You’re never too old to learn a new language. It isn’t hard. You just need the right attitude and some tips and tricks to help you get started. Over the years, I’ve developed my own strategies to accelerate the process. Here’s my approach.
1. Learn some basic phrases.
Not only will learning some basic phrases give you a jump start in learning the language, being friendly and polite does wonders for how people respond to you. Even in countries jaded by tourism, like Canada, speaking a handful of words will open up doors to new experiences you could never plan and that could never be outlined in any guidebook.
It’s shocking how few tourists even learn to say basic things in the native tongue, things like “please”, “thank you”, and “one more beer”. It’s not that hard. Be polite.
2. Speak early, speak often.
With your basic phrases, get out there and start speaking. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Speak clearly, deliberately, slowly.
You may not yet have the correct tone or inflection, but if you are careful, people will still understand what you say. Better yet, I’ve found when you do so that people will speak to you in-kind, slowly, carefully, in simple tenses without using lots of flowery language. In other words, it will help you with your listening comprehension, too.
I cannot emphasize enough how important listening is in learning a new language. Listen to pronunciation. Emulate it. You might even need to exaggerate pronunciation when you are first learning to get proper tone, stress, enunciation. That’s fine. Don’t be afraid of sounding like a buffoon.
The more closely you listen to native speakers, the more closely you will be able to speak and sound like them. It’s a sure way to accelerate your progress on the learning curve.
4. Keep your eyes open when having a conversation!
What? What does having your eyes open have to do with learning a language. Everything.
When you are having a conversation with someone, be attentive. Watch their mouth. What shapes does it make when they are pronouncing words? It will help immensely with your own pronunciation. It will also help keep you focused and listening to the conversation.
Watch facial expressions and hand gestures. These will help smooth over gaps in your vocabularly. These gestures are also important cultural devices. Is it okay to point at people? Can you wave at them without being rude, and so on.
5. Keep a language notebook.
Keep a notebook of the things that you learn. Review it when you have a few quiet moments. I use one notebook for every language that I learn. In each notebook, I have separate pages for distinct parts of speech. For example, I have pages for adverbs, adjectives, verbs, common nouns, prepositions, etc. On each page I write a brief note — in my own terms — about grammar rules for using that part of speech. I’ll describe my process more in a later post.
BTW, Rhodia notebooks are great for this purpose. I highly, highly highly recommend them, in particular the 5.5″ x 8.25″ gridded web notebook. They come in orange (great for finding in your bag) or black (slightly more sophisticated) with great quality paper and superb binding.
You can pick up the Rhodia Notebooks on Amazon. I like the 5×7 gridded variants.
That’s it! Five simple steps to get you started learning any language:
- 1. Learn some basic phrases.
- 2. Speak early, speak often.
- 3. LISTEN!
- 4. Keep your eyes open when having a conversation!
- 5. Keep a language notebook