Thursday, June 5, 2014

10 tips for effective language learning

Learning a new language opens the door to other cultures, knowledge and places; however, the study process sometimes becomes boring and complicated, which may result so demoralizing that one loses all interest. A non-optimal learning method is often to blame: timewise inefficient, focused on topics uninteresting to the student, or centered on theoretical aspects.

At Tía Tula we want you to be successful in your learning and to enjoy in the process, too. Here is a list with 10 useful tips on how to accomplish these goals:

1. Take it calmly and be tenacious. Miracles don’t exist and neither do miraculous methods. Learning a language well demands time and effort. This may sound hard, but it is actually the best part of the process. Remember, big efforts lead to big rewards. 

2. Make mistakes. Don’t be afraid of getting some things wrong when talking to native speakers or your language teacher. You will be learning something new every time they correct you. This is, without a doubt, the best way to make a new word, expression or gramatical structure stick. Repetition is key. 

3. Take advantage of new technologies. A great load of materials can be found on the Internet for you to deepen your learning. For instance, online media, forums, documentaries, podcasts… Smartphones also make a great study tool; there is a good number of useful apps ready for you to download. 

4. Don’t despair. If you can’t remember something, don’t get demoralized, you will have more chances. Language is learnt by means of repetitive and contextualized usage, resulting in a much more fluent and natural ability to communicate.  

5. Converse with native speakers. Sound is the most primitive form of language; babies transmit their first words through their voice. Consequently, speaking is the most natural way to learn a language. Also, conversing with natives helps expression and comprehension and improves your accent and rhythm in the language. 

6. Organize your time wisely. If you study a little bit everyday, rather than studying for long periods with a lot of inactivity time, you will assimilate more. This is firstly because the human brain has a concentration span of about a couple of hours; therefore, after that time, your study becomes less fruitful. And secondly, the less time between sessions, the less you will forget what you have previously learnt; in other words, this way you will get a deeper immersion in the language.

7. Know the culture. According to Rita Mae Brown: “Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going” (Starting from Scratch, 1988). We are convinced that it also works in the opposite direction: knowing a culture, its customes, and way of thinking is great for learning a language in depth. 

8. Don’t worry about your accent. Your goal doesn’t need to be sounding like a native, but managing to be easily understood. This has to do with the rhythm and intonation of the language. Pay attention to the ‘melody’ of native speech and try to mimic it.  

9. Stay away from literal translation. Don’t look for an absolute equivalence between two languages, not even when it looks like a ‘literal translation’; for instance, ‘breakfast’ doesn’t have the same meaning as desayuno in Spanish since the concept draws differently in the minds of native Spanish speakers and native English speakers (it has different cultural implications: time, what it consists of…).  That’s why, as we mentioned on tip number 7, we advise you to learn a language from its roots.

10. Have fun! We encourage you to read, write, converse and listen to the language you are learning; but most of all, have a good time and enjoy the process. 

So what are you waiting for to put these ten golden rules into practice?

In case you haven’t noticed, one can easily draw the conclusion that the best way to learn a language, or to work towards its mastery,  is a linguistic immersion, of shorter or longer duration, in a country where your target language is the only or main one. It’s not us saying it: experts agree. And deep down everybody knows…

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