Five years of studying Japanese, with tons of procrastination in between, had lead me to believe that language acquisition is not a walk in the park. At first I thought that since I’m quite interested in anime and J-pop, it would be as easy as learning English in elementary school (I do not even remember how I learned English). One day I don’t know it. Next day I’m learning it in class. And then after sometime I can speak it! But unfortunately Japanese is nothing like that. I had to consciously drag myself out of the bed and away from the TV and beat myself up to go and focus on studying. I don’t remember doing that in my English classes at all.
But then there’s more bad news for me. Time went by and at some point I realized that I’m no longer interested in just Japanese. I wanted to learn Spanish, French, Dutch and Finnish – all while taking up Japanese. And so I did! “Some Dutch here and Spanish there will do the trick!” I keep on telling myself, and initially I thought I was saving time and effort juggling all of them up. But then in the end it dawned on me that I was making everything worse for myself. I wasn’t having enough improvement in my Japanese and I was mixing up words of different languages.
My dear reader, don’t let the same thing happen to you. In this article I will give you my ultimate list of do’s and don’ts when learning a language or two, so you won’t end up doing what I did wrong.
1. DO HAVE 1 TARGET LANGUAGE. It doesn’t matter if you’d like to learn two, three or four languages. What is important is that you only have one main language to learn in a time frame you set for yourself. For example, if you wish to be fluent in Japanese in 4 years, make that your goal. Do not worry if after 4 years you’re still not fluent in French and Korean. What matters is that you already have a mastery of one language under your belt. After 4 years, you can then start focusing on French, if that is the second language you want to master. Giving the same amount of time and attention to all languages you are interested in will not just confuse you and slow your pace, it will leave you unable to converse in any of the languages with fluency.
2. DO SET UP REALISTIC GOALS. It is common for language learners to imagine being fluent in a language in the shortest period of time possible, and when they don’t meet their goal they get lazy and demotivated. Remember readers, there is nothing worse in language learning than lack of motivation and laziness! If you want to keep your drive up, it is better to set a realistic goal for yourself. Consider the time you have to study, all your commitments, and all your resources. One trick could be instead of keeping the overall goal “Be fluent in 4 years!” on top of your head (and get overwhelmed), you can divide the goal into smaller friendlier goals. For example you can learn 3 to 5 new words a day and use them in different sentences for 30 minutes on your way to school or during your lunch time. Then at night, make sure to spend at least 15 minutes reviewing those words in your head and thinking of songs and lines that use them so you can make sure that they will be stored in your long-term memory. That approach to language learning is better than chanting a mantra in your head that you have a 4 year deadline to follow.
3. DO CONSIDER TAKING REAL CLASSES. I know some of you would like to learn languages all by yourself to save money and time going to classes, but I highly suggest that you take a real language class at least in the beginning. I say this because the first few weeks of learning is the most crucial part. It is the time when you will learn all the basic rules and points that will guide you to compose more complex sentences. If you don’t have a teacher or a professional to guide you on this stage, you might end up stumbling and falling along the way, thinking you got all the grammar right but actually saying the wrong things. Granted that people can still learn a language without a teacher around, I cannot stress enough the value of a real teacher. If you do opt to enroll in a class and find it beneficial, you can also consider taking classes till the end. Real time lessons surrounded by peers who are learning the same language can help you practice conversing with others using your target language – a chance you won’t get if you are studying alone in the comfort of your room.
4. DO HAVE A NOTEBOOK WITH YOU AND A PEN. Most online sites would tell you that they can make you fluent in a language after 3 months just by subscribing to their program and listening to their podcasts. Though podcasts are great (and I use them a lot), do not underestimate the power of good old pen and paper. There are tons of researches out there that prove that those who write the information they gather on paper tend to remember more than those who just read and scroll articles and lessons over the internet. The combination of motion when writing and the image of a text or a drawing people themselves put on paper, tie information to the idea or image in their heads. The idea behind this is that we cannot ever say that we know something completely if we have never touched it or encountered it in real time and space.
Though a notebook and a pen can be a bit boring, trust me and use them when learning. If you find the plain old black pen dull, then use different colors when writing! You can even use crayons and water colors. Be unique. Play around with the words you’re learning. Do some lettering or make your own jigsaw puzzle. Be creative!
5. DO HAVE FUN. Language learning is not supposed to be boring. Spice it up! Every Monday you can schedule listening to foreign songs and mimicking them. Pick up a word or two from the lyrics, look them up in the dictionary, see how they’re used in the lyrics and then sing with the context in mind. Every Tuesday you can play with self-made flashcards of words you already learned in the past. And then on Wednesday you can try and translate a nursery rhyme to your target language. There are tons of ways to play around. All you have to do is think like a child and avoid thinking like language is a nemesis you have to defeat. Think of it as a game or as a puzzle. You can also choose to reward yourself every time you exceed your goals!
6. DO MAKE USE OF YOUR PHONE. I know for sure that you are married to your phone. You cannot go anywhere without it or you’ll die. So since you’re practically connected hips to hips with it, why not make the most out of it? Instead of watching a girl twerk and dance around half naked, why not look for fun language stuff in Youtube? Download songs and podcasts! You can listen to the songs while in the bus or while chilling at home. Instead of doing Candy crush (not that I’m against it), why not download word applications and games that focus on your target language? There are tons of apps out there! You just have to look for the right ones.
