Make sure the language you study stays with you at all times

It seems that the best way to learn a language is to use the language while living life where the language is used. That is, to work, study or live in a place where the language is spoken, and to keep an active network of colleagues and friends, thereby ensuring that you are surrounded by the language in use at all times. If that is not feasible, then make sure to at least do what you can to keep the language as ubiquitous as possible.

Spend some time making sure you can listen, see and make use of the language in different ways. Set up your phone, radio, TV or computer so that it’s easy to listen to music, audio books, news broadcasts, etc, even when you struggle to find the motivation to look for the right settings or the right apps. Listen as often as you can – it doesn’t matter if you understand everything or not. Let the language embrace you. It will make your mind curious to find meaningful patterns, even if you are not aware of it. And when you hear something and become consciously aware of your curiosity, make sure it’s easy to look up that word, phrase, expression or phenomenon quickly.

Try to make sure the language you are learning is present in your life in as many ways as you can think of. Put post-it notes around your house, "fridge" on your fridge, "chair" on your chairs, "Good morning" on your bathroom mirror. Check if there are any activities going on in your language of study somewhere near you, at a cultural institution or an embassy perhaps.

Språkstudion can give advice on apps and channels available in your particular target language.

Try to find a language buddy

Having a native speaker available is invaluable, to both speak the language and to talk about the language. Look for language cafes and exchange programmes at the local libraries, schools or other public institutions. If you can afford it, pay a native speaker to meet, converse and answer questions for an hour or two every week.

Språkstudion offers students at Stockholm University both language exchange projects and language cafes free of charge.

Find your own voice

Pronunciation exercises work particularly well if you actually like the voice you are trying to mimic. Try to find a voice to use as both a good example and someone you can identify with, such as a journalist, a politician or a movie star. Purchase or download audio files you can practice on. Make sure it’s easy to record yourself while speaking, and listen to what you sound like as you improve your proficiency.

It’s also easier to stay motivated if you can practice pronunciation using words and phrases for things you actually want to say. In many languages there is excellent text-to-speech software. This gives you the opportunity to decide what you want to say, and then to try to mimic the software’s way of pronouncing it.

Also, read aloud, whether it’s poetry or news doesn’t matter, and sing in your target language. Sing to music or alone in the shower. Belt it out, sing without meaning or grammar, sing how you think the language sounds, sing the words you know, sing words you think should exist, sing like an old lady or like a child. What’s important is that you begin to find your own voice in different situations and contexts in your new language, and that you use it creatively. What identity you take on in your new language is actually your choice to make.

At Språkstudion, you are free to practice pronunciation by using our computer software, to join language choirs in certain languages, and to asks for tips on useful multilingual poetry websites.

Make your target language part of one habit at a time

Pick something you do every day, like brushing your teeth, doing your dishes, shaving, and try to articulate what you are doing, what tools you are using, how it feels, etc. The best way to do this is out loud, but if that feels unnatural to you or the people you live with, then keep it in your mind. At the beginning, you probably have to use other, more familiar languages to fill in the gaps. But if you learn one word or expression every day related to this habit, then before you know it, you’ll be able to say it all in your new language. And once you do, it’s time to move to the next habit.

Learn both words and whole phrases

It’s impossible to say exactly what a word is or how many words you need to know, but a few thousand words are definitely necessary to achieve proficiency in a language. There are many methodologies for how to focus on vocabulary learning, covering everything from pen and pencil to flexible apps where not only text, but also images, audio and symbols are added to the mix. Pronouncing or signing what you read, hear or see enhances your learning. Learn full phrases and repeat them to yourself out loud. Slot new words into those phrasal patterns. Learn standard phrases like ”That’s great!”, ”Sorry to hear that.”, ”That’s it! I’ve had enough!”, or ”Thanks anyway.”.

At Språkstudion we can offer advice on apps useful to build your vocabulary.

Let your new language become part of your hobbies

If you like, say, sports, then perform those sports in your target language. Set up your personal trainer app to coach you in your target language. Attend training programmes available through YouTube or online stores. Learn a few expletives and expressions of encouragement to be used when things aren’t going your way, and a couple of expressions of joy for when you’re winning. Keep a log of your eating habits and your training sessions in your target language. Describe the goals of your training, your results, how your were feeling in different parts of your body as well as what you were thinking of while your were training. Make note of how far you ran, and what your measures and weight were, using your target language’s standards and abbreviations. Read about the type of exercise you do in your target language, watch and listen to competitions, shows or events. Comment on someone’s blog. Find people you look up to and who express themselves in your target language, and follow them in social media. In short, do what you always do, but do it in your target language. It will take you some time as you get started, but it will pay off. And it works on almost any activity - cooking, weaving, motorsports, literature, you name it. Your new language may also very well lead you to new hobbies and interests. Look for contexts where the language is used, and explore whether that could be something for you.

Follow international news

As you set out, read or listen in your own language first, and then in your target language. This way, your knowledge of what the news is about acts as an aid to help you guess large parts of the content and to motivate you to look up the words or expressions you didn’t understand straight away, or the ones that made you particularly curious. At a later stage, do the reverse. Read or listen in your target language first, and then check what you heard against a language you know. Many news sites publish and broadcast news in various languages in parallel, and many have news in both speech and writing, so you can listen while seeing the manuscript in front of you. Another, more advanced step is to reflect on the way the same events are portrayed differently in different languages and cultures.

At Språkstudion we are happy to share tips on useful news sites in your target language.

Vary exercises and roles

Alternate between being an observer, a writer, a part of the audience, an actor, a cross-word puzzle wiz, etc. Variation helps you stay motivated, and to practice a variety of different skills. Some days you might prefer sitting in your pajamas casually watching a movie, just barely keeping up with the plot. Another day, it may be that you feel like rehearsing the impeccable pronunciations of the names of nobel laureates on your balcony. Both activities have a role to play in the development of your language skills and competence.

Be patient

Take small steps, but do it often. Consolidate what you’ve learnt in as many ways as you can. Sometimes you’ll reach a plateau where you feel like you’re not making any progress. That’s only natural as you learn new things. Relax and ride the wave, enjoying the skills you have already acquired. Before you know it, you’ll have taken another step.

Shortcuts to learning a new language

We’re sorry to say, but there are no shortcuts. Fortunately, the long and winding road to learning a new language can be a lot of fun, and sometimes both surprising and meaningful. If you wish to function and be able to act more or less like yourself in a new language, it takes a lot of work. Fortunately, the decisions of how and when to do that work are yours to make, which means you are free to work out routines that both suit you and keep you motivated. And it’s you who decides what the goal is. How far do you want to go? 

/Christine Ericsdotter Nordgren, August 2016. Translation: Albin Hillert