5 Tools for Language Mastery

olafenizer's picture
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It's fairly often enough that questions pop up asking about language learning. Usually the questions ask how useful it is to study a language, and which language one should study. If you go about it with the goal of fluency, then it is definitely useful, and will definitely pay off.

I've found that there are 5 big things you need to do to develop all-around (reading/writing/speaking/listening) fluency in a language. And if you are going to take the time to learn a language, your goal should be fluency if you hope to someday use the language in a business context. Nobody has any use for a kid who can only utter a few disconnected phrases.

To become fluent, you need to immerse yourself in the language. What does immersion mean? For starters, immersion definitely entails living in the country where the language is spoken. However, living in the country in and of itself will not immerse you. It's entirely possible to live in a country for years and never speak the local language beyond "hi/bye" and giving basic directions to a taxi driver.

  1. Intensive Classes
  2. 3 to 4 hours of classroom study per day, 4 to 5 days per week provide a controlled environment for learning; and lay the proper groundwork for developing correct grammar, structure, etc. Tests given in class can help provide an objective measurement of your progress. And having class everyday in a sense 'forces' you to learn the language; it's harder to say "f-it, I'll do it tomorrow."

  3. Private Tutor
  4. Private tutoring sessions help reinforce the grammar, structure, etc. that you learn in the classroom. It also gives you an opportunity to practice speaking in an environment where the pressure is off and it's okay to screw up. You get individual attention and can practice different ways to say things and can ask questions that an average speaker of the language wouldn't know.

  5. Graded Reading Materials
  6. For every language there are reading materials out there that are tailored to your ability. This helps expose you to a variety of situations, more than what you would find in a textbook alone. And it gives you topics to talk about with your tutor. This is especially important because it doesn't make sense to jump in and try to read a newspaper when you're just beginning. It's self-defeating. With the internet now, access to thousands of different things at every difficulty level is just a few clicks away.

  7. TV/Movies
  8. Download your favorite TV shows and movies in the target language, but watch them with English subtitles. This will develop your ability to listen to people speaking at a normal conversation pace in a variety of situations. Having the subtitles will help connect what is being said with its equivalent English meaning. You will also quickly pick up on the most commonly used phrases and words.

  9. Monkey Love
  10. Nothing will improve your foreign language skills faster than a significant other that is a native speaker of the language you want to learn. Ideally this person also won't be very good in your native language, forcing you to speak in the target language. Maybe it's just me, but there's also something kind of fun about picking up a chick using a foreign language.

You want to eat, drink, and breathe the language you want to learn. I've found that these tools will get you going in the right direction. What other strategies have you monkeys used to learn a language?

Comments (13)

Feb 12, 2013

I am the other way around but I will add three more points:
- listening to rap, I learned much more from 'the Marshall Mathers LP' than any textbooks. Now I find reading your signature rants equally entertaining.
- working with lawyers. Many are sleek masters of their local language and you will be forced to read between the lines.
- developing a thick skin. Bitch's gonna bite, but as long as you don't consider your 2nd language the Achilles' heel, you won't get hurt.

Anyway, next time make that chick scream in a foreign language - it's much more fun.

The Auto Show

Feb 12, 2013

I think Rosetta Stone would tend to disagree with your assessment.

I definitely get what you mean by immersing yourself in the language, especially if you want to be fluent.

Feb 12, 2013

@ghandi

Anyone who wants to be successful 20 years down the road. Also a good idea to pick up Russian and Portuguese (for Brazil) as well while you're at it.

Feb 12, 2013
4335:

@ghandi

Anyone who wants to be successful 20 years down the road. Also a good idea to pick up Russian and Portuguese (for Brazil) as well while you're at it.

Why would I want to deal with anyone who doesn't take the time to learn American?

Feb 12, 2013

I know a fair deal about this. The 5 tools the OP mentions are fine. Just one tip: folks, focus on verbs, not filler vocabulary. You will never learn a language by repeating rehearsed words like a parrot. Learn how to build meaning (done through verbs) and then the vocabulary becomes just that - filler that you can learn very quickly.

Feb 13, 2013

BBC offers some language learning too, pretty decent for vacationing: http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/ .
Basically it's set up like an interactive drama that you watch and get some language pieces on. I'm on episode five or six of twenty two.

Feb 13, 2013

#5 is spot on...having a hot foreign chick as a pen pal (...or whatsapp pal) definitely makes you want to learn. Learning Brazilian Portuguese was lots of fun :)

yellow t-shirt

Feb 13, 2013

Buddy of mine was a very loud bar, he spent ~30-45 minutes hitting on this hot blond before he realized that she didn't speak a word of english. He went for broke and just made the fucking hand gesture (poking finger through looped finger on other hand) and she went for it. It may have helped that he's a good looking man, but still, it pissed me off.

Feb 13, 2013
overpaid_overworked:

he spent ~30-45 minutes hitting on this hot blond before he realized that she didn't speak a word of english.

I take it your friend is not what we call "perceptive"?

Feb 14, 2013
SirTradesaLot:
overpaid_overworked:

he spent ~30-45 minutes hitting on this hot blond before he realized that she didn't speak a word of english.

I take it your friend is not what we call "perceptive"?

I said he was a good looking guy, so he really never needed to develop other skills.

Feb 13, 2013
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