First, I have to declare that I am not an expert in teaching and learning languages. I am just a writer, a novelist, a digital communication specialist who happens to love languages. When I came to Webster University for my undergraduate degree in Marketing Communication, my capacity of English language was just good enough to follow the academic curriculum. I had pushed myself hard, spending hours and days in school library to read as many books in English as I could. I desired to become an excellent English speaker, as I knew it would broaden my mind and bring many opportunities. I don’t know how it happened, but sometime during my sophomore year, I discovered the love for languages inside me.
Language is beautiful. Language is the key to open the door of one particular culture and people. When you speak the language, you can smoothen the process of befriending with the natives, understand local insights, blend in their lifestyle and consequently gain valuable cultural and social understanding. Today I still polish and improve my English on daily basis when I talk, read and write. I have also studied Thai and achieved advanced level including reading and writing skills. At the moment I am trying hard to earn my ‘niveau B1’ in French. Because I haven’t practiced Chinese for a long time, my ability to use Chinese language has gradually faded away. I can only understand basic conversations and type simple characters.
When I started learning English at the age of eight, I struggled a lot. I jumped from page to page in textbooks to memorize all grammar rules and new words, finished all the exercises, listened to English programs in TV, talked to foreigners, etc. However, most of the learning tips and advices didn’t work well for me. They were just tactics. What I needed was a strategy to learn English in a long run. I wanted to absorb the language, and then be able to think in English. As time passed by, as I explored, failed and tried again, I finally came up with my very own self-study method which later has assisted me much in learning Thai and French.
1- Focus on your level.
Everything has its start. The beginning is always long, hard, and tired. When you still can’t remember all the pronouns, and use simple tenses incorrectly, you will feel impatient and hopeless if you peek at textbooks of higher levels. Yes, they are your goals to reach, but at that same time they may bring you intense frustration, “Will I ever make it? The books are full of difficult words and complicated sentences. I’m so dumb!”. Progress takes time. Learning a new language is fun yet tedious. The speed of your learning process is depended on your mental capacity and personality. Some may be quick in mastering a language, some may take years and years. Don’t lose your diligence. Don’t let your motivation go easily. Take step by step, and one day you will be surprised at yourself speaking that language fluently. D’accord?
2- Develop all four skills.
There are four fundamental skills in learning a new language – reading, writing, listening and speaking. Some may advise you to give more time and effort to improve your weaknesses, and I somehow disagree with this view. The four skills are interrelated. In other words, they support each other. When you listen well, you are more capable to spell correctly. When you read well, you will write more smoothly. When you write smoothly, you start to think in the learned language and that helps your speaking skill. Etc. It is one complete circle.
3- Get good grammar book and dictionary.
Some languages may be very complicated in term of grammar. The past, the present, the future. The masculine and the feminine. Many and many. Grammar rules can be flexible in spoken conversations. However in writing and reading, if you misuse grammar, the story may turn to a very different direction. Par example, faites la difference entre ‘la poste’ et ‘le poste’, s’il vous plait?
Dictionary is a must-have item for any language learner. Ask for advices from your teachers or Google about the trustworthy names of dictionary publishers before you get one. Some dictionaries offer better explanations and details than others. For French dictionary, I use Larousse.
4- Go digital.
Nowadays the advance of technology makes it much easier to access learning materials and accelerate learning progress. With gadgets (smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers) and decent Internet connection, you can learn anytime and anywhere if you know the sources to look for. When you are confused about grammar rules or the annotation of some words, you can post your questions in forums. Other learners, native speakers, and teachers will generously help you there. You can search for YouTube videos in various topics to improve your listening skill. You can read news written in the learned language. You can download and install interactive dictionary to your gadgets to learn on-the-go.
5- Ask the native to correct you.
Native language speakers are often enthusiastic when you attempt to communicate with them in their mother tongue. However, knowing that you are a learner, they are not strict if you misspell some words or misuse grammar. In most informal cases, they will not fix your way of talking in order to save your face. (They understand or they think that they understand what you are trying to say.) You better ask the native people to correct you. This direct question-response situation will be imprinted in your memory forever, and you won’t make the same mistake again.
6- Explore their culture.
Learning a language is learning a culture. When you develop some level of knowledge about the mother countries of your learned language, the content of your learning materials will make more sense. So read and watch videos about their nature, history, religion, society, culture and people.