Dr David Hornsby, Senior Lecturer in French and Linguistics, provides his top tips and things to avoid if you’re aiming to learn a new language in 2018.
- Setting aside 15-20 mins a day is always preferable to a five-hour splurge every two weeks. And if you can learn together with a friend and spur each other on, even better.
Make it fun
- Language learning does not have to involve the dry, rote learning of verb paradigms you dreaded at school. There are now lots of excellent, accessible books written with non-linguists in mind which will guide you through the difficult bits, while free apps like Duolingo offer fun ways to practise and test your knowledge.
Follow your interests
- If you’re a news addict, why not watch the TV news online in your chosen language? Even if you understand very little at first, you’ll learn a surprising amount from context.
Make the language part of everyday life
- If you’re learning Spanish, why not buy El Païs instead of your normal newspaper once a week? Or how about changing your smartphone language settings, or getting your satnav to talk to you in Spanish?
Allow yourself to be curious
- A good way to pick up grammar is to ask yourself how you’d say things slightly differently, e.g. ‘How would I say ‘these cakes’ instead of ‘this cake’?’, or ‘If this is ‘I know’, how would I say ‘they know’?’
Look up every word
- If you’re learning a language for its literature, do read regularly but don’t kill the enjoyment of the book by looking up every word. If you have enough to get the gist, you’ll pick up lots of new vocabulary from the context.
Worry about making mistakes
- Too many Brits are scared to speak up in case they get things wrong. But native speakers expect learners to make mistakes and can usually work out what you’re trying to say. Far from criticising you, they’ll generally be supportive, because nothing says ‘I’m trying to see things your way’ like attempting to speak someone else’s language.
Rely on phrasebooks
- Phrasebooks give sentences out of context, with little or no grammatical information, and poorly imitated pronunciation. Learn a phrase book sentence and you’ll have something you’ll utter without conviction which a native speaker might not grasp, and you probably won’t understand the reply in any case. It’s far better to learn how the language works, and use it creatively on your own terms.
Aim for perfection
- It’s not fair to expect a perfect accent or totally flawless grammar. But that doesn’t mean you can’t aim to communicate well, or constantly improve.
Source: University of Kent
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