Don’t just learn a language, use it! Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in Learning

Hey, everybody! How’s it going?

One of the biggest complaints that I get as a language teacher is that students take classes, do their homework, but still they can’t speak fluently.

They say,

“I learn a word today, but I can’t remember it the other day.”
“Where am I going to use this?”
“I keep forgetting the pronunciation of words and verbs.”
“I’m embarrassed to speak in front of other people.”

Does this ever happen to you? Well, it did to me once and now I’m going to give you some tips on how to “mitigate these symptoms”, so to speak.

The first thing that you should keep in mind is that learning languages doesn’t happen overnight, so it does actually take time to sink it all in. Make a plan of learning five new words every day. If it’s too overwhelming, learn three. By learning I mean, practice until you get tired, it’s never enough.

I have an ex-student who got married and went to live in Japan with his wife. She had lived there for a long time before she came to Brazil so she knew how to speak, read and write Japanese fluently (she went to school there). When he got there he was very frustrated because he couldn’t understand a word so I asked him, “How did you learn Japanese?”

He told me,

Adir, my goal was to learn five words a day. I would think of situations in Portuguese and then try to know how to say them in Japanese, for example, if you tripped and fell, I’d ask, “Are you hurt?”. I would look up in a dictionary how to say that in Japanese and check back with my wife. The more I learned, the more fluent I got because I was actually using Japanese.

Now you ask me, “Adir, I don’t live in a place where they speak the foreign language I’m learning, how do I use it then?”

Some tips for you!

1. Learning a language comes also with learning that country’s culture, so start learning about it, its geography, food, folklore, legends, etc.

2. Tag your house objects with their names in the foreign language. Start with object like faucet, table, cupboard, remote control, things that you can glue a Post-it to.

3. Don’t settle for little. So you already know how to say “brother”, “sister”, “mother”, etc., but do you know how to say “mother-in-law”, “brother-in-law”, “godson”? Why not go the extra mile and learn that too?

4. Keep it close to home. Yes, you don’t need to know about anybody’s life to learn a foreign language. Take yours and your family’s for example. Would you be able to say all the things that you do at work in the target language? Would you know how to say your brother’s occupation and what he does?

5. Create mini interviews with yourself. Imagine that you are being interviewed on a radio show about a certain topic: family, work, leisure, whatever. Make up the questions and answer them. They don’t need to be as accurate as in your native language, you can rephrase them if grammar is too difficult.

6. If you live in a place where there are native speakers of the language you’re learning, why not go and make friends with them? Let me tell you a story: I have a student from Boston who’s learning Portuguese. He’s a good student, but he keeps forgetting basic words so I told him, “Paul, there are many Brazilians in Boston [trust me, A LOT!], so why don’t you try and talk to some of them when you run into them?” As it turns out there’s a Brazilian store right around the corner from his house so he decided to go there, buy something and practice his Portuguese. I don’t know what happened yet but I’m pretty sure that the Brazilian hospitality made him feel right at home.

7. If someone makes fun of you because you can’t speak a language fluently yet, don’t worry. You are making an effort, getting out of your comfort zone and I applaud you for that. The key to when you make a mistake is to look right at its eyes and correct it. If you know you don’t get your verbs right, why not pay more attention to them? It’s very easy to complain and blame someone or something else. Take responsibility.

8. Don’t try to speak fast. Who told you that fluency equals speed? I once knew an American woman in her sixties and she spoke very slowly. She told me, “Adir, I speak slowly because I don’t like to repeat what I said due to misunderstandings”. And she is right, you don’t need to hurry, take your time and enjoy the beauty that is speaking another language.

9. Do you have foreign channels at home? Why not spend at least half an hour a day listening to the sounds of the spoken language, even if you don’t understand much? Choose a program that you like or the news, because they have imagines and current topics that you may have heard about.

10. Last but not least, set your default Internet browser page to the foreign language you are learning. For example, I’m building up my German vocabulary so I set my Yahoo page to Deutschland (Germany) – that way, when I go check my e-mail I end up reading something in German. The same words keep popping up from time to time so worst-case sceneario is you will learn some new words.


I have given you some tips above so now I want you to take at least one of the steps above and share your experience in our comments. I’m pretty sure you’re going to ROCK it! After all, you’re a Transparent Language reader and you all rock! Then I want to hear you say that here:

Take care and see you next time!

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About the Author: Adir

English / Spanish teacher and translator for over 20 years. I have been blogging since 2007 and I am also a professional singer in my spare time.


  1. Katherine:

    Muy bien hecho, Adir! This was a really welcome burst of motivation! I’m off to do tip #2 ahora mismo 🙂

  2. Adir Ferreira:

    Thanks, Katherine!

  3. Noor-e-Hira:

    I have already put point no. 10 in action. Thanks so very much. 🙂

  4. Adir Ferreira:


  5. The Testee:

    These are some great tips Adir. I’m currently learning Korean, and I think understanding the culture (tip #1) will be important.

    Thank you Adir.