Hi there, such a long time.

Part 2 would be a long time coming. Life can get pretty busy sometimes, but I believe if you’re after some practical tips and hacks to learn a foreign language, you won’t be disappointed.

In my previous post, I’ve debunked the myth that you absolutely have to go to a country where your “target language” is spoken, in which case your best bet is to seek a classroom experience. The first step is to find the right language school at the right level. If you’re planning to travel overseas, I’d recommend a leisure course to learn your target language. If you want to take your time and learn Spanish or English (or any other language for that matter) as if you were to become a “virtuoso”, you’ll find that studying it at tertiary / university level can pay off and may even open doors for you to become an exchange student.

Depending on how old you are when you decide to learn a foreign language, your choice will also be limited to some language schools in particular. When I learned English as a second language in Argentina, I was a little girl and my parents sent me to an academia, which is a language school where courses are scaffolded and at the end of the year students have to take a final exam.

Beware of the charlatans that promise results in a very short time. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

After you’ve enrolled in your Spanish or English course, you may get tempted to think that it’s all a matter of going to your classes and let the new language “wash over you”. Unfortunately it isn’t that easy, but you can streamline your learning experience using the following nine techniques. I must confess that I’m not a fan of those “XX number of strategies / techniques to do XYZ”, but hey, I’ve got to stay a bit fashionable as well 🙂

  1. Attend as many classes as you possibly can and try to participate in them voluntarily.
  2. Take down notes using any device of your choice, or simply pen & paper. Your own notes are pretty much like a “knowledge map” that will help you learn in your own way.
  3. Do all the exercises set by your teacher. E-learning has revolutionised this aspect of learning and the beauty of online activities or using apps is that they give you feedback at the click of a mouse (or the tap of a touchscreen).
  4. In order to remember vocabulary, don’t hesitate to write down lists. Even if you need to get rid of them at some stage, making lists is a good way to systematise vocabulary. Spreadsheets can also help here.
  5. Verb conjugations can give you a headache (students of Spanish as a foreign language, I’m talking to you, but this could also work if you’re studying English as a foreign language with past tenses and past participles). Conjugation charts are a good idea beyond the textbook as well, by doing your own conjugations of the verbs that don’t appear in the book.
  6. When it comes to reading texts, instead of grabbing the bilingual dictionary when you don’t understand a word, try to “context guess”. It becomes easier with time.
  7. When it comes to listening and understanding, try to find “keywords” in the conversation. Listening comprehension isn’t the same as ear training, but ear training will help your listening comprehension skills. The fun and friendly way to ear-train yourself is to listen and learn songs, watch movies and clips.
  8. Writing skills can be honed not only through composition work in class but also through emailing your foreign friends and recruiting their help. “Pen friends” anyone? Participating in chatrooms can come in handy, but you need to be patient with yourself and chat to people who are prepared to cut you some slack.
  9. Speaking is probably one of the trickiest bits when it comes to foreign languages. Everybody becomes self-conscious and freezes on the spot. A good teacher will encourage you through gradual exposure. Challenge your classmates to catch up for drinks and foreign language chat after the class is finished. If you have friends who are native speakers of the language you’re studying, it can pay off to make conscientious efforts to talk to them. In the absence of such friends, you can do what I used to do when I was a preadolescent in Buenos Aires: as soon as I heard someone speaking English, I’d start talking to them. You can even end up making friends that way.

A couple of cognitive tricks that work wonders are the following:

  1. Try your best NOT to think in your own language and translate to the target language in conversation or written activities. Attempt to think in the target language instead.
  2. Mnemonics also come in handy. These work very well in the form of contrastive minimal pairs, for example shot-short in English, or masa-mesa-misa-moza-musa in Spanish (well, that one is a bit more than a pair, but you get my drift). I found Build your Memory to be packed with good tips. You can also buy their e-book, which I haven’t read, but judging from the content of their website, it should be pretty worthwhile.

Whatever you do, don’t give up! If you can afford a trip to a country where your target language is spoken, that’s surely a thrill and it will enhance your linguistic ability. Besides, you’ll have direct contact with the culture. But if travelling is too onerous for you, you can still learn a foreign language. We’re in the Internet age and that will open up options that weren’t there before.

Learning a second or foreign language—tips and hacks: what worked for me, Part 2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.