strangers, especially in a foreign language, is natural — even I get tongue tied at times trying to speak my own native language! The trick, however, is to learn to deal with these fears so that they do not interfere with your language learning.
Before you start learning
Let’s say you’ve decided to learn a language. You know what language you want to learn (or need to learn) and you’ve gone to the bookstore and bought the books and CDs you need to begin. Don’t start yet until you read the following items. Many people do not realize what learning entails and that’s why most of them give up after a few lessons:
- Make a regular commitment – Make time for your new language. When you expose yourself to a new language frequently, you pick it up quickly and easily. The longer you wait between lessons, the more you’ll forget (and quickly!). So make time for your language. There are plenty of opportunities to learn, practice and review your language capabilities. You just need to stick with your plan and use everything to your advantage. Regular repetition is the key to learning any language, so don’t be afraid to cover material again, and again and again!
- Don’t be shy – Learning a language will eventually involve using it and that involves making mistakes in the beginning. Don’t be afraid of sounding strange, awkward or silly. If you don’t open your mouth and speak, you’ll miss out on making new friends, or getting the information you need (especially in an emergency!). You will impress people with your attempts at using the language. And the more you speak and interact, the faster your mistakes will go away.
- Find your pace – Always proceed at your own pace. Don’t feel pressured into thinking you have only one chance to learn information before moving on to new material. Read or listen to lessons or parts of lessons as many times it takes to make you feel comfortable with what you’re learning. You have all the time you need to learn. Don’t try an activity until you’re pretty sure you understand what needs to be done in that activity. If you rush through, you make less progress.
- Take notes – Use a notebook to start a language journal. You’ll learn things much more quickly and effectively if you write them down or rephrase them in your own words. (Include any vocabulary, grammar, practice and examples, phrases from dialogs and more). Take these notes with you and review them whenever you have time to kill (waiting for a bus or train, at the airport, while dinner is cooking).
- Don’t worry about pronunciation – Listen to your audio several times. Listening is very important – you can’t reproduce the sound until you hear and mimic it. Don’t be afraid of sounding strange or being laughed at – just keep practicing and soon your pronunciation will improve. Don’t worry if you have an accent – celebrities, scientists, politicians speak English with a Spanish/French/German/Japanese accent, but get their point across.
- Make mistakes – Don’t worry about mistakes – just jump in and start talking! If you find you’re making a large number of errors, take things more slowly and practice the phrases more as you go through the materials. Even when you speak to native speakers and they smile at your performance, remember that it is usually a friendly smile, and that they admire you for your effort as well as for what you have already achieved in their language. Native speakers generally focus their attention on the content of your message and not on your performance or grammar. Look at errors as part of your learning process and do not let them discourage you from practicing. Without practice, you cannot be successful.
Remember, language is like any other skill – some people are great with languages, while others are better at math, science, or music. Everyone has the potential to learn, but the fact is that some people are just more capable of learning language than others. Others may need their self-confidence boosted, or need some more motivation to reach their goal. The amount of time needed to master a language depends on the language you are studying, as well as your native language. Some languages are, admittedly, more difficult than others, and thus take more time to master. But as long as you continue in your studies, you will find fluency can be achieved. Just keep in mind the old Chinese proverb: “Don’t mind going slow, as long as you keep going.”
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