The structure of any language is practically the same. It comprises two main sections:

  • Theoretical skills
  • Practical skills.

Pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary are part of the theoretical skills. These may differ in difficulty depending on the language. For example, Italian might be easier for an English speaker than Japanese.

Speaking, listening, reading, and writing belong to the practical skills. Listening and reading are input and speaking and writing are output.

When learning a new language understanding is much easier than producing meaning.





Theoretical skills



Pronunciation


Pronunciation is “the individual sounds, how they go together into words, and how words are pronounced in sentences. It emphasises which syllables and words to stress, and how the pitch of one voice changes in sentences.”

Pronunciation is important when learning a new language because if people can’t understand easily what you are saying, you need to work at improving your accent.



How you can improve your pronunciation.


To do so, you need to intensify your listening practice of native material in your second language. It is paramount that you train your ears in identifying the rhythms and sounds of the language. And the more you listen, the easier it will become.

The materials chosen could come from the radio or TV programs. The listening exercise should be active- meaning that you give your undivided attention to the activity. Always choose programs that would naturally interest you in your mother tongue, or you will not carry on over time. Divide the program in comfortable working chunks to allow you to take most advantage of the activity.





The Shadowing Technique helps in improving your accent, pronunciation and intonation.



How will this help improving your accent and pronunciation?


Listen to the chunks one by one, and if necessary slow them down, so that you repeat each sentence straight after listening to it making sure you mimic what the speaker is saying, their tone, intonation, the shape of their lips- when possible- ,their posture.

Record yourself doing it, and at the end listen to your recording and compare. Try again and again until you succeed. This is called the shadowing technique.

You can also improve your pronunciation by learning songs in your target language. Besides the fun, you will increase your vocabulary and grammar competency. Also, when reading, do it aloud.



Grammar


Learning the grammar of the new language will allow you to make your own sentences correctly.

You will learn the correct order of words which is incredibly important. You will know where to place the subject (S), object (O) and the verb (V) so that you can make yourself understood easily.

There are various combinations, but it is good to know that 42% of languages use the subject-verb-object (SVO) order and this include English, French, Spanish, Italian, among others. Another 45% of world languages use the SOV order like in German, Japanese and Turkish.

An effective way to know the grammar of your target language is to memorise great number of sentences from various sources. This will allow you to take in the grammar patterns and new vocabulary without much effort. You will also grasp how to use them because you would have learned them in context.



Vocabulary


Learning vocabulary takes time but it is essential when learning a language.

It has been shown by multiple researchers that chunking is the best method to assure not only that you learn the vocabulary but also to help you recall them when necessary.

Chunking said in a simple way is learning word combinations with a specific meaning. These words only become meaningful when they are connected to other words.

In any language activity you do, keep a vocabulary notebook handy. Write down the new words you find preferably as a chunk.

You should test yourself regularly at different intervals to document whether the words are still part of your memory.




The spaced-repetition method is about reinforcing a bit of information in your mind just when you are about to forget it. People who use distributed practice remember twice as many words in the long term as those who don’t.

The time you leave between the recall sessions is important. It has been proven that the longer gaps are more effective than the shorter gaps if you want to commit the information to your long-term memory.

A simple way to apply this technique is by using flashcards.

Learn group of words that related to each other. For example, learn all bedroom furniture at once as well as things linked to bedrooms like the verbs to sleep, to wake up, etc

Also read as much as you can, even in the beginner’s stage. This is one of the best ways to help you grow your vocabulary fast. Do not stop at finding the meaning of every single word, instead grab the general meaning of what you’re reading and guess the unknown words in context. Check in a monolingual dictionary later.


Now you have mastered how to pay attention to the theoretical skills of language learning. In part 2 we will talk about the practical skills.



How do you memorise vocabulary? Please share in the comments.