How to Learn a Language Naturally: Back to the Basics
Lately as I’ve been gradually getting back into independent language learning I’ve found myself struggling with where to begin. Every textbook I would take out would leave me bored and frustrated with either the simplicity or the level it was placed at relative to where I was at that time; yet without some sort of direction, I felt lost. Already battling against lack of motivation, creating a self-study program from scratch seemed like an incredibly daunting task. However, after taking a step back I’ve begun to see other approaches that I can take to learn the language in a more natural way – turning away from standard study that leaves me unmotivated, and focusing instead on fun and entertaining ways of language application. Here is what I’ve come up with.
Starting off as a beginner:
My greatest and first word of advice for starting off as a beginner in your target language would be to start looking around websites such as Memrise and Quizlet for lists of most commonly used words. The “Learn [Language] in 200/300 words” posts on Tumblr by @funwithlanguages are also a great place to start. Start working on pronouns, general sentence structure or basic phrases, and learning the overall conjugation patterns for the most basic verbs. Flashcards and index cards are incredibly useful here. This will give you a good foundation off of which you can build further.
In addition, having some sort of structured course, such as the Teach Yourself series or many available courses on Memrise that teach vocabulary connected with dialogues, is extremely helpful. It has been scientifically proven that a person learns vocabulary much faster when they have some sort of emotional connection formed, and by learning words in context, it is much easier to remember what something means and how it is used.
Find some good, easy, dual-language books to start off with. Go through them chapter by chapter, making sure to read each paragraph in only the target language before going back and looking up/checking unknown words. Read each section multiple times as to ensure comprehension, and, even better, read it to yourself out loud while working on pronunciation. Later, as you become more advanced, you can move on to books entirely in your target language, and try to write your own definitions of unknown words using the given context before checking them yourself.
Search for different news sources from countries where your target language is spoken. Read through the article and write your own summaries of events.
Try changing the language settings on your phone or social media accounts to your target language, and make note of any new vocabulary – don’t allow yourself to go on autopilot.
Challenge yourself to make short vlogs or general videos in your target language. If needed, feel free to write a script to read off of; otherwise, challenge yourself to speak purely off the top of your head – using as much as you know, even if your sentences start off broken.
Set up Skype sessions with native speakers and practice communicating using whatever knowledge of your target language you possess. If you are unsure of a word, try to use others to describe it instead of resorting to your native language (or even just ask how you would say something using your target language).
Look up the lyrics to different songs in your target language and practice translating. Similarly, try translating other songs into your target language.
Find native speakers who would be willing to communicate with and correct you, and practice conversing using only your target language (no matter how often you need to use a dictionary – but make sure you take note of any new vocabulary or concepts you come across!).
Practice writing status updates (whether on a private account or not), journal entries, essays, or fictional pieces in your target language. If able, see if you can find a native speaker who would be willing to give you corrections, or simply post your text on Lang8!
Youtube is a great resource for all levels of language learning. Try searching for content creators that make videos in a genre you enjoy, and utilize their channels to practice your listening skills and inferring from context while immersing yourself. Write down any words you are unsure of to look up later.
Music in your target language – listen for words you recognize, and look up those you don’t. Things like lyrics are much more likely to stick in your memory, so use that to your advantage!
Look around for an online radio that broadcasts news in your target language, or even an online news source that posts or broadcasts video.
Watch films in your target language, even if it’s content that was originally in English. Many DVDs come with dubs in other languages depending on where you’re from, and Netflix (especially Netflix Original Series) also offers many different dub and subtitle options depending on the content. Even YouTube occasionally has films or TV episodes uploaded in other languages, so long as you look hard enough.
When it comes to grammar, it is important to have a good, solid grammar book that breaks down all basic ideas into something that is comprehensible. Don’t start off with learning grammar right away, however; give yourself some time to really soak up the language itself and get used to basic concepts first. Once you’re at a higher level, being able to properly break down your target language and put it back together will substantially help your progression to fluency.
Incorporate practice sentences into your writing, utilizing each concept. By forcing yourself to physically use each grammatical structure in a context you’ve come up with yourself, it will be much easier for you to master each idea, as well as help it to become more natural.
Hopefully this was helpful in some way! Good luck, and happy language learning!