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7 Steps to Mastering a New Language

7 Steps to Mastering a New Language

Multilingualism is a great thing. Learning another language can make you more competitive in the job market and science has shown that bilingualism can improve your brain while holding back conditions like dementia.

As someone who learned Japanese a few years ago, I can say that while learning a language is a huge challenge, it is also immensely satisfying. Here are a few tips both from experts which can help you become fluent.

1. Know why you’re studying a language

Learning a language is not something you can just pick up and put away as you please. As Language Testing International points out, some languages can take up to 2760 hours to learn proficiently. Even easier languages like French or Spanish will still take 720 hours. No one can do that much work on their own time without serious motivation.

In my case, I am the son of a Japanese immigrant and thus gained an interest in learning the language of my heritage. That motivation kept me going during those many, many frustrating hours I spent trying to learn new kanji or going over Japanese particles.

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What that motivation is, can vary from person to person, but make sure you have a real reason to learn a language beyond mere curiosity or impressing your peers. Write it down where you can see it to keep yourself motivated.

2. Learn core words first

No one can memorize every word in a language. Instead, there are a series of core words, which account for the vast majority of what we say in everyday life. In English for example, 90 percent of texts consist just 4000 words while 300,000 words make up the other 10 percent.

So learn the core words first in your language. By emphasizing on those, you can quickly get to a level where you can hold a conversation. Making visible progress like that, can keep yourself motivated for the next level.

3. Practice

As noted above, learning a language to a proficient level can take up to 2760 hours. If you are studying a language for two hours a day, five days a week, that is over five years of work.

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That means it is critical to regularly practice. You can’t just do a lot of practice for one day and then take three days off. What knowledge you learn in that one day will decay in those few days. Set a regular schedule and stick to it. If you can make learning a language a routine, the battle is partly won.

4. Watch foreign-language media

Most people use language textbooks to learn basic to intermediate grammar and words, but there is a catch. Those textbooks only teach a very formal version of the language. The result is that when you speak like a textbook in front of a native speaker, you will sound very strange (and in Japanese, you will sound feminine).

So you should expose yourself to your studied language beyond mere study guides. Foreign media is a great way to immerse yourself. Even if you do not understand what they are saying, noticing the tone and pitch used will help.

And turn the subtitles off.

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5. Don’t be scared of mistakes

Everyone believes that young children are much better at learning languages compared to adults, but one study from the journal Second Language Research has declared that “the age at which second language acquisitions begins is not a significant factor.”

So if children are not actually better at learning languages, why do we think that? One reason is that unlike adults, children do not get embarrassed when they make a speaking or grammar mistake. Adults do, and this can in the worst case scenario lead to perfection paralysis. People become so worried about making a mistake that they stop trying to move forward and improve.

Mistakes are a part of learning any language. Don’t worry about making them.

6. Speak with native speakers

When I started to learn Japanese, my mother’s side of the family and her contacts were a huge help. I regularly talked with them about everything, which bolstered my speaking skills and helped me understand various parts of Japanese which I would not have realized with just a textbook.

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Talking with a native speaker is the single best way to improve your language skills, but how can you find one? Websites like italki or WeSpeke can help you connect with other across the globe. Also probe your friends and family to see if they know someone who speaks your target language.

7. Look into the foreign culture

A language represents people and their culture. If you don’t value the people or the culture, then you don’t value the language. Think about how the Eskimos have 50 words for “snow.”

So take efforts to learn about the native culture if you want to know the native language. Films and TV shows are a good place to start, but newspaper, news shows, and even Internet memes can teach you what the people you are studying are interested in. Doing so will teach you new words and phrases which you would not have learned otherwise and will help you understand that a new language can help you open up an entirely new world for you to explore.

Don’t Give Up!

According to Vamos Spanish Academy, Learning a language is a huge challenge. When you have spent hours not making any real progress and fumbling your speech, it is easy to wonder if this is really such a good idea.

