We’ve all been there. That moment where you’re abroad and you’re miming things out, wishing that you’d actually paid attention in that German or French class.
And then the sheer embarrassment when you go to a foreign country and have to resort to speaking English, apologetically being polite in return for not being able to speak the lingo.
It happens. We get it.
I’ve been seeing a lot of posts recently about people wanting to brush up on their language skills, using apps like Rosetta Stone. So I thought i’d share my advice on what things i’ve found useful when learning a language.
I speak Mandarin to a working proficiency.
I’m definitely not fluent, but I have attended hospital check-ups in China, had arguments while setting up a bank account, had arguments while getting a new visa, signed rental agreements on apartments and phoned up PRs for information about…..a stolen toilet seat from a hotel. Yep.
And yes I have had those moments where I still have to mime and be super polite because i’ve forgotten ALL of the words.
So here’s my advice on how to learn a language…..
Online games apps like Mindsnack
I found this app for my phone and it taught me all of the basics I know for Mandarin. I still use it every now and then when I get bored on the tube as a refresher. From food and drink to directions, it uses listening games to help you remember the words. My favourite one is a pop the balloons style quiz.
These apps, although don’t mark your speaking, help tune your listening skills and are vital to helping you understand.
Watching television in the language you’re learning
Don’t force yourself to watch something super long or just sit there feeling clueless.
I started watching Taiwanese dramas online with the subtitles. Sure, I spent a lot of my time reading the English subtitles, but again it helped me fine tune my listening skills and also taught me new words.
And also helped me understand a bit about Taiwanese culture.
Classes online such as Skype
We’re all busy people so it’s good to find a way of fitting in some extra language practice. I found that having classes on Skype fits my routine more and allows my teacher some flexibility too.
You can choose how long you want the class to be and what kind of topics you want to cover – perfect!
Plus having classes on skype is a lot cheaper than going to a class in person!
Moving to the country it’s spoken in
I get it. We can’t all do that.
But even if you can just visit for a few days or a couple of weeks, it really helps with progressing your language abilities.
When I was in China I would often go out alone by myself and just wander around markets trying to ask people how much things were or ordering fruit mainly because I was too embarrassed to speak around people I knew but also because I knew I had to improve my basic language skills and speaking to people was the way to do it!
Finding other people wanting to language swap or speak in their language
I remember having local friends in China that would just turn around and say “Sophie. No English today.” And there was something about that, that was just awesome.
It was up to you to lead the conversation and if you couldn’t think of the words it was 100 percent okay to speak in Chinglish.
Finding a language group or a language swap is also a good way to practice talking and improving your language skills.
What have I discovered from my attempt at learning another language?
- Don’t rush yourself. Give yourself time to enjoy the process of learning another language.
- It’s not a race. I had friends who would treat it like a race and it was so frustrating
- Try and cover topics you’re interested in. I think I know more about speaking politics in Mandarin than I do my vegetables. Mainly because at the time, that’s what stuck with me and it was what I enjoyed talking about. Don’t make language learning boring!
- It’s so rewarding when the little conversations work out or you’re able to actually understand and respond to someone’s questioning. Be proud of your achievements!
Basically learning another language is awesome. Keep at it. By just trying to converse and putting your mind to studying, you’re already winning.
Do you have any other tips to learning a language?