The first steps into a new language are the hardest ones. You know so little, you have to look up every word in a dictionary. You struggle with unfamiliar grammar forms, you can’t distinguish one part of a speech from another, and fail to recognize new grammatical forms of familiar words. It is so frustrating! And as if it’s not enough, you feel humiliated with boring exercises. You are supposed to produce phrases that are too dumb for anybody older than 6 months, and that you would never ever say in your mother-tongue. They call it ‘basic level’.
Is it true that basic level should be that boring? My personal learning experience and teaching practice prove this wrong. Starting with such ‘basics’ may kill your desire at the very beginning of your new language affair.
Build your own basic vocabulary.
You do need to expand your vocabulary and understand grammar, but how often do you say ‘I have a room. She has a room. The room is mine. The room is hers’ in a real conversation? I suggest my students to start building their vocabulary with the words they would really use in real life. For example, a passionate cooker would more likely memorize new words for food and kitchenware, because (s)he wants to read original recipes and try something new. A gamer would learn the gamers’ jargon first. A philosopher would seek for vocabulary that covers the area of her intellectual interests, so for her, ‘epistemology’ would be an easy word, while ‘colander’ would go to the remote periphery of her consciousness.
Don’t be afraid of long and complex words.
For many languages, complex doesn’t mean hard to memorize. Break long words into pieces, learn the functions of each part, and while doing so, you’ll memorize the word. Moreover, this simple procedure will help you to understand word formation rules, thus you’ll be able to construct words (sometimes correctly). Another benefit from dealing with a long word is that when you understand what its parts mean, the next word with similar parts will be a piece of cake for you. You’ll start expanding your vocabulary rapidly.
Start writing as early as possible.
When you do grammar exercises and use the grammar clichés provided by the authors of your textbook, you learn very dry, artificial language (I wish I could secretly observe a group of linguists working on sample sentences for their new text book). When you write what you want, you acquire your target language actively. You try to find a way to express your thoughts, and this is the best and most efficient way to achieve fluency. We are lucky to live in the Internet epoch, so you can always post your text on lang-8 for native speakers to correct you.
The entrance to the new language lies in the area that brought you to the language.Don’t make your learning process insipid. After all, we are here to enjoy ourselves, right?
Photo by Steven Feather.