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6 Ways to Simplify Your Foreign Language Learning

6 Ways to Simplify Your Foreign Language Learning

In 2013, it’s almost impossible to get through school without learning a foreign language.

In the U.S. and U.K., speaking a foreign language isn’t necessarily valued, because we aren’t always confronted with opportunities to learn and use other languages. But once you get outside of North America, monolingualism is far from the norm.

And if you’re thinking of traveling or studying abroad, learning a new language is imperative.

Actually speaking a foreign language fluently takes a lot of hard work and practice. Even if you study every day, it can take years to master some languages. Meanwhile, you start to get frustrated at your lack of progress and you want to give up.

Don’t.

There are all kinds of rewards associated with speaking a second language. Not just intangible rewards, like being able to chat with locals when you travel, but psychological and health rewards as well. Studies show that being able to speak a second language may help you multitask and prevent dementia.

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So if you want to reap all of the benefits of speaking a second language, how can you continue working on your language skills without getting burnt out?

Here are 6 tips to simplify your language learning.

1. Have a Word of the Day.

Trying to learn everything at once and getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of words in your new language can be overwhelming. Sometimes, even if you do learn new words, you forget them quickly because you haven’t heard them enough in context.

One way to get around this problem is to keep a few new words in your vocabulary by using them on a daily basis. Since it takes an adult an average of 150 times to learn to use a new word properly, having a Word of the Day or several words can help build your vocabulary.

You can do this one of two ways. One, you can keep a running list of words you’d like to learn and designate one to be the word of the day. Or, two, you can wait for new words to come up organically in conversation, and then try to use the new word several times.

2. Speak the language as much as you can (especially with native speakers).

It goes without saying that the best way to learn how to speak a language is to actually speak it. Reading and studying grammar books will only get you so far.

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And yet, it’s so easy to get trapped in the “not-good-enough” mindset, where you don’t speak because you think you don’t speak well enough. And then your speaking doesn’t get better.

I know this from firsthand experience, because I basically refused to speak French all throughout high school. I was embarrassed that I would make mistakes and have a terrible accent.

When I went to the Middlebury College Language School after my first year of college, and was forced to speak French 24/7, I got placed in graduate level classes because my written French was so good. It took years to build up confidence speaking, but now, I’m married to a French guy, and French people ask me regularly what region of France I’m from.

So make an effort to communicate with native speakers of your language. You’ll learn a lot more in a 5 minute conversation with a native Spanish speaker than you will from another English speaker who’s had 2 years of college Spanish. Try to spend 80% of your time speaking with those who speak the language better than you. (If you’re in a program like Middlebury’s, don’t neglect students who don’t speak as well as you do. Part of the purpose of the program is to help lower-level speakers.)

3. Listen to foreign language radio or TV, even as background noise.

Part of learning to speak a foreign language properly is learning the intonations and rhythms of the words. In French, for example, you can’t put the emphasis on different words in a sentence to vary what you mean (like you can do in English). And it’s easy to distinguish beginner students from near-native speakers by listening for the ones who pronounce French like it’s English.

The remedy to that is to listen to the language as much as possible.

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Try to hear the pacing of the words, how they’re pronounced in different contexts, and what the different intonations are. How does the language sound when the speaker is excited, or angry, or asking an accusatory question?

Even listening to the language in the background will help you to pick up information on how the language is spoken.

4. Look up words you don’t know in a monolingual dictionary.

Figuring out the meaning of words can be tricky in a foreign language, since direct and accurate translations don’t always exist. While getting the word for physical objects, like milk or desk, might be straightforward, translating concepts can be a lot harder.

Consider, for example, how we say “to drop” to indicate that something fell. “I dropped the tray and the glass smashed.” It’s passive. In French, “to drop” translates as “laisser tomber.” “J’ai laissé tomber le plateau et le verre s’est cassé.” I *let it fall*. Google Translate and WordReference can’t always give you that nuanced meaning.

By looking words up in a monolingual dictionary, you can make sure that the word or phrase you choose actually means what you think it does.

5. When you make a mistake, immediately try to correct yourself.

Lifehack recently published an article stating that if you mistype a word, you should delete the whole word before retyping it correctly to reprogram your brain to do it properly the next time.

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The same goes for learning a language.

If you misspeak, and catch your mistake, immediately correct yourself by repeating the sentence correctly. It will help you program your brain to avoid making the same mistake again, and solidify the grammar rules in your mind.

6. Carry around a notebook and write down new words you learn.

One thing I did at Middlebury and during my first year in France was carry around a small notebook. Any time I heard a word I didn’t know, I’d write it down (asking the other person to spell it, if necessary).

After a few weeks, I had a great resource to look at whenever I thought, “Oh, I remember talking about that recently, but I forget what it’s called.” And just as importantly, I had a written record of all of the words I learned.

If you’re in the beginning stages of learning a language, this process might be too overwhelming, since you’re learning new words all the time. But once you get to an intermediate or advanced level, your learning process slows down. In the beginning, you progressed easily because you were learning simple verb tenses and lists of super useful vocabulary that you use every day – hello, “How are you?”, “Can I have a pen, please?” – and when you get past that stage, the learning suddenly gets more difficult.

When you’re advanced, keeping a record of the words you learn can also help you from getting frustrated and thinking that you aren’t learning anything new.

