After the initial excitement of learning a language wears off, the realization sets in that you still have a long, long way to go. Once that realization occurs, you are going to have an up-hill battle learning the language because it is only one of several types of road blocks to becoming fluent.
This article is all about getting you through those rough times so that you can meet your goals and ultimately become fluent in another language. Do keep in mind that everyone is different, so you may need to come up with your own variations on some of these steps. In the end though, it will be well worth the effort.
Make a Plan and Build on It
Planning is absolutely essential to succeeding in a language. You have to be able to gauge how you are doing and what you have learned to know where you are going next. Planning is even more critical if you are a busy person.
You should include these four activities to ensure you are learning what you need to know to be fluent:
Some of these activities are easier to do than others, but you need to do all four of them regularly. It doesn’t have to be much, but you have to make time for all four. Even writing a few sentences a day, listening to a podcast, reading a single news article, and talking to your dog will help. They don’t require much time, but they will help you reach your goals.
Supporting skills will help you learn a bit faster if you have time for them. As boring as they are, working on grammar and vocabulary are what you need to attain fluency. Working on the sounds can be entertaining at any phase, but you do need to keep at it, even after you reach the intermediate level.
Focus on Your Core
You need a good foundation or core to succeed. In the early days when the enthusiasm is wearing off, put your mind on learning the basics. It doesn’t distract, and while it isn’t as exciting as those early days, you can start to see progress as you go. This means drilling for grammar and very basic vocabulary. Find the most commonly used words in a language and make them part of your regular studies. The more you use them, the closer you will be to fluency since a small percentage of vocabulary words make up the vast majority of usage for many languages.
Take some time to study common phrases as well. Sites like Memrise are great for getting a little more information on the things you want to know but probably won’t encounter through traditional learning (like books).
As resistant as most of us are to this part of the learning process, it is critical. You can hide behind books, flashcards, and apps all you want, but the only way to be fluent is to engage in conversation. Once you have your core established, start talking and writing. These are the productive skills that prove that you have successfully learned the language.
It is easy to listen and read without thoroughly understanding everything. Speaking and writing remove that safety net and force you to use vocabulary and adjust your grammar in a way that reinforces what you learn. Writing is easier than speaking because you can go back and fix it more easily. If you need, start with that. Write a story or blog a couple of times a week using a lot of long sentences. The more memorable the situation, the more likely you are to remember it, and the more often you are likely to do it.
Find Your Motivation
This step cannot be overemphasized. Once you are out of that honeymoon phase, you need to remember why you are learning. Your reasons need to go well beyond meeting language requirements or to look smart.
The more reasons you have to learn, the better. You can add a few shallow reasons in there too if it helps, but make sure you have some stronger reasons to learn. For example, you want to go to a country where the language is spoken as well as getting a passing grade in the class. The more reasons you have, the more likely you are to stick it out.
Work on Self-Improvement
We all have things we don’t like about ourselves, and there is no time like learning a language to also adjust our perceived faults. It is far easier to change who we are than most of us realize. If you are not sociable, learning a new language is the perfect time to start reaching out more often. If you tend toward being lazy, you now have something that requires work. As you train your brain to work in a different language, work to improve yourself.
Experience Language Immersion on a Different Level
Language immersion has never been easier. There are so many technologies, tools, and tricks available you almost have to work at it to stay monolingual. You don’t have to leave your home to thoroughly immerse yourself in a language.
Take the time to find the tools and tips that work for you and have at it. The only thing keeping you from immersion is a misguided belief that you have to go to a country that speaks the language. If you deny yourself the ability to speak or think in English for an hour or two every day, you will find that you get a very similar sink-or-swim experience as if you were in a country where the language is spoken.
Improve the Way You Study
School teaches us one way to study, but it isn’t the only way, or even necessarily the best way. Cramming is certainly a poor learning habit most people develop while in school.
If you know your learning style, use that to improve the way you study. You will find that you get a lot more out of a study session that focuses on the things that help you learn better.
Don’t get complacent either. The best way to learn is to constantly do new things. If you use different activities and tools, not only is it more entertaining, you are more likely to see improvements in how quickly you learn.
Get Some Sleep
Sleep is important for staying awake, alert, and learning. If you give up sleeping to try to do more studying, you could find that you learn far less than if you get a good night’s sleep. Everyone is different, but if you have always been the kind of person who requires 7 or more hours of sleep at night, your body needs it.
Once you create your plan and get to work on it, you can sleep easier knowing that all you need to do is follow through. If you start to dream in the language, you will know you are well on your way to fluency.
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