If you are an English language speaker and really want to learn another language, it can be frustrating hearing all those Europeans and others who seem to be able to speak English, and often one or more other languages, so fluently, when you stumble over the simplest conversations.
We have probably all had the experience of trying out our newly learned new language expressions on a native speaker and finding they switch to our language because it is so much easier to communicate.
But if they can do it, so surely we can, too! In fact, the fact that as children we pick up language learning without any formal training should indicate that just about every human being has the innate ability to learn a language.
Can children teach us anything about learning a new language?
The fact that children learn languages easily doesn’t always help us, as they have unique advantages over older learners. For a start, they don’t have any other language they know (apart from body language) to confuse them. One of the problems that can be frustrating when an adult learns another language is that the syntax of their native language is often so different from the new language that it confuses them.
The incentive is a key Ingredient in Learning another Language
The key ingredient in learning another language is an incentive. Children have a huge incentive to learn the language of meaningful people around them. So do those whose native language is spoken by hardly anyone! Scandinavians and the Dutch, for example, learn English very quickly; otherwise, like children, they would be unintelligible to anyone else other than their own countrymen.
We can turn that around to help us learn another language more easily. Immersion in the language we want to learn is one of the best methods. Immersion can take many forms:
Make friends with those who speak another language. Even if you only mix some of the words and phrases you know, making conversation with friends whose native language is the one you want to learn can be a game changer. Of course, they may try and make it easier to communicate by talking only in your language, but if you make it known that you are trying to make an effort to learn their language, then you should get along just fine.
Read books, papers, websites, and magazines and watch the news or films that don’t have subtitles in the language you want to learn. If you do this with things you enjoy then you will find you are picking up useful vocabulary and even grammar more easily. For example, if you like sport, make an effort to read, watch and listen to the sport in the language of your choice.
Visit the Country where the Language is Spoken
This is the most expensive way to learn another language, but potentially the most fun and the most productive. Now, here is a word of warning. If the main purpose of your visit is to learn a language and not just go on holiday, then you are best going alone. If you visit another country with someone else you inevitably spend much more time talking in your own language and not in the language of the country you are visiting.
Another way of maximizing your learning experience is to find a way of ensuring you are forced to communicate in the language of the country you are visiting. An easy way to do that is to volunteer with a group or organization of your choice. This way, you will find that you are made welcome and you will certainly have an incentive (remember the key ingredient!) to learn as fast as possible.
Some people have a natural advantage over others when learning a new language. The younger you are, the quicker you will learn any language. The more incentive you have to learn another language, the faster you will pick it up. The key to learning another language then without reverting to becoming a child all over again (!) is to find an incentive that suits you and your pocket. Reading, watching and listening to foreign language media can be useful. Making friends and visiting other countries, preferably on your own and integrating with those that are there, are all tried and true methods of making language learning easy.