As long as you use the language, you’ll always be progressing.

More by this author

5 Reasons to Consider Graduate School in Europe 6 Ways to Simplify Your Foreign Language Learning 6 Ways to Avoid Cultural Misunderstandings When Traveling Abroad

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Last Updated on May 20, 2019

How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

Time.

When you think of this construct, where do you see your time being spent?

As William Shakespeare famously wrote “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…”

Have you used your time wisely? Are you where you want to be?

Or do you have unfinished goals to attain… places you want to be, things you still need to do?

The hard truth is, that time once passed cannot be replaced–which is why it is common to hear people say that one should not squander time doing nothing, or delay certain decisions for later. More often than not, the biggest blocker from reaching our goals is often inaction – which is essentially doing nothing, rather than doing something. 

There are many reasons why we may not do something. Most often it boils down to adequate time. We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that it’s never quite the right time to pursue our goals.

Maybe next month, or maybe next year…

And, before you know it, the time has passed and you’re still no where near achieving those goals you dream about. This inaction often leads to strong regret once we look at the situation through hindsight. So, take some time now to reflect on any goal(s) you may have in mind, or hidden at the back of your mind; and, think about how you can truly start working on them now, and not later.

So, how do you start?

Figure Out Your Purpose (Your Main Goal)


The first important step is to figure out your purpose, or your main goal.

What is it that you’re after in life? And, are there any barriers preventing you from reaching your goal? These are good questions to ask when it comes to figuring out how (and for what purpose) you are spending your time.

Your purpose will guide you, and it will ensure your time spent is within the bounds of what you actually want to accomplish.

A good amount of research has been done on how we as humans develop and embrace long-term and highly meaningful goals in our lives. So much so, that having a purpose has connections to reduced stroke, and heart attack. It turns out, our desire to accomplish goals actually has an evolutionary connection–especially goals with a greater purpose to them. This is because a greater purpose often helps both the individual, and our species as a whole, survive.

Knowing why it is you’re doing something is important; and, when you do, it will be easier to budget your time and effort into pursuing after those milestones or tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of your main goal.

Assess Your Current Time Spent

Next comes the actual time usage. Once you know what your main goal is, you’ll want to make the most of the time you have now. It’s good to know how you’re currently spending your time, so that you can start making improvements and easily assess what can stay and what can go in your day to day routine.

For just one day, ideally on a day when you’d like to be more productive, I encourage you to record a time journal, down to the quarter hour if you can manage. You may be quite surprised at how little things—such as checking social media, answering emails that could wait, or idling at the water cooler or office pantry —can add up to a lot of wasted time.

To get you started, I recommend you check out this quick self assessment to assess your current productivity: Want To Know How Much You’re Getting Done In A Day?

Tricks to Tackle Distractions

Once you’ve assessed how you’re currently spending your time, I hope you won’t be in for too big of a shock when you see just how big of an impact distractions and time wasters are in your life.

Every time your mind wanders from your work, it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get into focus again. That’s almost half an hour of precious time every time you entertain a distraction!

Which is why it’s important to learn how to focus, and tackle distractions effectively. Here’s how to do it:

1. Set Time Aside for Focusing

One way to stay focused is to set focused sessions for yourself. During a focused session, you should let people know that you won’t be responding unless it’s a real emergency.

Set your messaging apps and shared calendars as “busy” to reduce interruptions. Think of these sessions as one on one time with yourself so that you can truly focus on what’s important, without external distractions coming your way.

2. Beware of Emails

Emails may sound harmless, but they can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them as we receive them. Especially if you’re one to check your notifications frequently.

Instead of checking them every time a new notification sounds, set a specific time to deal with your emails at one go. This will no doubt increase your productivity as you’re dealing with emails one after the other, rather than interrupting your focus on another project each time an email comes in.

Besides switching off your email notifications so as not to get distracted, you could also install a Chrome extension called Block Site that helps to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times, making it easier for you to manage these subtle daily distractions.

3. Let Technology Help

As much as we are getting increasingly distracted because of technology, we can’t deny it’s many advantages. So instead of feeling controlled by technology, why not make use of disabling options that the devices offer?

Turn off email alerts, app notifications, or set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages. There are also apps like Forrest that help to increase your productivity by rewarding you each time you focus well, which encourages you to ignore your phone.

4. Schedule Time to Get Distracted

Just as important as scheduling focus time, is scheduling break times. Balance is always key, so when you start scheduling focused sessions, you should also intentionally pen down some break time slots for your mind to relax.

This is because the brain isn’t created to sustain long periods of focus and concentration. The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this time, your likelihood of distractions get stronger and you’ll become less motivated.

So while taking a mental break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes your brain work more efficiently, and you’ll end up getting more work done overall.

Time is in Your Hands

At the end of the day, we all have a certain amount of time to go all out to pursue our heart’s desires. Whatever your goals are, the time you have now, is in your hands to make them come true.

You simply need to start somewhere, instead of allowing inaction waste your time away, leaving you with regret later on. With a main goal or purpose in mind, you can be on the right track to attaining your desired outcomes.

Being aware of how you spend your time and learning how to tackle common distractions can help boost you forward in completing what’s necessary to reach your most desired goals.

So what are you waiting for? 

Featured photo credit: Aron Visuals via unsplash.com

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