I am a 25 year old person living in Germany. I was born in a country named Spain, but in a region with a second official language, Galician. During my life, I have travelled and lived in several countries, from being based in Greece to spending long periods of time in Poland. That meant something easy and complicated at the same time: staying monolingual was never an option for me. Since the beginning, since my first days of kindergarten, I was more or less in contact with at least two languages. Later on, curiosity and passion took the lead and I decided to start studying Translation and interpreting because, well, I wanted to be a bridge of communication among people, as cheesy as it may sound.
During my school years I learnt English at a very slow pace, French and Portuguese were quite easier to me at that time. I said my first words in German when I was nineteen, during a Summer beautifully spent in Berlin. Since then, I have started Japanese with little to no success, took up Farsi in hopes of traveling to Iran some day, become able to have a small conversation in Arabic and to ask for coffee with (vegan!) milk in Polish. Even though my path has diverged from the Academia and I am not interested in pursuing a career in languages, I am still very much interested in the way we learn and develop our foreign language(s) skills. Living, volunteering and working in Dresden, I am always in contact with people who are often bilingual or multilingual. I experience my whole life in German, which is also quite an experience. And I am convinced that learning languages can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Bearing that in mind, I am here with a few tips for learning a foreign language!
Seriously, do it. This may sound counterproductive at the beginning and I can imagine what you are thinking right now. After all, is it not the goal of language learning to be able to speak fluently and nicely and freely and a lot of other adverbs? Will I be always unable to speak without making mistakes? Yes and no. Yes, you will get better and eventualy you will be able to speak the language without making mistakes that count as a big burden for communicating your message. And no, you will never speak without making mistakes, because guess what, native speakers make mistakes too! Languages are meant to be used as means of communicating, not observed as a work of art in a museum. Languages are tools, bridges, wonderful spontaneous creations that draw us closer to each other.
Research in Linguistics is clear about this, according to Professor Kaufmann "Each time you make a mistake, in writing or speaking, or are aware that you didn’t use the language as well as you would have liked, is an opportunity to improve. It means you are noticing aspects of the language". Mistakes are not good or bad: they are simply something that you cannot avoid, for they are inseparable from the learning process. Do not take yourself too seriously, pay attention to your mistakes and get curious. Does that structure sound a bit weird? Does your native friend say the same thing in a very different way? Does that word really work in that context? Are there some sounds you really struggle with? Making mistakes is a common experience for me in my everyday life in German, even though I am already in level C2! For example, I struggle with German phonetics and I guess I will keep confunsing people by mixing long and short vowels.
Languages are all about communication. Being able to articulate sounds with a meaning and to use them in an structured way is quite the human skill. You are already doing a lot by venturing yourself in the world of learning how another system of words work. I can imagine that you have different goals for your language learning. Maybe you are doing your EVS right now and you want to make friends with local people. Maybe you would like to live in another country for a long time, working or studying there. Maybe you dream of reading your favorite Russian book in its original language. Maybe you want to travel the world and speak Japanese in small tradicional villages in Japan. Either way, your goals probably have a lot to do with communicating with other people. In this spirit of learning by doing, a wonderful tool that can enhance your learning is, yes, getting out there and meeting people and using your brand new language for its very purpose: communicating!
This can sound intimidating. Moving from the comfort of the language course and the controlled setting of a listening exercise to the Slovenian market or the Polish pub is a big step. It is also a very rewarding one. You will not only improve your spoken language and learn a lot of everyday expressions and slang, but also feel confident. You will also strengthen your motivation to learn the language. Having friends, family, partners in your new language is a big motivation for keeping up with your goals! Being open and vulnerable sometimes counts as a superpower!
Surround yourself with the language...
...and do it with a purpose! Even if you do not live in the country where your language is spoken, you always have the possibility to experience and live it. Pay a visit to your local library, maybe there you can get some books or audiobooks to practice. Got an Internet connection? Probably yes, if you are reading this article. There are many free resources in the web, from Grammar exercises to funny Youtube videos. Check this one on Spanish varieties and how confusing they can be! Have you ever heard of language tandems? They are meetings between natives of two or more languages. For example, let´s suppose that your native language is French and you are currently living in Germany and interested in learning German. You meet with a German person who is also interested in learning French and you do something together (going for a coffee, sports, you name it!) while helping each other with learning the language.