The purpose of learning a language is being able to speak it when we travel to a foreign country and understand and converse to native speakers with the means to interacting with them without problem.
The first obstacle in accomplishing this goal is:
paying too much attention to grammar and vocabulary.
Memorising grammar rules and learning vocabulary are important, no one denies it, but you should also not neglect finding ways to speak the language.
There are forms to compensate when it is impossible to find a practice partner.
You can speak aloud when reading or writing. When watching a program or listening to a podcast in your target language, don’t be afraid to mimic part of what is said and trying to keep the intonation and accent of the person you are listening to. In the future, I am sure that you want to be perceived as a natural speaker and this is the best option to getting familiar with the native way of speaking.
Not thinking in the foreign language.
Also practice thinking in the foreign language. You will not be able to consider yourself fluent if you are constantly translating to and fro in your head. To go past this obstacle, learn the most common conversational words and phrases in your new language. Think of how you use your own language daily and translate the phrases and expressions you commonly use to your second language. Always make sure that you translate them properly, in some cases a little bit of research might come handy and it is fulfilling also the purpose of you getting truly acquainted to your new language. Take it as a language practice.
Not watching native programs.
I know that watching programs and films made for native speakers might seem daunting especially at the beginning stages of learning a language, but you should not fret. There is no shame in using subtitles and even slowing the video down when necessary and possible. Once again, see it as a means to an end which is practising your listening skills and getting acquainted to the sounds, intonations, accents of your new language.
First watch the film with the subtitles. Write down all unfamiliar words in your vocabulary notebook, so that you may revisit them later. Listen carefully to their pronunciation. Shadow the people saying them. Find their meaning. Make a few sentences using these new words. Then, re-watch the film this time without subtitles.
Not knowing the correct pronunciation of words.
This can be a huge obstacle when it comes to others understanding what you are saying. To minimise this, it is good to use the shadowing technique.
How does language shadowing work?
It is a simple yet powerful method to help you improve your language speaking skills.
- A text is chosen, do you remember the film we just talk about?
- You read the subtitle as the native speaker talks.
- You repeat exactly word for word every sentence the native speaker utters, after a pause. Try to copy the sounds you hear. Pay attention to pronunciation, stress, pause, intonation. (I cannot insist enough).
- And finally, Without the subtitle, you listen to the native speaker whilst shadowing every word and sentence you hear (you can even try to say them at the same time).
What’s intonation? I hear you say.
Intonation is a feature of pronunciation common to every language. For example, without knowing the meaning of words, you can detect attitudes, and emotions in the speaker. You can differentiate between a statement and a question. Etc
Intonation is the way we use the pitch of our voice to express particular meanings and attitudes.
In every language, it’s easy to understand the speaker’s attitude by paying attention to intonation: you know when they are expressing anger, interest, boredom, happiness, sadness even without understanding every word.
What are the benefits of shadowing?
- Shadowing helps you prevent translating in your native language, as we already mentioned.
- After a while you can talk confidently in your target language.
- You reduce your accent (having an accent is perfectly alright in my opinion as long as it does not prevent communication).
- Your pronunciation improves and you sound more natural.
- Listening to native speakers becomes easier.
- You learn to listen to the sounds and patterns in your target language and you produce the same sounds effortlessly.
- You’re more confident at speaking.
Not knowing the local culture.
Language and culture are intertwined. You cannot learn a language if you are not interested in knowing about the people speaking this language and their own ways of viewing the world around them. Obviously, the best way to dip your toes is to visit the country. When not possible – especially since Coronavirus- the next best thing is through books. Learn about their traditions, read the local writers and poets works, have a virtual tour of their museums, and connect with the residents even if it is through a Zoom call. You will then get to know their idioms and expressions and understand them better.
You might be an independent learner, but it does not mean that you should do it on your own all the way. There are a few conversation exchange platforms that can help you find a native speaker to practice with, either online or in-person (Coronavirus permitting). You can also find Facebooks groups and forums where you can befriend native speakers or find another person studying the same language as you. They might become an accountability partner when you share your goals and encourage each other to keep on track.
Thinking that language learning is plain sailing.
Expect setbacks. When this happens, identify the obstacles that are preventing you from achieving your goals.
It is beneficial if you answer these questions:
What are the reasons why you have not yet reached your goal?
Be extremely specific.
Analyse your past experiences and find out what stopped you.
•Did you loose motivation after a while?
•Were you struggling to find the time for your study?
•Did you have the right support?
•Did you have the right resources?
What can you do now to solve these obstacles?
Your answers will help you find ways to go back on track.
We are often not aware of what is holding us back. Consequently, it is paramount that we stop periodically and evaluate our progress. Sometimes just a slight twist here and there will suffice. Keep on keeping on and try to avoid these mistakes.
Did you find this article useful? Let me know in the comments.