I probably used to be like you.
Head on the table, tired, drooling over my language textbooks, and staring at the classroom clock.
This was what my weekly Spanish or Irish secondary school class looked like – where trying to memorise vocabulary was like pulling teeth, and progress, if any, was painstakingly slow.
Reading articles and listening to tapes sounded so alien to me that I thought, will I ever become fluent in the language? Ever?
But, like a divine intervention of shining light, I found “the way”.
From a point of disillusionment, I persisted and soon went on to graduating with the highest ever result in Business & Spanish at the university below.
In my case, my love for Spanish and the learning process was dramatically different to what it was in secondary school, and all that time I thought, if I only knew then what I knew now.
Through following a set of practices I discovered that there is an easier way to study a language, which, irrespective of whether it’s Irish, Spanish, French or Chinese, will drastically improve your results.
As a new company founder, I wanted to share my behind the scene thoughts and insights to hopefully illuminate your own path, and go from zero to hero:
1. Sell Yourself the Dream
In all walks of life, we need to be motivated by a higher purpose.
Learning a language should never be a chore. It should be a path to a bigger, brighter and fun future. One of the most important things to acknowledge in the education system is that language learning is very different to any other subject.
Equally, the experiences it brings are as unique. For example, have you visualised living and working abroad? Have you considered the extra employment benefits a second language will bring? The ability to experience different cultures in a way others can’t?
For those of you thinking, wait, what will Irish bring me? I know plenty of people teaching professionally in great places in the US and Canada.
Yet, not only is language learning good from an experience and career point of view, it also has incredible brain benefits. For example, check out this video by educational specialist Mia Nacamulli.
Hence, the first and most important thing to start with is to understand the why. Why is it important to you to really know the language? What will be the best things about it when you eventually become proficicent? – The dream!
Remind yourself regularly.
2. Do not Translate Literally
The biggest mistake we see secondary school students make is taking phrases and words in English and looking to translate each word of it.
Here’s an example of trying to translate the phrase “I am hungry” into Spanish.
The worst version would be for a beginner who goes to transalte each word in isolation “I” (yo), “am” (estar) and “hungry” (hambre). This method is way off.
The next and most common way would be for students to see that “I am” is a conjugated verb, so they would say great, how do I say “I am” in Spanish and then what’s the word for “hungry”?
Answer: I am (estoy) hungry (hambre).
Not so fast. “Estoy hambre” doesn’t exist in Spanish. The phrase is “tengo hambre”.
So, what’s happening here?
You need to acknowledge that just because we use a certain pattern of words in English means absolutely nothing when it comes to other languages. What you need to do is, instead of translating “I am hungry”, ask how do the Spanish communicate that they are hungry?
Answer: they say “Tengo Hambre”.
“Don’t translate written text like a robot, instead ask, how do native speakers communicate this in their language?”.
3. Memory is about Associations
What are memories? Well, they are connected thoughts. That’s why certain smells, pictures or actions can bring out other thoughts instantaneously – without us trying.
The more connected a memory is to others the harder it is to dislodge. So, when it comes to learning new words, don’t rote learn. Build stories, connections and links around them.
For example, how could someone remember the word hunger in Irish: “ocras”?
Paint a story:
Imagine you’re an Irish man stranded in China. You haven’t eaten for two days and every time you go to the nearest village for a meal, the Chinese waiter serves you a bowl of plain rice. Yet, you’ve been there so long you’re sick of it and to make it worse, you have to eat it with chopsticks. You are so hungry you go to eat it up anyway, and fumbling to get it into your mouth you say: “Occcchhh. Riccce”.
Occhh Riceee = “Ocras”
Painting little stories like this throughout a language creates a web of memories which allows for optimum word recall.
4. Never Waste Time (Prepare for on the Move)
For years, people used to say to me, “wow you have such a long commute, that must be tough”.
Here’s the thing. A commute is only bad if it equals time wasted! For university in particular, I used to record myself practising phrases in Spanish so I could listen to them on the bus – turning my travel into a strength.
There are also many podcasts, videos or radio stations you can be listening to! The important thing with these is to not expect to understand anything at the start – your ear needs to be trained.
5. Use Spaced Learning Repetition
If you are serious about boosting your word knowledge well then start putting together a new vocabulary and phrase list.
At the most basic level this will be in a notebook, it could be flashcards or ideally it should be in excel. Using that excel you can then use it to input your translations to a tool like Anki (a computer and phone flashcard system), which automatically uses Spaced Learning Repetition – meaning if you know a word well, it will gradually start showing you it less and less (e.g. 4 days, then 9 days away etc.), maximising efficiency.
6. Turn your home into a Study Place
Write words on post-it notes and stick them around the house. You can be learning when you’re not even thinking about it.
When you’re done with common vocabulary, start putting associated verbs beside objects. For example, the verb “to walk” on your shoes, “to open” beside your window, “to turn on” beside your computer etc.
Check out this ad to get you in the mood.
7. Start with the Most Common Words – Avoid the Rest
One of the biggest time wasters for new students is learning words they are never going to use. When you are reading articles for example, you should understand the meaning of what you don’t know and then ask your teacher or tutor, which words are common ones you should take the time to remember.
You must learn how to walk before you can run. So, focus on Pareto’s 80/20 rule, which states that 20% of resources give you 80% of the results. In language terms, we can say that 20% of words and phrases are used 80% of the time.
So, maximise your time spent by finding and perfecting the 20%.
8. Find a Native Speaker or Tutor
Practice, no matter what the sport or topic, is essential, and the fastest and most motivating way to learn a language is to connect with a speaker of the language.
Learning and learning from a textbook and thinking you’re making progress is like a piano player memorising melodies on paper but never actually playing the tunes.
To help getting started, when you do get someone to practice and guide you, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Focus on communicating and not perfection – i.e. just get your ideas across to begin with.
9. Focus on Pronunciation
Remember that the most basic form of languages or communication is really about making sounds and the interpretation of those sounds. The sooner you know how the sounds work the quicker you can navigate your way through the subject.
One of the most important things to do early on is to get a tutor to sit you down and just focus for a few weeks solely on pronunciation.
Once you understand how the phrases are accented, it is so much easier to pick up new words and to comprehend real speech.
If you are alone, studying out loud and listening and comparing your accent to songs or recordings is a great first step to self-improvement.
10. Study a bit Everyday. No excuses.
Ten minutes of study in the language every day is more effective and manageable than a longer session once a week, leading to a greater sense of progress and memory.
We would recommend dipping into a language app each night, reviewing your language notes or reading/listening to the news in the target language.
Why not set an alarm clock to remind yourself each night? Or make it a daily ritual, just like brushing your teeth?
That’s it, we hope you enjoyed our list. Tell us your favourite by messaging us @langroo on Facebook.
& if you want to take your language learning to the next level, why not try out one of Langroo’s Facebook tutors with a 15min free trial? www.langroo.com