But bilingualism is a valuable tool where the rewards will easily make up for the effort. Remember the reasons why you decided to practice that language and the fact that requires constant, long practice. Fluency is only a matter of time and effort. If you make a true effort to immerse yourself in the language, understand the culture, and practice as much as you can, you will find yourself knowing a language which can enrich your life and teach you new perspectives.

Featured photo credit: pixabay.com via pixabay.com

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Published on May 26, 2020

7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use

7 Most Effective Problem Solving Techniques That Smart People Use

Problems are, by their very nature, problematic. There are life problems, work problems, creative problems, and relationship problems. When we’re lucky, intuition takes over, and we solve a problem right away. When we’re not so lucky, we get stuck.

We might spend weeks or even months obsessing over how to write that term paper, get out of debt, or win back the love of our life. But instead of obsessing, let’s look at some effective problem solving techniques that people in the know rely on.

Ideation Vs Evaluation

It’s important to first understand and separate two stages of creativity before we look at effective problem solving techniques. Ideation is like brainstorming. It’s the stage of creativity where we’re looking for as many possible solutions as we can think of. There’s no judgment or evaluation of ideas at this stage. More is more.

After we’ve come up with as many solutions as possible, only then can we move onto the evaluation stage. This is when we analyze each possible solution and think about what works and what doesn’t. Here’s when all those good ideas from ideation rise to the top and the outlandish and impractical ones are abandoned.

7 Problem Solving Techniques That Work

Everyone has different ways of solving problems. Some are more creative, some are more organized. Some prefer to work on problems alone, others with a group. Check out the problem solving techniques below and find one that works for you.

1. Lean on Your Squad

The first of our seven problem solving techniques is to surround yourself with people you trust. Sometimes problems can be solved alone, but other times, you need some help.

There’s a concept called emergence that begins to explain why groups may be better for certain kinds of problem solving. Steven Johnson describes emergence as bottom up system organization.[1] My favorite example is an ant colony. Ants don’t have a president or boss telling them what to do. Instead, the complicated organization of the ant colony comes out of each individual ant just fulfilling their biological destiny.

Group creativity can also take on an emergent quality. When individuals really listen to, support, and add onto each other’s ideas, the sum of that group creativity can be much more than what any individual could have created on their own.

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Therefore, if you are struggling to solve a problem, you may want to find a group of people with whom you can collaborate, so you can start riffing with them about possible solutions.

2. Regulate Your Emotions

The next of the problem solving techniques is to be honest about how you’re feeling. We can’t solve problems as efficiently when we’re stressed out or upset, so starting with some emotional self-awareness goes a long way in helping us problem solve.

Dr. Daniel Siegel famously tells us to “Name it to tame it.” [2] He’s talking about naming our feelings, which offers us a better chance of regulating ourselves. I have to know that I’m stressed or upset if I want to calm down quickly in order to get back to a more optimal problem-solving state.

After you know how you’re feeling, you can take steps to regulate that feeling. If you’re feeling stressed out or upset, you can take a walk or try breathing exercises. Mindfulness exercises can also help you regain your sense of presence.

3. Listen

One thing that good problem solvers do is listen. They collect all the information they can and process it carefully before even attempting to solve the problem.

It’s tempting to jump right in and start problem solving before the scope of the problem is clear. But that’s a mistake.

Smart problem solvers listen carefully in order to get as many points of view and perspectives as possible. This allows them to gain a better understanding of the problem, which gives them a huge advantage in solving that problem.

4. Don’t Label Ideas as Bad…Yet

The fourth of the seven problem solving techniques is to gather as many possible solutions as you can. There are no bad ideas…yet.

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Think back to the two stages of creativity. When we are in the ideation stage, we shouldn’t be evaluating each other’s ideas, input, and possible solutions.

When we evaluate, judge, and criticize during the ideation stage, we inadvertently hamper creativity. One possible outcome of evaluating during ideation is creative suppression.[3]

When someone responds to someone else’s creative input with judgment or criticism, creative suppression can occur if the person who had the idea shuts down because of that judgment or criticism.

Imagine you’re at a meeting brainstorming ways to boost your sales numbers. You suggest hiring a new team member, but your colleague rolls their eyes and says that can’t happen since the numbers are already down.

