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Language learning is something I feel like everybody has on their bucket list at least once in their life. People are fascinated by it! It seems like such a glamorous skill, and for good reason of course. There are a million books, blogs, and programs out there that will help you learn a language, but none that will tell you a few things that I’ve had the pleasure of figuring out for myself.
“Fluent” is a relative term
One thing people like to tell language learners is to come up with a goal and work towards said goal. Of course, everybody wants to be fluent! But what does that mean? Who defines it? Does it mean you can get by without problem in a foreign country? Can you read Harry Potter in the language you’re learning? Can you pass a test? How often do you need words to be repeated? I still struggle with this concept: in my path to language learning, I’ve gotten to the point where I can communicate with the locals enough to survive, and maybe make a couple friends. Am I fluent? I can’t read the newspaper. I certainly can’t teach it. While I have a more intense goal, many would consider me fluent in my target language. It all depends on your specific goals.
It’s hard to learn a language quickly
As I’ve mentioned before, you can Google til your fingers fall off and find hundreds of language learners, scientists, and linguists telling you the secrets to learning a language quickly. However, if you’ve never learned a language before, be aware that it’s very difficult. While difficult does not mean impossible, remember the time I dove into my language learning under the assumption that I was going to cram all the information I could into my brain and be fluent in 3-4 months. I got myself onto a schedule, was constantly learning, and then I crashed. Be aware that this kind of goal is more suited to experienced language learners, so don’t be too disheartened if you struggle!
The absolutely best way to learn a language is through immersion, no question. You can stare at a book all you want, but memorization can’t get you nearly as far as experience can. You’ll need to think up a hell of a mnemonic device to memorize that salida is Spanish for exit, but as soon as you start depending on public transportation, you’ll learn that word real quick!
You have to speak!
Speaking and getting involved in conversations in a foreign language are the hardest things for many language learners, myself included. For me, my shyness takes over and I may as well be mute. My suggestion? Verbling. This site puts you in touch with speakers of every foreign language under the sun, and allows you to find confidence speaking in a controlled, comfortable environment. I’m a huge fan of this resource, and go more in depth about Verbling here.