The other day a friend asked me to show her ways of improving her English. I get this question quite often, so it was worth writing about it here.
How my passion for learning foreign languages started
For me, it all started when I was 7 years old. My parents took me to a music school to study violin. And I HATED everything about it: the fact that I was supposed to “guess” which notes the teacher was playing (“What kind of sorcery is that?” wondered 7 year old me and “How come is nobody else as outraged as I am?”); the constant pain in my tiny fingers and nail-clipping to the bone; the fact that you are supposed to enjoy being in a hunchback position while playing. Not to mention the University-style exam that took place 3 times a year, judged by a commission of 5 scary men and women that never smiled. I dreaded every day, until 3 years later, when I went to my parents, all dressed-up in a tiny red pantsuit, and said “Enough is enough!” On the first day at a “normal” school I discovered English and everything started to make sense. I was always looking forward to the next class, to the next grammatical solution I could find to the teacher´s question. None of my parents spoke any English or any other foreign languages for that matter. Later on I learnt French and Spanish, but soon enough I wanted something out of the latin family, so I went all Norwegian. Of course, I didn´t stop there, but that´s enough to paint the picture for now.
Here is what worked for me during my language learning process:
- Reading newspapers, magazines, books in the target language. Finding the unknown words and writing them in a separate notebook, together with their definitions and examples; revising the list every week until it is no longer necessary. I always find it easier to remember something if I write it down. I even had a special wall in my room, dedicated to special words and mathematical formulas. If I would go back to my teenage room, I would still be able to see that wall.
- Practice in unusual situations. I would practice while being active, exercising, jogging, doing the dishes. Instead of counting in my own language, I would do it in the target language, for example. I made rhymes and logical associations between words and letters that made it impossible to forget. You know you´re on the right track when you find yourself thinking in the target language.
- Watch movies with subtitles. I was lucky enough to be from a country where subtitles are the norm; dubbing just seems unnatural. Once my Norwegian was at a good level, I would watch Norwegian movies with Swedish subtitles, to kick it up a notch.
- On the subject of “fun learning”, music helps a lot. I would find the lyrics to my favourite songs and “karaoke-it-up”. This way, I had many “a-ha” moments about colloquialisms.
- And finally, the nitty-gritty, web resources:
- http://www.duolingo.com – if you are really a beginner
- readlang.com- combined with my first point, reading newspapers, books.
- lingvist.com – promises that you will learn a language in 200 hours
- podcasts. You will most likely find podcasts in your target language and on the subjects that interest you. For Norwegian, my favourite is Språkteigen because it talks about the origin of certain words and grammatical phenomenon, explaining them logically; it also deals with the changes in language that appear at this moment. For English, I like A way with words, Global pillage and No such thing as a fish.
Pro tip from an University teacher
My University teacher used to say that one year of learning a certain language outside of the place where it is normally spoken equals one month of learning in the place where it is actually spoken. So moving might be the best option.
Doing all this with passion can make you very language-savy. If you want to increase the speed of your learning, you could hire a private tutor or even contact me. If I´m not horseback riding
or about to hop on my jetski,
I might be able to help.