Now, your colleague may be 100% correct. However, their comment might make you shut down for the rest of the meeting, which means your team won’t be getting any more possible solutions from you.

If your colleague had waited to evaluate the merits of your idea until after the brainstorming session, your team could have come up with more possible solutions to their current problem.

During the ideation stage, more is more. We want as many ideas as possible, so reserve the evaluation until there’s no more ideating left to do.

Another trick for better ideating is to “Yes And” each other’s ideas[4] In improvisation, there’s a principle known as “Yes And.” It means that one improviser should agree with the other’s idea for the scene and then add a new detail onto that reality.

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For example, if someone says, “I can’t hear over your loud music,” the other person needs to go along with that idea and then add onto it. They might say, “Sorry, I’ll turn it down, but I don’t think everyone else here at the club will appreciate it.”

Now the scene is getting interesting. We’re in a club, and the DJ is going to turn the music down. Playing “Yes And” with each other made the scene better by filling in details about who and where the improvisers are.

Yes Anding also works well during ideation sessions. Since we’ve already established that we shouldn’t be evaluating each other’s ideas yet, Yes Anding gives us something we can do. We can see the merits of each other’s ideas and try to build on them. This will make all of our possible solutions more fully realized than a simple laundry list.

5. Approach Problems With Playfulness

Approaching problem solving too seriously can exacerbate the problem. Sometimes we get too fixated on finding solutions and lose a sense of playfulness and fun.

It makes sense. When there are deadlines and people counting on us, we can try to force solutions, but stepping back and approaching problems from a more playful perspective can lead to more innovative solutions.

Think about how children approach problem solving. They don’t have the wealth of wisdom that decades on this planet give. Instead, they play around and try out imaginative and sometimes unpractical approaches.

That’s great for problem solving. Instead of limiting ourselves to how things have always been done, a sense of play and playfulness can lead us to truly innovative, out-of-the-box solutions.

6. Let the Unconscious Mind Roam

This may seem counterintuitive, but another technique to try when you become too fixated on a problem is to take a break to let the unconscious mind take over for a bit.

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Our conscious brain can only handle a limited amount of information at a time. Plus, it’s energetically exhausting to use our conscious brain for problem solving. Think about a time when you were studying for a test. It’s draining.[5]

But we’re in luck. There’s another part of our brain that isn’t draining and can integrate tons more information at a time—our unconscious.

This is why you come up with your best ideas in the shower or on your way to work or while you’re jogging. When you give your conscious brain a break, your unconscious has a chance to sift through mounds of information to arrive at solutions.

It’s how I write my articles. With my conscious brain, I think about which article I’m going to write. My problem is how to write it, so once I think carefully about the topic, I take a break. Then, the structure, sources, content, and sometimes phrasing happens in fits and starts while I’m not thinking about the article at all. It happens when I’m lying in bed, showering, and walking in the woods.

The key is to get in the habit of practicing this alternation between conscious and unconscious problem solving and to absolutely not force solutions. Sometimes, you just need to take a little break.

7. Be Candid

The last of the problem solving techniques happens during the evaluation stage. If we’re going to land on the best possible solution to our problems, we have to be able to openly and honestly evaluate ideas.

During the evaluating stage, criticism and feedback need to be delivered honestly and respectfully. If an idea doesn’t work, that needs to be made clear. The goal is that everyone should care about and challenge each other. This creates an environment where people take risks and collaborate because they trust that everyone has their best interest in mind and isn’t going to pull any punches.

Final Thoughts

In order to come up with the best solutions for problems, ideation and evaluation have to be two distinct steps in the creative process. Then, you should tap into some of the above techniques to get your ideas organized and your problems solved.

Hopefully, these seven problem solving techniques will help your problems be less…problematic.

More Tips for Problem Solving

Featured photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Steven Johnson: Emergence
[2] Dr. Dan Siegel: The whole-brain child
[3] American Psychological Association: Creative mortification
[4] Play Your Way Sane: And What?: Yes And
[5] Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow

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