Learning a foreign language can be one of the most satisfying experiences in personal growth and self-expression you will ever have. It allows you to develop new interests and knowledge, while opening doors to new friendships and whole societies. Very young children learn languages better than anyone; they "work" at it almost 24 hours a day, but they don't have to "study"! Older children, teenagers, and adults have to put in study time, and usually need some structured or methodical approach. Be patient with yourself, practice regularly, and remember that even as a child you did not learn your own language overnight! It can take many years to become really fluent in a language, but you can communicate with just a little knowledge, and you will improve over time in all four basic skills of language acquisition--listening comprehension, pronunciation and speaking, reading, and writing--as each of these builds on each other and on your accumulated experiences. To maximize your results, and become a really ACTIVE participant in the learning process.
In the first stages of learning a new language you have to memorize basic sounds, patterns, and vocabulary. There is no way out of it. You have to know the basic components by heart before you can express your ideas. You also have to practice the sounds, patterns, and vocabulary enough for them to become automatic.
LEARN IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME! It is hard to unlearn a bad habit.
When studying, work in a quiet area where no English is spoken or heard; don't listen to background music in English.
Spend a minimum of 15 minutes a day on intensive study and self-drill. If you cannot study every day, set a regular schedule of study, and stick to it. Language learning is a cumulative, skill-building process; you need to reinforce what you are learning. If you are taking a class don't allow yourself to fall behind, and don't rush through the homework exercises five minutes before class! Always try to incorporate old vocabulary and structures into the new work you are doing, as you move ahead in chapters or units of study.
After you have learned a given body of material, set it aside for a time, do something else, and come back to it and quickly review the material and check for solid mastery.
Some Do's and Don'ts for Foreign Language Study
Learning to Listen
1. Listen for cognates (words that are the same or almost the same in English) and try to get the rest of the idea by the context.
2. Don't be afraid to check your comprehension, by asking questions, asking for a repetition, or restating the idea as you understand it.
3. Use your ability to mentally project an image of whatever is being discussed.
4. Don't waste your energy translating what you hear into English; by the time you get finished thinking about the translation of the first part of the sentence, you will have missed the second part, and perhaps the key word, or ideas. Learn to listen to whole phrases and concepts, "packages of words" at the very least.
5. Use more than just your ears to take in message; use all your senses, to get the non-verbal messages being communicated by the speaker, such as facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language. Sometimes even smell will play a role in your understanding of language and culture.
6. Learn to recognize certain cues, such as " the question words", or change in intonation in the voice for questions or statements.
7. The more vocabulary and structures you acquire, the more you will be able to hear the "spaces" between individual words, and recognize the chaos of sounds slurred together as words you know and understand; comprehension will come faster if you actively pursue vocabulary building.
8. Sometimes you will want to focus your listening on one particular word or expression in order to learn it; try to write it down right away, and to incorporate it into your own speech or writing right away, too.
9. Trust your instincts and guess at general meanings by listening for the context or any small or general words that you do pick up; learn to be comfortable with the ambiguity of not quite knowing for sure what everything means.
Learning to Speak
1. You can't learn a language by "thinking" about it. You've got to use it. And that means practice. Practice whenever you can, both in and out of class.
2. Don't be embarrassed to make new sounds, or to make "mistakes"; These are the first steps of any language learning.
3. Imitate the sounds of the language as exactly as you can; you want a native speaker to be able to recognize the words. Learn to repeat whole sound patterns and voice intonations.
4. Imitate the speaker's position of facial and tongue muscles when you are in class, and practice in front of a mirror occasionally when you are at home.
5. Speak in whole phrases and sentences, thereby practicing as much as possible.
6. Don't study silently. Quadruple your learning efficiency by saying everyithing OUT LOUD.
7. Don't close off your mind when somebody else is reciting in class. Recite mentally with each student.
8. Don't fall behind. Language learning is cumulative. Lesson 2 is built on lesson1, so to make real progress, it's best to keep up. If you have to miss a lesson, find other ways to practice and stay in step.
