I would like to thank my friends at MundoLingo. Several recommended that I write a post about this, and here it is! Hope it helps! – Jared
Question 1: Can you understand a lot of the language passively?
Find a video or audio in your target language related to something you like to do, or general entertainment in that language of any sort.
If you can get the general point of almost anything that is said, or can understand a good 70% or more of what is said or written, proceed with the “Rehearse a Language I know Passively Step”.
Otherwise, go to question 2
Question 2: Have I mastered all of the following in my target language?
- The phrases from Omniglot.com?
- The present, future, and past forms? (Obviously some languages lack explicit tenses like this, but if you can say “I am”, “I will be” and “I was”, and do it with some regular and/or common verbs, you are in good shape!)
- Can you give a mini-stump-speech about who you are and what you do?
If you said no to any of these, I would recommend the following:
- Write out all phrases you don’t know by hand.
- Recite them out loud (to the best of your ability)
- For each phrase you don’t know, develop a memory device for each. For example, I’m learning Welsh right now, and take the phrase “Bore da” = good morning. Mornings are boring, duh! So you get the idea. It gets harder (although it is possible) with languages with longer words. And just thinking about what I did for Greenlandic makes me cringe already!
If you don’t get it all done in time, that’s okay. The key is to be closer than where you were before.
If you said yes to all of these, then proceed to “Rehearse a Language that I know the basics of, but I can’t use actively quite yet …”
Rehearse a Language I Know Passively
- Where do I want to use this language?
- How do I want to use this language?
- What do I want to talk about?
- What do I genuinely enjoy doing?
Remember you HAVE to engage with a spoken form of this language somehow, either with you speaking out loud (if reading) or, if you feel that maybe your accent can use improvement, a piece of media involving native/fluent speakers of your target language. (I use “fluent” in the case of languages that are used by a majority of non-natives, such as Indonesian or Cornish).
- Keep a translator thing open at all times.
- If you encounter a word that you do not recognize, put it into the translator thing. If you don’t know how to spell the word, take a guess. If you can’t guess, just say it out loud just in case you encounter it again. If you do guess in Google Translate, you may get autocorrected, so that’s helpful.
- If possible, make a story about the word you learned.
- Even if you don’t, you are likely to encounter that word in similar works by that same creator (author, YouTuber, TV show director, etc).
- If you hear a phrase used that you RECOGNIZE but that you don’t think you use often, say it out loud. If you recognized it, chances are it is likely to be useful and have you sound like a local.
- Continue until you either run out of time or feel that you’ve made a genuine improvement and get a “warm feeling” inside.
Then go to “conclusion”
Rehearse a Language that I Know the Basics of, but I Can’t Use Actively Quite yet
There are a lot of ways to learn words, here are some I would recommend.
- Feel like reading? Paste a document about a topic in your target language that you would like to read.
- Make each sentence its own paragraph
- Highlight all words you don’t know what mean.
- Look them up, put them in the glosses after each sentence.
- Then read the entire article out loud, sentence by sentence. Don’t forget to read the glosses out loud as well, and develop stories for them, if you can.
- But don’t feel too pressure to make stories for all of them if you think it is too time-intensive. For two reasons: (a) they may be related to words or roots in simpler words in your target language you already know and (b) there is the gift of context already.
You can also do this with song lyrics or dialogues.
Would you rather watch TV?
- Make sure to “shadow”, so pause every now and then and repeat what the characters are saying. Even if you get it very wrong. Even if you KNOW you are getting it very wrong.
- IF the show you are watching exists in a dubbed or an original version that is in your native language or in another language you know well, feel free to go through both shot-by-shot. Pay attention to the words! (This is one thing that really helped me with Finnish, which has a very large dubbing market for animated cartoons, usually for children but no less entertaining for older folks).
- Would you like to watch something in subtitles? Pause after each bit and say the words out loud. Pay attention to what the word-by-word translation would be.
- Again, context will help you remember that.
Go to “conclusion”
The biggest language learning struggle of 2016 was this: I could study all I wanted, but no matter how much I did it, I wouldn’t get anywhere unless (1) I genuinely was at ease with myself (2) I was willing to forgive myself for mistakes (which include accidentally mispronouncing something as a swearword to a minor phoneme off that doesn’t change any meaning) and (3) appreciating how far I’ve come.
While on the way to your language exchange event, keep yourself with positive thinking. There may be those who only want to talk to you in English if you attempt to speak their language (especially if you are a polyglot novice), but keep in mind that one day, if you truly wish it and with enough progress, you will speak enough of the language so that they will switch from English to their language with you.
And then all of the bad memories you may have had of your failures and slip-ups and embarrassments will be something to laugh at.
That day will come. Sooner than you think, actually…