The time is now if you want to learn a new language. You have a lot of resources at your fingertips for almost any mainstream language you can think of, thanks to the internet. Just a few years down the line this was not possible.
No wonder why there are so many wannabe polyglots around. That’s excellent, but this language you’re learning is of no use if you’re not able to communicate with others.
The aim of language learning is communication
So, how can you make sure that you’re able to engage in conversations in your target language?
If you’re starting from scratch, the best way is to learn the 500 hundred most commonly used words in your new language. The quickest way to do so is to book a foundation course online or in-person. These are structured so that you can acquire fast the necessary broad knowledge to help you get by. Also, a phrasebook will help you learn the most common expressions. Make sure that these courses have enough dialogues to help you build your vocabulary pool.
At the same time, you should have plenty of unstructured time where you can listen to native materials in your target language, although it will seem counterproductive to you at the beginning.
Try to choose topics that would interest you in your mother tongue and find podcasts, TV programs or YouTube videos related to them preferably with a transcript or captions in your target language.
Listen often to native speakers'materials so that your brain can get used to the speed, rhythm and pronunciation
This will allow your brain to get used to the way native speakers talk since the early stages of your learning, so that you will be able to avoid the common downfalls every language student goes through. They spend months, sometimes years studying. They think they have reached an acceptable level of proficiency, and when they must engage in a conversation with native speakers, they realise they hardly understand what they are uttering. Because, during their training they listened to audios made purposely for students and they are generally at a slower pace, the teacher himself speaks slowly and clearly and they are not used to the speed, rhythm, pronunciation and the way words are connected. Not all words are clearly pronounced in a native speaker’s speech.
I will highlight later the other advantage of starting with native materials’ input from the get-go.
Listening skills complement speaking skills
Your aim, as for every language learner, is fluency or better said, communication, and this becomes virtually impossible if you don’t know what the person in front of you is saying even though you have enough vocabulary to answer. This shows that listening skills complement speaking skills. They go hand in hand. So, to improve your speaking skills, you need to polish your listening ability and the best way to do it is by having a lot of exposure to native materials to allow your brain, as I mentioned before, to absorb and identify the patterns that form the language.
There are a wide variety of materials available, some free and others paid. But at times, this becomes overwhelming for the learners as they don’t know where to start or which materials to use, and they succumb victims of analysis paralysis.
Let me give you a helping hand. The type of materials you should look for are the ones with dialogues. You can find these by listening to podcasts episodes in subjects that interest you, by watching films, listening to talk shows in your target language, or if possible, by having conversations with native speakers. You will find out by listening to these, how real-life conversations take place.
Real-life conversations in your target language are paramount
Bear in mind that listening comprehension is like everything else, constant practice is required. You might barely understand at the beginning but with hours of training you will get there eventually.
The second reason why you should listen to native materials is because they are the best source for you to harvest chunks, and they are necessary if you want to talk like a native.
Chunks are word combinations with a specific meaning and a desired outcome that are always or very often used together.
The concept of chunking is based on the “lexical Approach” where it is believed that to learn a language the focus should be more in equipping the student to enable communication hence the need to learn word combination and less grammar.
Our brain is not wired to remember isolated words but to recall short patterns of maximum four items at a time. Hence the importance of fitting the words you are learning into groups your brain can easily remember. Learn words that are related by a strong context.
Example the expression: How is it going? Is a chunk that means the same as How are You? (another chunk)
In this case you learn the meaning of this group of words together, and you learn as well how to respond to it if someone asks you: “I’m good, thanks” that’s a chunk as well. The beauty of it is that you acquire the knowledge without having to analyse each part and understand how they fit together.
Netflix has a variety of films in various languages . Make sure to keep the captions in your target language.
As I was saying, you need to listen to a lot of conversations, because without enough relevant input, you won’t have new words, and you won’t learn the chunks that will help you speak your target language with ease. You will neither get ear-trained at listening to native speakers. The only way to understand native speakers is by listening to them a lot!
How to practice your listening skills.
First listen to the audio from beginning to end without interruption. It will give you a general idea of what it’s about.
Listen to it two more times. Certain words and expressions will become clearer.
Ideally you have a transcript and listen to the audio this time using it.
Use the transcription to research what you didn’t understand.
Now the meaning should be clear
Next use the transcript to identify the useful chunks you want to memorise.
Remember chunks are a group of words not whole sentences.
How to identify chunks
Chunks can be combinations of:
You should look for words that have a specific meaning when used together.
By the way
Quite a bit
A golden opportunity
How’s it going?
Up to now
Are you tired?
Learn the chunk exactly the way you discovered it. With time you will notice other circumstances where the chunk is used, and it will get registered in your subconscious.
Another way that chunking will help expand your vocabulary is by looking into a dictionary in your mother tongue and you will notice example sentences and other uses of the same word or word combination. Write these down as well.
So, if you get enough
exposure to native speakers’ materials, you identify the chunks, write them
down, memorise them, use them in your writing and in your conversations, you
will be able to chat away with ease with the natives when the opportunity
If you want help learning about memorising techniques, subscribe to the video-workshop: GUIDE TO MEMORISING VOCABULARY