OUI, YES, JA, ДА?: Easing Into the Process of Learning a New Language

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IMG_20170714_122129_148One of the challenges you are most likely going to encounter when living in a foreign country or working in a culturally diverse environment in your home country is getting used to communicating in languages which are likely not your mother tongue. Be it adopting a new style of grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, or pronunciation, you might find yourself being quite frustrated with the whole ‘trying to master a new language’ thing! No worries though, Sarah Teja is here to share with you some of her best tips on how to iron out the difficulties of learning a new language. 

Whether you are hoping to start picking up a new language or you are feeling stuck in the middle, this one is for you. Having learned both English and French as a native Indonesian speaker, I have collected a few lessons along the way on how one can ease their processes of transitioning into a fluent speaker of one or many foreign languages!

Show Some Love for the Language

The prospect of learning a language will be even more difficult if one doesn’t particularly enjoy it.  Trust me, it is not a good place to start, at least if I reflect back from my own experiences. Way back then, I remember the younger me sitting through Mandarin lessons with zero interest and no enthusiasm. It was pretty much a waste of time and akin to not learning Mandarin at all, as there is nothing I could recall about it now. Not only time-wasting, but also the whole process was just energy-consuming. The story was a complete 180 when I picked up French in university. I find myself showing some positive progress because I find personal enjoyment in learning it.  Well, all the moans and complaints about doing writing homework aside, French is always something I look forward to in my week – a nice change to all of the Economics lectures.

I understand that not everyone is able to simply quit studying the language they dislike, like I did with Mandarin.  If you really have to study this one language you truly dislike for one reason and another, then my only advice would be to change the way you learn it. The process of learning does not have to be so mundane nowadays.  There are plenty of accessible online resources that are as helpful as old-school textbooks, yet more interactive and fun to delve deep into. When I was preparing for my French listening exams, I downloaded some podcasts on my phone to listen to in between lectures or during my walk home.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

I know you might have heard it for a million times, but seriously – practice makes perfect.  It is always easier said than done, but try to maximise whatever resources you’ve got and use them to their fullest potential.  For example, most of the time, language textbooks (either you get them in school or ‘tempat les’) are under-utilised.  There is simply not enough time in each lesson to finish all of the available exercises, but you can cut down the 10 (or more!) minutes you usually spend scrolling down your Instagram account and do the grammar exercises at home instead.  Trust me, the more you do those practice questions, the better you get at it.

Even if speaking is not your forte, you still cannot shy away from it.  Use every opportunity you get to actually speak the language you’re learning, especially at the start of your learning process. Don’t worry too much about the grammar and structure of your sentences. Just say whatever comes to your head at that moment in time!  At first, I struggled with my French because I spent too much time trying to continuously construct the ‘perfect’ sentences, when I could just deliver the same message using much simpler words.  Less perfection can lead to massive growth.

Read Up

If you have mastered the basics of a language, it is time for you up your game by expanding the breadth of your vocabulary.  Reading can be one of the means for you to achieve this. What the reading materials are truly up to your own personal preferences, as long as you are sure that they are written accurately in the language you are learning.  I know, laziness often kicks in, and it is often tempting to just skip every single unfamiliar word that you come across in the text. Put it this way,  dictionary is your new best friend. Every time something inconvenient happens to you (i.e. a foreign word), you can just ‘call up’ the dictionary and find the meaning of the word! You do not even have to flick through pages of a thick dictionary if you can not be bothered, you can simply use a phone dictionary instead.

When I was learning English, I realised the importance of reading things in English.  At that time as a student in an Indonesian-speaking school, the only exposure that I had to English reading materials was either textbooks from school or ‘tempat les’, but not until I started doing additional readings, e.g. popular books/novels, that I fully felt the benefits of it.  Reading increased my level of confidence in using English as there were increasingly more words I could play around with.

Just Do It!

Tackling a new language may seem like an insurmountable challenge, but just hang in there and have a little faith.  I don’t think learning a new language is something that can be done instantly, which means that there is no such thing as an overnight success.  Believe me, it takes some time for people to be fluent at a language or at least confident enough to use it on a day-to-day basis.

Even though I have studied English since I was little, I don’t ever see an end to it, because there’s simply no end to learning. There will always be some new unfamiliar words for me to look up or try to use creatively in conversations or my essays. Just because you have passed your English qualification tests, it does not mean that your journey in learning English has finished. It merely marks the start of a new chapter as a more proficient user of that language!  Bonne chance!

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