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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 November 18, 2019

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

Everyone of my team members has a bucketload of tasks that they need to deal with every working day. On top of that, most of their tasks are either creativity tasks or problem solving tasks.

Despite having loads of tasks to handle, our team is able to stay creative and work towards our goals consistently.

How do we manage that?

I’m going to reveal to you how I helped my team get more things done in less time through the power of correct prioritization. A few minutes spent reading this article could literally save you thousands of hours over the long term. So, let’s get started with my method on how to prioritize:

The Scales Method – a productivity method I created several years ago.

How to Prioritize with the Scales Method

    One of our new editors came to me the other day and told me how she was struggling to keep up with the many tasks she needed to handle and the deadlines she constantly needed to stick to.

    At the end of each day, she felt like she had done a lot of things but often failed to come up with creative ideas and to get articles successfully published. From what she told me, it was obvious that she felt overwhelmed and was growing increasingly frustrated about failing to achieve her targets despite putting in extra hours most days.

    After she listened to my advice – and I introduced her to the Scales Method – she immediately experienced a dramatic rise in productivity, which looked like this:

    • She could produce three times more creative ideas for blog articles
    • She could publish all her articles on time
    • And she could finish all her work on time every day (no more overtime!)

    Curious to find out how she did it? Read on for the step-by-step guide:

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    1. Set Aside 10 Minutes for Planning

    When it comes to tackling productivity issues, it makes sense to plan before taking action. However, don’t become so involved in planning that you become trapped in it and never move beyond first base.

    My recommendation is to give yourself a specific time period for planning – but keep it short. Ideally, 10 or 15 minutes. This should be adequate to think about your plan.

    Use this time to:

    • Look at the big picture.
    • Think about the current goal and target that you need/want to achieve.
    • Lay out all the tasks you need to do.

    2. Align Your Tasks with Your Goal

    This is the core component that makes the Scales Method effective.

    It works like this:

    Take a look at all the tasks you’re doing, and review the importance of each of them. Specifically, measure a task’s importance by its cost and benefit.

    By cost, I am referring to the effort needed per task (including time, money and other resources). The benefit is how closely the task can contribute to your goal.

      To make this easier for you, I’ve listed below four combinations that will enable you to quickly and easily determine the priority of each of your tasks:

      Low Cost + High Benefit

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      Do these tasks first because they’re the simple ones to complete, yet help you get closer to your goal.

      Approving artwork created for a sales brochure would likely fit this category. You could easily decide on whether you liked the artwork/layout, but your decision to approve would trigger the production of the leaflet and the subsequent sales benefits of sending it out to potential customers.

      High Cost + High Benefit

      Break the high cost task down into smaller ones. In other words, break the big task into mini ones that take less than an hour to complete. And then re-evaluate these small tasks and set their correct priority level.

      Imagine if you were asked to write a product launch plan for a new diary-free protein powder supplement. Instead of trying to write the plan in one sitting – aim to write the different sections at different times (e.g., spend 30 minutes writing the introduction, one hour writing the body text, and 30 minutes writing the conclusion).

      Low Cost + Low Benefit

      This combination should be your lowest priority. Either give yourself 10-15 minutes to handle this task, or put these kind of tasks in between valuable tasks as a useful break.

      These are probably necessary tasks (e.g., routine tasks like checking emails) but they don’t contribute much towards reaching your desired goal. Keep them way down your priority list.

      High Cost + Low Benefit

      Review if these tasks are really necessary. Think of ways to reduce the cost if you decide that the completion of the task is required.

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      For instance, can any tools or systems help to speed up doing the task? In this category, you’re likely to find things like checking and updating sales contacts spreadsheets. This can be a fiddly and time-consuming thing to do without making mistakes. However, there are plenty of apps out there they can make this process instant and seamless.

      Now, coming back to the editor who I referred to earlier, let’s take a look at her typical daily task list:

        After listening to my advice, she broke down the High cost+ High benefit task into smaller ones. Her tasks then looked like this (in order of priority):

          And for the task about promoting articles to different platforms, after reviewing its benefits, we decided to focus on the most effective platform only – thereby significantly lowering the associated time cost.

          Bonus Tip: Tackling Tasks with Deadlines

          Once you’ve evaluated your tasks, you’ll know the importance of each of them. This will immediately give you a crystal-clear picture on which tasks would help you to achieve more (in terms of achieving your goals). Sometimes, however, you won’t be able to decide every task’s priority because there’ll be deadlines set by external parties such as managers and agencies.

          What to do in these cases?

          Well, I suggest that after considering the importance and values of your current tasks, align the list with the deadlines and adjust the priorities accordingly.

          For example, let’s dip into the editor’s world again.

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          Some of the articles she edited needed to be published by specific dates. The Scales Method allows for this, and in this case, her amended task list would look something like this:

            Hopefully, you can now see how easy it is to evaluate the importance of tasks and how to order them in lists of priority.

            The Scales Method Is Different from Anything Else You’ve Tried

            By adopting the Scales Method, you’ll begin to correctly prioritize your work, and most importantly – boost your productivity by up to 10 times!

            And unlike other methods that don’t really explain how to decide the importance of a task, my method will help you break down each of your tasks into two parts: cost and benefits. My method will also help you to take follow-up action based on different cost and benefits combinations.

            Start right now by spending 10 minutes to evaluate your common daily tasks and how they align with your goal(s). Once you have this information, it’ll be super-easy to put your tasks into a priority list. All that remains, is that you kick off your next working day by following your new list.

            Trust me, once you begin using the Scales Method – you’ll never want to go back to your old ways of working.

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            Featured photo credit: Vector Stock via vectorstock.com

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