Three Effective Ways to Enhance Your Language Learning: Both Abroad and at Home

All of us at one point or another have taken part in some sort of foreign language course. Most of us did this somewhat reluctantly in high-school or college. However, as I have grown older and began my international journey, I realized just how important and necessary learning a second language is. We are now living in a time where the world is more of a melting pot than it has ever been. Therefore, the likelihood that you will come across people who speak languages other than English is also higher than ever. That being said, the benefits of learning one or multiple foreign languages are more than you may realize, not only for your intercultural experiences but also for your personal growth.

I have come to realize that trying to learn a new language is like going to the gym. Think about that time in your life when you decided to start working out. Maybe you started going to the gym 2-3 times a week along with adjusting your diet to consume more protein, vegetables and less sugar. It is likely when a person commits to this lifestyle that they will experience great initial results. However, as time goes on their results will level-off. In the fitness world, this is known as the plateau effect. In order to break through the plateau, one must decide to alter and/or do more hat they had previously been doing. Go to the gym 3-4 times a week and maybe cut out all beverages besides water. My point is that language learning takes on the same idea. At first, it may seem rather easy-going and fun as you learn and withhold a lot of useful vocabulary necessary for basic interaction, but there will come a point when you must go the extra mile and sacrifice time and often put yourself in uncomfortable situations to break through that plateau. This often is not easy. I have also struggled with this concept. However, through that struggle, I was able to experience growth in my language capabilities. Therefore, I have come up with three unique ways to enhance my language learning and breakthrough my plateaus. I will start by saying that the best way to truly learn a foreign language is to live in the country which speaks the language you are learning. That being said, I know that’s not a possible solution for most people. That being said, I will include options for both people living in abroad and also people learning from their home countries.

Abroad: Find a Group of Friends who aren’t speaking English
I have noticed to be one of the best techniques to truly indulging yourself in a language. When you have a group of friends who are speaking the foreign language you are trying to learn, you can use this as a great opportunity to pick up on vocabulary and learn how the language is spoken amongst the natives. It is important that you also ask questions when you do not understand a word or a phrase so that next time you will likely be able to identify the meaning. Then it is also important to interact with this group of friends and try to speak with them. This may be a bit embarrassing and uncomfortable at first, but it is a necessary step that must be taken to enhance your speaking ability. Don’t worry about mistakes because you will make them, and if these people are truly your friends they will appreciate your efforts and try to help you.

Home: Find a Group or Take a Course
Nowadays, there are so many chances to learn a foreign language and interact with people trying to learn as well. Therefore, you can search for courses within the various language schools in your area. This is often a bit expensive, but at least you will have a few hours a week strictly dedicated to that foreign language. Often, people can find small groups who meet a few times a week to speak and/or together.

Abroad: Avoid Your Comfort Zone
I cannot emphasize the importance of not resorting to English. This is way easier said than done because naturally when we are in a position of discomfort, we automatically tend to resort back to our comfort zone. In this case, speaking English. This is the number one way to set yourself back. You must try your best to avoid using English. I will give you an example of this. During my time in Austria, there have often been times where I started a conversation with someone in German only to hit a point where I did not know how to continue the conversation in German. At this point, I switched to English and we never got back to speaking German. Then the next time I saw that person again the conversation naturally began in English rather than German. My point is, if you are constantly reverting to English, people will also realize that and begin to speak strictly English with you. This is often a difficult step in your language learning process because depending on where you are located, often when the natives realize that you are a foreigner, they will automatically change the conversation to English. This, at least for me, can be very frustrating. That’s why it’s important to not respond to them in English when they try to convert the conversation. Stay strong and do your best to let them know that you want to try and speak their language.

Home: Designate Time in Your Day for Audio/ Video Learning
When living in the country of your native language it is not possible to interact with people in a foreign language. The next best option is finding a quiet place and watch movies, listen to music, podcasts and so on. What I found effective was to have a vocabulary book where you can write down the words you hear and you don’t understand. Then from there, you can translate those words in your mother language while also writing a sentence with the specific term or word in the same book. Then you can say this sentence aloud a few times. Start with ten new words a day along with the sentences and hopefully as time goes on you increase that number. Another option that you can implement is listening to podcasts and or music while you are in your car / working out. This may be difficult until you develop an understanding of standard vocabulary however, hearing the language is a big part of eventually developing a better understanding of it.

Abroad: Speak to Kids
The trick to picking up on and improving your language abilities is to always remain curious and motivated to improve on what you do not know. Staying curious is your key to growth as a foreign language speaker. We have adopted the mentality of a child when learning a new language because we are a child as far as our speaking abilities in whatever language we are trying to learn. Just as a child is always learning/experimenting with new things, we must develop this same sort of mindset to improve. That being said, I have found that the best way to learn some of the basics in a foreign language was to speak with children. I was fortunate enough to have a job as a sports teacher for elementary level students during my time in Italy and Austria. This time helped me as far as my interaction and usage of the language. Understandably, attempting to speak with adults may be intimidating however, speaking with children may be more of a comfortable task at least at the start.

Home: Read Children’s Books/ Watch Children’s Shows
As ridicules as this may sound, we have to remember that at the start we are essentially an infant in our foreign language/country as far as speaking ability, therefore we must not feel embarrassed to start from square 1. Children’s themed books and shows can go a long way in helping us develop a basic vocabulary to which we can then use to advance on into higher levels of our language learning.

Published by Zachary Paul Hoffman

I am a former professional athlete, tri-lingual, Italian/American duel-citizen and aspiring modern-day leadership development expert.

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