Learning Foreign Languages on your own — Part 2: Speaking

12 May

This is part of a series on my method for learning foreign languages. See post one here.

The best way to begin is with speaking. Since most people learn foreign languages to be able to speak them, and since your knowledge of a language will most often be assessed by how well you speak it, it’s a good idea to make speaking your forte and main purpose in a foreign language

For your first few months you can focus on speaking alone, with perhaps a superficial overview of the written language. This is an analytic approach, diametrically opposed to what you learn in High School and College, where they ram into your head the most juvenile grammatical differences that, while important, are hardly going to broaden your real scope of the language and will make a rather inefficient use of your time.

Therefore, when it comes to speaking, the best thing is to get tapes that focus early on vocabulary, context, pronunciation and lots of practice, repetition and a healthy amount of self-testing and drudgery. Grammar comes second. You can make grammatical mistakes and be understood; but you have to first have some idea of how to speak the language and have some conversational confidence. The point is to go headfirst into the language, rather than dancing around with frilly little details like the difference between ser and estar.

The best resources for jumping in to speaking are:

Pimsleur language program (3 month do-it-yourself course; get the long courses from your library for free)

Berlitz tapes (the older the better and cheaper, such as the example I give … Great when it comes to context, goes a bit further than Pimsleur)

These can be got either for free at your local library (older editions usually) or used online for cheap. I’m pretty sure the US government recommends both of these for people they send to foreign nations abroad. The thing is, however, that they’re not easy, they’re not full of fun useless activities (though I like them) and you actually have to work. But you learn rapidly for the amount of time you put in. Which brings me to consistency.

I hate schedules myself. The consistency part of learning FL’s is the hardest for me, but that also means when I do the grind it pays off. The grind means everyday without fail you study, for 15 minutes to half an hour, your foreign language. You can do this on the bus, you can do it on the toilet, you can do it in bed. 15 minutes is nothing. It’s the same with learning an instrument. Putting in an hour every other day is not as valuable as 15 minutes a day. 30 minutes is the preferable mean, a mere 1/48th of your day, but if you can’t commit to that then do at least 15 minutes a day. But during those 15 or 30 minutes you must be focused and learning. They must be fully attentive minutes, which means you do need a study space and a clear mind when you sit down to work.

Your first month to three months, depending on how hardworking you are, should then be time spent on listening and speaking, in your car or at home, without worrying yet about how the language works all that much. You can also begin, when you’re tired of pure exercises, to listen to foreign music, watch films (with or without subtitles) and attempt to read aloud texts you see, or even start really basic conversations with foreign speakers at bars, meetups or clubs. (More on this later.)

A strict routine is always good. Thirty minutes a day listening and speaking at the same time everyday for one month using high quality tapes or CDs should get you up to speed really quick. After that you should be dying of curiosity and full of childlike wonder of how the language actually looks and feels on the page, but you’ll still imbued with an innocent knowledge of the language so that you don’t start correcting its own inconsistencies yet. When you think you’re ready, and you should be ready if you’ve completed all three discs of a Pimsleur language program, you can full force ahead onto the next stage, which will be continued in my next post . . .


Posted by on May 12, 2011 in Education, Language


2 responses to “Learning Foreign Languages on your own — Part 2: Speaking

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