Yesterday, we began to dive into some of the basics of learning a new language. Not knowing a language can really limit your effectiveness on a mission trip, both long or short term. So why not start learning a foreign language before you go?
Let’s take a look at some practical ideas for learning a new language before looking at some of my favorite tools and apps:
Practical Ideas for Learning a Language
Find a language you REALLY want to learn.
Motivation is key here, you need one that you can see a use for or you have an interest in. Although you might think that a language that will help you get a business deal would be more motivating, actually a language where you have an interest in the culture, where you know real people you want to talk to, is a huge motivator.
Write a list of “functions” you want to do in a language and context you want to use it in.
Instead of thinking about “know the subjunctive conjugations of irregular verbs.” think about what you want to do with the language like “order a coffee”,”tell a story in the past”, “talk about your dreams”, etc… Here’s a headstart for learning a language from scratch. Traditionally they start with:
- Describing yourself
- Discussing hobbies
- Telling your plans for tonight/tomorrow/etc
- Saying what you did yesterday…
If you focus on these functions you’ll need to learn the future, the past, the present and some adjectives covering a lot of ground but useful for almost everyone.
Use frequency dictionaries
Frequency dictionaries are a great way to fill in the gaps of your knowledge and considering that somewhere between 90-95% of all conversation uses the 1000 most frequently occurring words in English (similar in other languages), it will give you the most useful words you need. Of course, this isn’t a guarantee you will understand everything, the difference between the meaning of get in “get up” and “get together” are very large but at least you should recognize the words.
Find material relevant for you
There is a lot of material in foreign languages, but if you hate fashion and are reading only about fashion…you’re not going to want to continue as much as if you are reading about a topic that you are really interested in. For example, imagine you want to learn Spanish and you subscribe to a couple of churches Newsletters from Spanish/South America. This way you’ll have “real” language, get to find out information you couldn’t any other way and get to learn as you go.
Use all four skills
People often talk about the four language skills: Writing, Reading, Listening and Speaking. These can certainly be broken down more, but these are the vague groups. Many people experiences are heavily weighted to one form or another (usually the detriment of speaking, and when speaking is done it’s often just listening and repeat). Having a balanced approach is important. Reading is probably the best way to improve your vocabulary, Writing helps you focus on your grammar, Listening helps your speaking a lot and is very easy to do and Speaking is usually the most motivating and what people really want to do (plus you can get away with a lot more mistakes when speaking…after all their just gone).
Tomorrow, we’ll look at some helpful tools to aid you in your foreign language learning!