It seems like only yesterday that the first spring flowers were peeking out of their buds, and yet here we are at the gates of autumn. The temperatures are still toasty, but there’s something in the air that almost makes it feel chill anyway. Soon – much sooner than some of us would care to admit – the leaves will be turning, and we’ll be back to cozy sweaters, warm beverages, and…school. Oh yes. It’s time for kids and studious adults alike to begin preparing to take up ‘slate and chalk’. DLS offers language courses all year round, of course, but we thought it might be helpful to chime in on the ‘back-to-school’ vibe and offer a few tips for making the most of your language-learning experiences. Read on to learn how to strengthen your language learning ability!
Be patient with yourself. Learning a language is hard and complicated, and as with any other complex task, it takes time. Set realistic goals for yourself and periodically check in on them to make sure they’re still achievable. No one ever moves from zero straight to ‘perfect’. It can be frustrating when you feel like you aren’t reaching your desired goals, but don’t let that frustration take control. It’ll only cast everything else in a negative light, and that’s not going to help. That leads us directly to the next tip…
Make and keep your language learning interesting and fun. Regardless of what you’re challenging yourself to commit to, you won’t stick with it if you resent doing it. If you continuously let yourself associate a task (any task) with being boring, hard, and unpleasant, you’ll always be fighting both yourself and the process every time you attempt it. That will leave you mentally tense and closed off. You aren’t likely to grow very much under those conditions. Look for ways to make your language learning relevant to you personally. Consider learning words and phrases for things that interest you so that you can talk about them. If asked to read or talk about a topic, choose something that interests you, or is relevant. If that’s too far above your ability, add a little playfulness and whimsy to your practicing. Just because your instructor has asked you to describe yourself or your routines in some way doesn’t mean you necessarily have to tell the truth. Try shaking it up and adding a touch of the absurd. Maybe you don’t need to know how to say “I like peanut butter and pickle sandwiches”, but if you try, and then let yourself laugh at the result, you’ll be more likely to remember the grammatical structure behind it. The more you can make something stand out in your mind, the better.
Find your motivation and cling to it. Learning any new skill isn’t ever easy, and it also isn’t always going to be fun. Even if you’re actively looking for ways to make it fun. Sometimes you just aren’t going to care all that much. Life will get the better of you and you’ll come to your lessons exhausted, grumpy, and distracted. That’s completely normal, but you can’t let that entropy win. On days like that, neither of the two tips above are very likely to work all that well, so you might to need to rely on sheer determination. That’s where motivation comes in. The clearer you are about why you’re doing this, the easier it will be to fight the desire to give up. Answering that question may be easy if you’ve chosen to learn a new language on your own, but it’ll be harder to answer if it’s something you’re required to do for, say, a job. Either way, you must know why you’re doing this, so that when it gets extra hard and you begin asking yourself that question, you’ll have an answer ready. If the answer is “because my agency wants me to”, try to reframe it as something less likely to fuel your grumpiness; “So that I can do my job more effectively”. Or “So that I can get out of my office and live a little while abroad”. Once you find an answer, cling to it for all it’s worth.
Look for dynamic ways to incorporate the language outside of the classroom and homework. There are lots of ways to do this. Labeling things around your home, for example, can be fun and might even encourage people around you to join in. Or consider moving through your day, reciting various vocabulary and phrases as you encounter things and situations. If you’re looking for a more immersive challenge, reset any, or all, of your devices and personal accounts to your language of choice. Phones, computers, and tablets all come with long lists of alternative language options and most social media platforms have them too. Look for videos, movies, and TV shows in your target language. Netflix also has a feature in the settings menu that lets you change the spoken language of most programs, though the options available will vary from show to show. Try re-watching a favorite show or movie entirely in the language you’re learning. Music is also an excellent way to keep your linguistic ear tuned. The more frequently you’re exposed to a language, the more thoroughly you’ll internalize it and the fresher it will remain.
If you can, find someone to support you and cheer you on. The other person doesn’t have to be learning the same language. Or any language at all. They could be trying to reach a fitness goal, or get their house organized, or learn some other new skill. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’ve got someone there to help encourage you and keep you motivated and that they are, in one form or another, walking the path with you. Set up a system for holding each other accountable and consider adding in incentives for reaching milestones. This is especially helpful if you’re finding that you struggle to remain consistent with things like homework and drills. It might sound silly, or even cliché, but seriously. Give it a try.
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By Carrie Carlson