Learning a foreign language is a psychological game. While one part of your brain looks forward to the challenge and really wants to learn it, the other one keeps telling you that it’s a boring and pointless task that is getting you nowhere, and you should give up immediately.
Over the past twenty-five years I have studied several languages, some better than others. I’ve made numerous mistakes and wasted many hours in front of all sorts of language material, often using the wrong study method or trying to learn from publications that didn’t suit my taste or level. It’s been quite an adventure, but I now know how to learn languages faster and more efficiently, and, what’s even more important to me, how to enjoy learning a foreign language. This knowledge I have tried to pass on to my students of Spanish over the fifteen-odd years I’ve been teaching my mother tongue and writing study material. Here are some thoughts that might help you achieve your goal.
Motivation is the key to success. Taking up a foreign language is easy for many, the difficulty is in finding the motivation to continue learning and the power to ignore the negative thoughts that lead to failure. Fortunately, motivation doesn’t just come naturally or not at all. One can lure it with tricks. Here are some:
- Learn something new every day. Even if it’s just a couple of words. It’s a great booster knowing that you’ve got a little bit closer to your goal.
- Don’t make it a lonely experience. Learn with your partner, friends, children or neighbour. It’ll be much more fun.
- Make it entertaining. Listen to Spanish music, watch Spanish films, surf the Internet in Spanish. There are scores of interesting websites with Spanish cartoons, Spanish radio stations, newspapers, TV channels, etc., etc.
- Remember: you don’t need to speak fluently to get by and enjoy your stay in Spain, so every word and phrase you learn really counts.
- Ignore negative comments such as “You, studying Spanish, at your age?”; or, even better, take them as a challenge.
- Think of all the benefits that learning Spanish will bring you: it will make you more independent abroad, it will save you a small fortune because you’ll have many more restaurants and bars to choose from, and it will help you make new friends.
- If you’re serious about learning, get a good private tutor or join a class that suits you. They can be very affordable and you learn a lot faster.
- Be realistic about your goal and don’t let the difficulties of the language overwhelm you. Set yourself small targets, like finishing one chapter per week or getting to page 50 by the end of the month.
- Learn the numbers 1 to 100 well. They are quite easy and you’ll need them all the time.
- Learn some common phrases like todavía no (not yet) or ¡por supuesto! (of course!). People use them all the time, so you’ll feel you’re learning something useful.
- When you’re feeling very lazy, don’t force yourself to learn new stuff. Sit back and listen to your Spanish audio material or repeat some easy exercises. You’ll have all your energy back next time.
- If you really - really - don’t feel like doing any Spanish, leave it and come back to it a day or two later. It’ll happen every so often.
Motivation’s worst enemy is boredom. Since boredom truly is a big obstacle when studying a foreign language, finding ways of keeping it at bay is crucial. Here are some that have proved invaluable to me over the years:
- Have short learning sessions (fifteen or twenty minutes).
- Make a clever use of your time. Avoid time-consuming, unproductive tasks such as writing lists of words and making flashcards. There are great books, cds and cdroms that have done that job for you already, so you can concentrate on the learning.
- Choose the language material that best suits your personal needs, taste, level, abilities, budget, etc. Unfortunately, choosing the right material can be an overwhelming task due to the almost infinite number of publications on the market. That’s why I’ve decided to offer my website visitors free, personalised and independent advice, so they can get the material that’s good for them as individuals, and not just the latest bestseller. To get in touch with me for free advice, simply join the forum at www.spanish-bookworld.com
- Once you’ve chosen a book, cd or cdrom, stick to it and go through it from cover to cover, as if it were a thriller with a captivating plot.
- Avoid using the dictionary whenever possible. Dictionaries slow down language learning and often make it more complicated than it is. Use material which doesn’t require the use of a dictionary. There’s plenty on the market.
- Change the scenery. Remember that with modern technology you can learn Spanish with a wide range of methods for all tastes and abilities – audio-only courses, cdroms, online lessons, user-friendly grammar books, etc. – and all places - your car, a train, bus, plane or boat; out walking, waiting, having lunch, and even the bath.
Motivation’s best companion is an engaging routine. Routines don’t have to be dull, mind-numbing and tiresome. They can be something to look forward to, like watching your favourite programme or listening to the music you like. Establishing a routine is essential with languages because it saves you precious time and energy. It allows you to concentrate on your study session and then move on to other things until your next session, rather than thinking for hours that you’ve got to do it and then not doing it because you’re so fed up of thinking about it.
Half the work is done when you establish an engaging routine. Here are the tricks I use myself to establish one:
- I think of learning a language as an event that deserves a fixed time slot in my diary, rather than something that fits around everything else.
- I sit down and work out what time of day suits me best, and stick to it.
- let the people around me see how important learning the language is for me, so they support me and don’t tempt me away from it.
- I study regularly for short periods at a time, fifteen or twenty minutes, once or twice a day, five or six days a week.
- If one day I end up having a longer session, I don’t take that time off the next one. I think of it as an extra that will help me reach my goal faster. That way I don’t disrupt my routine.
- I switch the phone off and put the answering machine on.
Every day that you do not give up makes you more positive and motivated, and gives you that indescribable sense of achievement which comes with learning a foreign language.