Everyone who starts learning a new language see oneself conversing effortlessly with the natives and reading the most complex books. Although attainable, these pictures are some way apart from where you are now, just a beginner.
It is important to set short and mid-term goals initially. Let’s have a look at the different levels of proficiency based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
You have mainly three levels:
A1—- absolute beginner and
A2—- upper beginner
B1——— lower intermediate
B2——— upper intermediate
Reaching mastery might seem a daunting task.
It will certainly take years to go from A1 to C2, and it might be seen as a daunting task at hand. However, if you set more short-term realistic goals, this might boost your motivation. Going from A1 to A2, for example, is literally a few months away if you do the necessary work.
It is useful to think about your intentions when you start learning a language.
What is your why?
Are you studying the language for a trip? In this case it might be more relevant to focus on listening and speaking. Whereas if your reason for studying is work related it is important that you master reading and writing as well.
Remember that the beginner’s level is where you set the foundations for your future success so, you should try to excel at this level.
It is recommended to buy a book and/or enrol in a beginner’s class. This will give you some structure to your studies. You will also have the opportunity to interact with peers and tutor.
You will get familiar to the new language. It stops being ‘smoke in the air’ to becoming something tangible – words, grammar, sentences- that you are studying. You will learn to use very basic everyday constructions, introduce yourself, even though communication stays simple. You will understand some sentences and expressions that are frequently used.
Always learn vocabulary in context, meaning alongside the phrases and expressions these new words come from. Answer questions using full sentences. This will be the best way to start the memorisation process. Write down your new vocabulary in a notebook and in your own time, try to commit them to memory. Be sure to know these new words before you move on.
As a beginner you will read children's book.
It is also important to practice recreational reading. At this level you will be reading children books.
Speaking and listening at this stage might seem like climbing the Everest. You should remember that these skills take time to master. You need to be exposed regularly to the sound of the language. Apps like Duolingo or Clozemaster might be of great help.
Get used to the idea of reading out loud so that you become familiar to the pronunciation in your new language. Recording yourself is a good way for you to assess where corrections are needed as well as monitoring your progress. Pay attention to the sounds that are different from your mother tongue as these will require a bit more work and effort from you. Try to replicate them as accurately as possible. Take your time. Remember that you are building your new language foundation.
Every level reached should be celebrated.
Very soon you will go from level A1 to A2 and this is a big milestone that you should celebrate. This should be a big motivation booster.
At this level you can communicate your thoughts and have longer conversations although they will still be sluggish at times. You should be fine with it. Native speakers are usually very understanding, most will be patient and give you the time to gather your thoughts. Don’t let this put you off, remember, the more you practice the better you will become.
How to get beyond the beginner level?
The first, and may be the most important thing, is to have the right mindset for language progress.
It is proven that when you just start learning, you feel more confident than when you are progressing to higher levels.
Level A1 students, for example, believe in their capability to learn and, as they progress to level A2 and beyond, this confidence fades away.
This is called the Dunning-Kruger effect: people feel more confident the less they know about a subject, and mindset is everything.
If you feel you won’t be able to learn more and understand a language, you won’t progress because you’ve already set yourself for failure.
So, this require a paradigm shift: be open to the possibilities this new language offers, tell yourself that the next milestone (B1) is not that far away and that if
you have been able to get this far you certainly can reach it. Try this and let me know your results.
Focus on improving your reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.
The second is to focus on the four pillars of language (reading, writing, speaking and listening).
Reading and listening are referred to as passive skills because you receive them; and speaking and writing are considered active skills because you produce them.
Most of the people who do not get passed the beginner’s level only focus on one or two of these skills. You should clearly identify where your weaknesses are and tackle them head on.
Even at this level (beginner), it is important not only to talk about how the language is learned, but to using it. You need to create opportunities to speak and listen. As in every stage, this is a terrifying prospect, but you should try to immerse yourself in the language. Listen to children’s program, learn and sing children’s song. Read children’s books aloud. Do whatever it takes to master this level and progress to the next one.
Don’t be afraid of making lots and lots of mistakes. I know, nobody likes to feel like a fool, but making mistakes mean that you’re using the language, and by doing so you are learning not to repeat them. Mistakes show you the areas in need of improvement and give you an opportunity to work on them.
These are how you can progress to an intermediate level and next week I’ll talk about how to reach the advanced level.
If you're not sure about your level, take the language skills self-evaluation test.