7. DO GRAB EVERY CHANCE YOU GET TO PRACTICE TALKING. The internet is littered with people who speak your target language as their native language. Without looking like a stalker or a creeper online, you can figure out a way to befriend some of those people and make them help you learn. There are many reliable language exchange (not dating site) websites out there that you can try and check. You can also join Facebook groups of other people like you who are learning the same language. The key is to only use your target language when communicating with people. Do not use the language you are comfortable using or the effort will be for naught. The best trick I have to share here is to look for someone who do not speak any of the languages you know, aside from your target. That will force you! You can also record yourself talking (or singing) and you might want to upload it on Youtube and let the netizens fry you with praise (or criticism). It all depends on you what road you want to take and how far you want to push yourself. The only thing I want you to remember is to never stop, and never slow down. Keep the engine running!
1. DON’T PROCRASTINATE. Procrastination is a language learner’s number one enemy. Well, it’s everyone’s enemy, be it at work, at school, or at home. It never brought anyone any good and for sure you’ve seen it by experience. The more you procrastinate and leave a work undone, the more the work piles up, and the more overwhelmed you get when you realize that you haven’t done anything. It’s a giant snowball that hits no one else but you, and once you’re buried, you’re paralyzed and won’t be able to do a thing but surrender. And we don’t want that! So be strict with yourself. If you’ve made your language learning journey fun enough for your taste, you have no other excuse but to give it all your best to meet your daily and weekly goals. Use a calendar, a planner, set your phone on alarm, make your goal your computer or phone’s wallpaper. It is your call! Just be sure that you do not put yourself in a situation where you will be the victim of your own laziness.
2. DON’T STAGNATE. After some time of studying, you’ll find yourself quite comfortable with constructing sentences and conversing using basic language tools. Around that time you’d feel like you reached a learning plateau. From going up and up suddenly there’s a halt and everything starts to move in slow-motion. It is like walking on the moon. Keep in mind that such thing happens in all situations. Learning curve drops around the middle and the only way to keep the pace up and running is by stepping up the challenge and adding some more unique twists and turns to your learning style. You can increase the number of words you target to learn every week, or you can increase your study time from 30 minutes a day to 1 hour day. The strategy is up to you. The key here is to challenge yourself. Your brain is already used to the way you’re learning and it is bored. You just have to make it more interesting. But then read up on #3.
3. DON’T OVERDO IT. Sometimes when we feel like there’s still enough space and memory in our heads to store information, we use it and stuff things to fill that space. Though there is nothing wrong with that, especially when we are on a learning curve plateau, sometimes we fail to notice that there really is no space left. It is just us feeling like there is still room for more (either because we’re in a rush or we’re having too much fun). No matter what the case is, do not overexert yourself. Think of your head as a glass of water. It can only hold so much information. If you pour more than it can handle, it will overflow and you’re just going to waste all the time you’ve invested in learning for the day. Make sure that you’re only taking what you can and leave some space for yourself to breathe and process all the information. It is better than feeling like you got more vocabulary under your belt, only to wake up the next say not remembering half of them.
4. DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP. While I told you not to procrastinate and not to stagnate, I do not mean that you should go sulk and pull your hair out if you ever miss your goal for the day or the week. That will not help you a bit. Be kind and considerate to yourself, but promise that you will make up for the lessons you’ve missed. I would still stress that you should not procrastinate though. If you start thinking that you could always be considerate and loving to yourself, you will definitely procrastinate. There is a reason why I put procrastination in #1. Keep that in mind.
5. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES. Mistake is the mother of success. No language learner ever in history has never made a mistake. All language students, teachers, and researchers make them even when they are already fluent. If you do not go out of your comfort zone and daringly use the language, you will never get the feedback from people around you. Remember, it is better for your mistakes to be noticed and corrected, than not be heard at all (because you will never know if they were wrong or right in the first place).
6. DON’T GIVE UP. Don’t even think about it! The moment you do, it will definitely be the end. No language is easy to learn and definitely there will be bumps on the road, but do not let those discourage you. Remember that there are tons of people who are on the same journey with you. It is not just you who is struggling to learn. There are millions of others too. Trust me. There are also tons of other people who have been in the same situation as you but are now successful and fluent in the language they chose to learn! There are thousands of polyglots out there! They wouldn’t be successful if they gave up.
If you ever find yourself in a slump, all you have to do is to try and remember what made you study the language in the first place. Was it because it is your dream to move to a country that speaks it? Was it because of a loved one who’s fluent in it? Whatever it is that gave you the drive to even start learning, keep that in mind! Look back to the past and see how far you’ve come from being a beginner with zero knowledge to the present version of yourself who can speak the language fairly. Would you have it any other way?
I can tell you by experience that I’ve been there too, and I wanted to give up. But as silly as it sounds what made me go on was Dory (as in Dory in Finding Nemo). She has very poor memory, but because she is playful and with a positive outlook, she made it a long way! And according to her, when you’re lost and don’t know where to go, then all you have to do is just keep swimming. As silly as it sounds, that seriously is what made me continue. And even up to this day, I am still trying to learn languages with that Dory lesson in mind.
Alright? Always remember it can be done, so don’t give up!