So your goal for 2015 is to learn a new language? Great! What are your plans for staying on track? Everyone knows that resolutions tend to be notoriously short-lived, but it doesn’t have to be that way—especially with something as important as a second language.
I started teaching English in 2006, and I’ve seen a lot of success stories. While every language has a different structure, most language learners who eventually quit their study have run into the same stumbling blocks. But if you know what those difficulties are ahead of time, you’ll be able to recognize and avoid them, if they crop up.
Speak up, despite your embarrassment
The biggest mistake you can make when learning a language is to allow your embarrassment to keep you from speaking. Everybody gets self-conscious, but fear will rob you of opportunities to practice your target language and improve. You may worry that you’ll make a mistake or that people won’t understand you, but the only way to make less mistakes and improve your pronunciation is— guess what?— practicing your language. You can study until your brains fall out, but unless you open your mouth, it’s not going to stick. Just remember, most worthwhile things are terrifying before they become awesome.
Create clear goals for yourself
“Learn Spanish/French/German/etc.” is not a clear goal. It’s not specific enough. How would you know when you’ve accomplished it? Instead, your goal should look more like this: “In one week/month/year, I’ll be able to order a drink/introduce myself/make reservations/etc. in my target language.” Now that’s measurable, and you’ll know exactly when you’ve mastered it. Keep track of your goals by writing them down, and when you’ve accomplished one, set another and another. When you can see the progress you’ve made, you’ll be encouraged and more likely to keep it up.
Surround yourself with your new language
For many people, learning a language takes place in a class or during study time that they set aside, totally separate from the rest of their lives. But you can’t achieve fluency by only listening to your target language for a few minutes a day. Immersion is key; you’ve got to incorporate language learning into everything you do. You should be watching the TV news broadcast in your target language, listening to that language on the radio en route to work, and watching movies or shows in your new language when relaxing at home. Oh, and don’t forget to make friends who are native speakers! Sure, you’re never going to replace your native language, but the more exposure you get, the better your command of your new language. You’ll know more vocabulary and have better pronunciation, and the structure of the language will just feel more natural to you.
Embrace a new perspective—goodbye to word-for-word translation
Let’s use Spanish as an example. You can’t run around saying “yo soy 30 años viejo” (“I am 30 years old”). That may be the correct format in English, but it makes no sense in Spanish (or at best, it sounds silly.) You’ve got to say “yo tengo 30 años” (“I have 30 years”), which, of course, sounds silly to us in English. You have to let go of the idea that the construction of another language will match up with that of English. Instead, focus on learning how to say a concept or an idea in another language rather than translating the individual units of speech.
Pace your learning and enjoy the journey
You didn’t learn your native language in a few days, months, or even years, so why would you expect things to be any different with a second language? Remember, learning a language is a marathon, not a sprint. If you wear yourself out in the beginning, it becomes a passing whim rather than part of your daily routine. And if you have unreasonable expectations, you’ll set yourself up for disappointment. Set goals that are challenging but realistic, and reassess often. Do this, and 2015 is going to be your year—you’ll see!
Now that you know what to expect and have the tools to help you through the hard times, there’s no reason not to conquer your target language in 2015!
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