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7 Steps to Mastering a New Language

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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.

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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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How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

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How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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