As a part of the #Springintospring2020 challenge, I'll share my language learning strategy
Before going into any specific steps on how you can study a language, and what I do to enjoy learning languages, this article needs to be prefaced with the fact that the greatest language learning strategy is one that evolves. As you get better and progress in your studies, your needs change with your skills. The best kind of language strategy is one that acknowledges that no language journey is the same, and that reviewing and reflecting are your greatest tools. As of February 2020, I have learnt 5 languages in addition to my 2 native ones to an upper-intermediate level where I can have fluent conversations with natives. This article describes my thinking process when I aim to develop a plan for my studies at any given point in the language acquisition process.
As an absolute beginner, there is just too much that you are unfamiliar with. As much as balancing output and input is import when studying a language, as a beginner, I try not to think about that too much. For the first month, I dedicate my time to listening practice. I listen to all kinds of things: movies, YouTubers, podcasts- many even without subtitles. Swedish was the first language I really learnt from absolutely zero. This meant that I wasn't familiar with the sounds, the letters, the flow- I had never heard a person speak Swedish before and I didn't even process that IKEA (and its product names) was Swedish. As a result, I spent even longer really drilling in the sounds, playing with the letters, repeating after people I didn't understand. It was a really wholesome process, though, because I had absolutely no expectations on myself and after the month I had set for myself was over, that was it. I did my best to get the vibe of Swedish and now it would be time for me to move on to actually learning some words and some structures.
I don't really have a rule for what I learn at the beginning of my language journies, because the vast majority of language sites and teachers online already have a recommended process that I usually can trust (more or less). I choose something to stick with, and I stick with it and more every day for at least 3 months. The idea is I just need input. I don't really care what, as long as I'm becoming more familiar with things.
Now I have put enough information in my system to kind of make broken sentences and have a plethora of random set phrases that may come in handy someday. This is the point where I become weary of the gaps in basic things I want to say and also woefully aware of how many useless words the sources I'm using are trying to sell me (duolingo, I really do not need to know the word turtle that urgently).
This is the point that I get more serious. I buy a textbook, or I develop a plan to learn specific kinds of sentences. I start keeping a small journal and get it corrected. I also watch YouTubers who talk about things that interest me, and push myself to learn vocabulary through them; vocabulary I am actually likely to use. The key change for me in this stage is that I will begin shifting from input to output. Every word I learn has to be immediately usable. Every grammar structure I add to my arsenal has to accommodate me and how I exist in that language. This way, I don't lose motivation because I am not feeling the progress. I only study things that will prove to me (quickly) that I have a better command of this language.
Finally! It's clicked! I can speak in my Target Language!
At this point in the game, I can already hold my own in a conversation. My vocabulary is a bit weak, and I use English or say something else to explain what I mean, to supplement when I can't come up with the words I need. My basic grammar is usable, and I can talk with natives as long as they are using their "foreigner speed"(lol). This is also when progress seems to slow, so I have to structure what I learn more carefully so that I don't stay in this limbo forever (which sometimes, I end up doing anyway).
I have a whole video here, where I talk about how I pull myself out of the intermediate death trap we often set for ourselves.
Ah advanced, the good life.
After all the stress and struggle, you finally are able to walk and talk like a real human being! You can hold hours of conversation in your target language, and you can read news and write long-form essays with only nominal mistakes. But oh no... your co-worker starts up a conversation on the government's structure and how the executive branch has too much power, which leads to the proliferation of social unrest and weak political participation!
Speaking a language doesn't mean that you have specialised vocabulary or jargon, and that's what studying encompasses as an advanced learner. The most important thing to remember is that even native speakers don't know all the words. The goal isn't and should never be to learn all the words. From here on out, we learn what we encounter, what we wonder about and what we hope to be able to discuss at dinner parties. For me, advanced isn't a pressure zone, it is the most freeing stage where the world's sources, articles, books, songs, movies -- just open up as my next textbook.
. . .
Studying for an Exam
I was going to end this article with advanced studying, but I couldn't leave this bit out. Studying for an exam at any level is extremely different from studying for fluency. Personally I don't aim to take any exam before reaching at least upper-intermediate level, and even prefer to do them at advanced. The reason being that I don't want to ruin my rule of "only studying things I will use immediately" and then not be able to speak fluently for too long after passing a test. HOWEVER, I do think it can be a good goal for someone who needs more to see progress or doesn't feel like they are making much progress on their own. This is because the effect of passing the exam may push you to spend even more time and effort in transitioning into speaking and using the language.
More language content:
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