9. The natural sequence of vocabulary building is: hearing a word, saying it, recognizing it, copying it correctly, and finally, using it in a sentence. Learn to work at all these stages. Practice your vocabulary, and in context, with whole sentences and real meaning.
10. Don't learn grammatical explanations without understanding them. Learn now to APPLY them in examples. If you can't apply them, they're of no use to you.
11. Be very meticulous in learning the ACCURATE spelling, gender, and accentuation of each vocabulary word and verb form.
12. Test your own progress in mastering previous lessons by participating orally in class every day; if you're not in a class, find or fabricate a way to apply new learning, even if you have to talk to yourself.
13. If you cannot think of a word you need, "talk around it," by explaining its main unction or describing its appearance, or using a word you know that comes close in meaning. Don't give up and break into English - push yourself to communicate!
Learning to Read
1. Don't look up every single word you don't know. Learn the art of intelligent guessing. Learn to use the dictionary judiciously.
2. Learn to identify the key word or words in a passage that are blocking you from really understanding the meaning of the passage, and look those up first, for meaning. (Later you can look up others for vocabulary building or for writing a summary.)
3. Don't look a word up until you have read at least the whole sentence in which it occurs. Or better yet, read the whole paragraph, page, or chapter, and then backtrack.
4. Don't just translate. Learn to read for meaning. English is what you are trying to get away from.
5. You may want to break up an assignment into several parts and in vocabulary lists, and also do it in several sittings. When you are finished, then re-read the whole.
6. Don't read the assignment just once. Save time by intelligent guessing, and then use this time for re-reading.
7. When reading several paragraphs or a longer piece, be sure you understand the opening paragraph, re-reading it several times, or aloud, even translating if necessary. Then go on to read the rest of the passage for comprehension, without looking up lots of words, or pausing too long at any one spot.
8. Go back and check your comprehension of selected spots, after having read theentire piece.
9. Don't agonize over passages you just can't get; ask you instructor either in or out of class.
10. Make a list of your own particular nuisance words - words you have to look up again and again, and spend some extra time on them.
11. Don't write English over the words you look up; use the margins, or better yet, the bottom of the page, making your own footnotes. Writing in English between the lines of a text tends to make your eyes go for the English when you re-read, preventing you from really internalizing the word.
12. Remember to read for pleasure; read for the pleasure of comprehending the meaning of the story or whatever the item is--even advertisements are fun to "get"!
13. Read aloud for the practice of the sounds and intonations of the language. Try out various regional accents.
14. Remember to read both silently and aloud for the beauty of the language you are studying.
Learning to Write
1. Don't write in English first and then translate.
2. Never translate word for word.
3. Remain within known structures, allowing yourself to think in the language, using structures you have already practiced.
4. When you have to look up a word, cross-check it by looking up its definition in English.
5. Translate ideas, but not words, and try to search for idiomatic ways of expressing your ideas.
6. Always check your work for spelling, accent marks, agreement and accurate verb forms; learn to be your own "internal editor."
7. Take time to go over the corrections made by your teacher, and learn from your mistakes.
8. As you progress in the language, learn to take appropriate risks with new structures, vocabulary, and selfexpression; avoid overly simple vocabulary and structures.
9. Make a conscious effort to incorporate new structures and vocabulary, from every lesson into every essay; push yourself to make them your own as soon as you are exposed to them.
10. Always try to personalize your use of the language, so that what you have to say is worth expressing, to you; as you become more proficient, try to choose words and structures, styles of writing, and perspectives on the topic which allow you to achieve your fullest self-expression.
11. Challenge yourself to express your ideas on a wide variety of topics and opinions, thus exploring a full spectrum of vocabulary and structures.
12. Remember to write for the pleasure of being able to manipulate the language so as to express yourself, both for yourself and to others.