Learning a language has been misinterpreted by school systems all over the world. The system tells us that we need to translate all of the way every word we learn in the new language, but the truth is a completely different story.
Let’s go back to the beginning of life. When we are babies, first we listen, then we talk, then we read and finally we write. And in school, we are expected to learn a language in the opposite order. How so?
See, people confuse the fact of learning a language with translating a language… there are very different things.
When you translate a language into another language, this means that you must put lots of effort in both languages since you need to know all the equivalent expressions in order to express yourself. But, learning a language is something from scratch (that fact we don’t want to face most of the time).
A tip that my mom had when learning her second language was to see the new language as a new life. When you move from a town to another, even in the same country with the same language, you find out that people have some different words and or accents, and ways of expressing themselves. They also make fun of other towns’ name, for example, this video (hilarious right).
The thing is that learning a language in the natural way has more successful stories than trying to memorize it all. And don’t take me wrong! The effort pays back. I always ask my students to learn the verbs by heart in the different tenses, because these are fundamental things we just can’t avoid since you didn’t grow with it, such as learning the multiplication tables in primary. So, don’t go all lazy on me please.
There are so many stories of people saying that they learned a language backwards and when they finally had the chance to practice it, it didn’t work exactly as they expected it, probably because the phonetics are just very different when text reading, especially if your teacher didn’t let you speak in class.
One student, I remember well; when reading The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, I had him reading the book and listening into the audiobook at the same time. By the end of the month, he has acquired so many new words into his vocabulary because he was reading and listening the right way of saying it. I decided doing this, because his first language is Polish and his second language is French, so when he didn’t know the pronunciation he used to mix both roots and made a beautiful “new word” that wasn’t English at all (still was a cute thing). When he had his presentation, the examiner congratulated him on his beautiful pronunciation and his complete presentation, and all that because I had to push all the skills in one month (the kid is smart enough, but even the smart kid needs a little help sometimes).
So, when learning a language all you need to do is first listen and practice. Good thing that you already know how to read and write, but don’t use these skills for wrong, use them for good. There are so many sites now where you can learn languages and practice them, like goSpeaky, where it allows you to practice with native speakers for all the different languages.
What about the television? Are you using it for good or just to pass the time? Try watching the films in the original language, no matter the language. And if you want, watch it twice. I wouldn’t recommend subtitles at all, but if you think it helps, do something like this: Let’s say you are watching an American film; the first time with the subtitles in your original language (only if you’re in the basic level still) or with subtitles in English (for intermediate levels) and then because you know the story already, you can watch it without subtitles.
So, remember this order: Listen, Speak, Read and Write. Also take a break in between if necessary, because our brain needs time to process sometimes.
In my personal experience, I rather have full intensive lessons (usually during vacation periods) than having a slow process during the year. Is just my experience, it might work for you or not. I learned French in a six weeks full-time (eight hours per day= 40 hrs per week) course program and Dutch in four weeks also in full-time program, then I just had to practice it in the street (whenever I can) to don’t lose it.
Keep on going and do your best. My theory is that languages are already in our mind somewhere sleeping that need to be activated by real life activities.
And how do I know this? Because I love learning!