Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How to Approach Language Learning - 2/4

I believe you can learn another language for free. In this second post of four, I discuss how to improve your speaking skills. (I think it's important to work on all areas, even if speaking is more important at first: listening, speaking, reading, and writing).

Speaking
Video Chat
One approach Benny the Irish polyglot uses is to Skype video chat with native speakers. I think this is brilliant because there aren't always native speakers of your target language around or easily accessible (you might not know them or be shy, for instance) in your city. Benny suggests in his Speak in a Week crash course that you search for people on italki.com, which is a language learning social networking site, and ask someone to Skype video chat with you. (Or you can pay for video lessons from professional teachers of your target language for something like $5/hr.) You can also find people on the forum on his site, fi3m.com/forum, or try to find someone on LingQ's forums (a lot of forums here, depending on language and topic). There are also sites dedicated to people meeting up, such as Meetup.com and Couchsurfing (great for finding people all over the world depending on where you're traveling, and if you're traveling anyway, then this is also a good way to save money on hotels).

Video chatting is great because another helpful and patient person is there to help you in real time. Now, why would someone do this for you? Well, if you teach him/her some English, which is in high demand around the world, he/she will gladly teach you his/her language. Give and you shall receive.

Friends and More
The ideal thing would be to be in the country - because you'd be forced to speak the language. But that's an expensive strategy if you just want to learn the language (unless, say, you're from Quebec and want to learn French). Also, you'd have to wait to get there. And then how long are you going to be there for? And what about studying right now? Wouldn't it be better to already be speaking the language by the time you get there? Wouldn't that make for a much better visit?

So the next best thing is to have a friend or girlfriend/boyfriend who is a native speaker of your target language. (I like to say, jokingly, that the best way to learn a language is to date someone who only speaks his/her native language well. Talk about motivation!) You might say that these options cost money - the latter, especially if you're a straight guy, much more so. But you're going to make friends and date anyway, right? Seriously, right? I hope. So try searching for people who speak your target language in obvious places, such as in Chinatown for a Chinese person or an ethnic restaurant. Strike up a conversation while waiting in line (you're waiting anyway) or with the person taking your order (you're speaking anyway). Universities are also good places to look for international or first generation people. If you're shy, just start talking to them in their native tongue, which often times is rather impressive and shows you care about the person's culture. Just don't assume s/he is Japanese or Indian or whatever. If you hear an accent or a foreign sounding name, you can ask where s/he is from and then start speaking in his/her language. Teach the person English, if s/he needs/wants it, and s/he will teach you your target language. Or choose at least one day of the week to hang out or go on a date and only communicate in your target language. Use gestures if you have to but try not to use English.

Just You
This approach is obviously not as good as the other approaches but sometimes it's your only option. It's also a good supplement to everything else you're hopefully doing. Now, there are two things you can do by yourself to improve your non-English speaking skills.

First, you can have a self dialogue where you play both roles of a two-way conversation. The conversation will depend on your level and goals. If you're starting out, memorize and practice the common phrases (Hello, How are you? Nice to meet you, My name is so-and-so, What's your name?). If your goal is to pick up girls, for instance, just a random example, you would practice your ideal pickup scenario (Hey, You're cute, Want to go on a date?). Record it. Listen to it. Keep practicing.

Second, you can think out loud in your target language. I do this all the time and people don't think I'm crazy at all. It's pretty useful. You work on your pronunciation, but, more importantly, you're making your brain work in creating sentences and expressing itself in that language. You can have a specific day of the week where you only think in that language. Maybe start out with a few minutes, then half an hour, then an hour, and so on. Or maybe you think in that language as you watch anime or videos or listen to music in that language, which act like reminders. Another good idea is to make a video of yourself speaking in the language - prepare a short intro or something you want to say, maybe a vlog of your recent progress and/or challenges. If you share it with other people, say on YouTube, you'll likely get some encouragement from others and/or be motivated by your public declaration of studying the language. If you fail, others will know!

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