It’s a new year, and it’s time to make a new resolution. Get fluent in a language. I’ve spent 5 years learning Japanese and I’ve made plenty of mistakes that I hope you can learn from.
1. Embarrass yourself Early
When you’re first learning a language, it’s easy not to feel confident about speaking it. How can you talk to someone when you don’t have a plethora of vocabulary and grammar to start with? Here’s the thing. People love correcting people. So when you speak the language you are trying to learn with a native and make mistakes. You will be forgiven.
No, I’m not kidding, it’s true. You are bound to make mistakes, and the natives you speak with will correct you the right way. These golden nuggets you must cherish because it’ll teach you to have humility, and it will improve your fluency quickly. Because no one wants to make the same mistake twice.
2. Don’t Rush the Basics
To become fluent in a language, you need to understand that if you don’t take time to study and learn about the basics of the language you’re learning, it will be difficult to move on. Just like you start at the base to build something, language needs to have a foundation so you can succeed.
Rushing to become fluent in a language will only stress and overwhelm you. Start slow and build up from the basics, you will reach your goals quickly.
3. Take Your Time and Let it Absorb
Can you rush your learning to try to become fluent in a language? Sure, you could. I tried that. I failed. It’s not that it isn’t possible to do such a thing, but your brain will limit you. Your brain utilizes memory in ‘chunks,’ you can think of chunks as empty containers. You can only fill a container so much until it overflows.
Your brain works the same way, and it will get filled up quickly the more your try to stuff into memory. This means if you try learning 30 words a day and find that you can only remember 5. You’ve overfilled your chunks, and it will be harder to process information and commit it to memory.
Research shows that something called a forgetting curve causes us to lose what we don’t use after a certain amount of time. That’s why it is important to take your time and review what you learn. In the 30 words/day example, how often will you get to use a word that’s so rare, even a native speaking the language you’re learning ever uses it?
Your goal is to chunk and take breaks between your learning so you can digest the information more.
4. Try Paper but Switch to Digital When you Can
Studies found that reading on a digital device can hurt your learning by making you overconfident of what you read on the screen. When reading on digital devices, you will likely treat what you are reading as a website. This can cause you to skim through it quickly without realizing it.
The same works for learning a language, you will feel confident that you remembered how a word is said or how a letter looks until it is time to review and can’t remember it. Paper steadies us because it is still, and we respond by taking more time to absorb the material.
Paper is perfect for the first-time learning of a topic when you take notes on paper. I would suggest a move to digital learning for when you need quick time-saving reviews. Spaced Repetition flashcard systems like Anki where the formula is ready for you to use can offer another advantage in your learning.
5. Embrace the Stress and Test Your Skills
You may be someone who hates tests because they stress you out, but self-testing is an excellent way of checking yourself on the material. Many years ago, I disliked tests because I felt that if I made a mistake it would take me a long time to review the material again.
Tests also stressed me out heavily they felt like an unnecessary pressure for learning something important.
The issue with my thinking was that I felt I had to review from start to finish. I did not specifically target what it was that I made a mistake on. I could have saved time if I only focused on where it was I made an error.
Try writing your own tests as often as you can. Doing so can consolidate your learning efficiently, or you can find sample tests online regarding your language of interest.
Just remember learning is lifelong, and no one expects you to be the very best at the language you’re learning. However, working hard does pay off, and that is something to treasure.