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How To Learn A Language

The choice can be bewildering; should you learn with audio-only material, or with a book? Do you need to tackle the grammar and the verbs of a foreign language, or can you “pick it up as you go” and hope for the best? Should you use software for an interactive experience? Which books? Which audio CDs? Which dictionary?

The truth is: there isn’t just ONE WAY to learn a language.

From our experience as foreign language experts, we can say this much which is universally true: you will definitely need audio material if it’s available for your target language. You simply cannot get a real understanding of the phonetic sounds of a language without hearing it, no matter how good the description of the sound may be.

You will probably find that you CAN learn in a variety of different ways, and it may be true that you feel you learn best with a book. Bear in mind, though, that a major component of language is its sound, and before you can learn how to put the bits together, and how those bits interact, you will need to know those bits - i.e., the sounds that are related to meaning. Sound is of enormous importance in learning a language! You will also need to know meaning - studies show unequivocally that sound divorced from meaning is poorly remembered, whereas sound that is meaning-related has a much higher chance of being remembered.

If you only want enough of a language in order to communicate on a trip, and you have no plans to take your knowledge of the language further, we recommend you decide upon a phrasebook with accompanying CD. Note that this will not teach you the language, but it WILL teach you how to communicate the basic and necessary phrases and sentences that you are likely to require while on holiday in a foreign country. You would be well advised to ensure that you DO GET AN ACCOMPANYING CD - because even though you don’t intend to study the language further, you will certainly need to pronounce your phrases and sentences correctly. It will make the difference between being understood and being completely unintelligible by the locals.

If you want to learn a language reasonably thoroughly (and are going to study on your own), we recommend you decide to start with the following: a self-teaching book (good examples are the Routledge Colloquial level 1 series, the Teach Yourself series, the Living Language Basic-Intermediate series, the In Three Months series, and so on - these are examples only, and may not be available in all languages, but there are usually excellent equivalents); some audio CDs focusing on learning the language (we highly recommend the Michel Thomas series, and other extremely good audio CDs are available in the Colloquial series, the Living Language series, the Barron’s Mastering series, the Pimsleur series, the Berlitz All-in-One series, the Linguaphone PDQ series, the In Three Months series & others), and audio CDs focusing on pronunciation (special CDs such as How to Pronounce French Correctly, or some of the previously mentioned audio CDs above).

We also suggest a good dictionary (get as good a dictionary as you can afford, and make certain it’s a recent edition that includes the latest technical words which are increasingly becoming part of everyday life); and if possible, a grammar book (Schaum’s Outlines Grammar, for example, or English Grammar for Students of [Other Language] - these are two very good grammar books, but there are others of equally high standard and usefulness) and a book that contains verb conjugations (such as 501 French Verbs fully Conjugated).

Once you’ve progressed a little, you may want to add a book on idioms, speciality dictionaries, readers (dual-language or simple langauge to help you at your particular stage of development), DVDs in the target language, further books & CDs in the learning series, and so on. It will help immeasurably if you PRACTISE your language as much as possible, and try watching the news in your target language if it’s available on SBS.

If there’s a group of native speakers of your target language - either locally or online - you may want to join so that you can gain more practice and help to train your ear.

If you’re learning with a teacher, your teacher should be able to recommend some good material to help you progress swiftly, as well as give you hands-on feedback about your pronunciation and mode of expression.

If you’re studying in a group or class, your progress will probably be slower, but you’ll have the fun of learning in a group situation with like-minded people. This can be very enjoyable and make learning less of a chore for those who fear that they will not be able to learn a language on their own.

Points to remember:

Every language has speakers who are native to that language, but who are not particularly good examples of how to speak that language as effectively or beautifully as possible. That’s why it’s important to study as much as possible from material which has been prepared by professional language teachers who know the important nuances of the language, and who have a superb and wide-ranging vocabulary.

Mastery of a language isn’t ever going to be instant. You will need to work at it, but the practice can itself be terrific fun. Just remember to put in the effort, and you will gain the reward.

You will not learn unless you’re willing to communicate in your target language. Be prepared to make mistakes - it’s good to make mistakes as long as you get feedback to help you learn the correct information!

Read in your target language once you have a basic grasp on the structure and vocabulary. You will find your vocabulary and mode of expression improving enormously.

Other activities, such as interactive CDs, films, games, puzzles, etc., in your target language will help you tremendously - but only once you’ve gained a certain degree of accomplishment in the target language.

Practise, practise, practise! Keep up the learning, so that the information you have learned is accessed regularly. Memory works by the act of successful retrieval - so it’s very important not to let a long period of time lapse between your practising and/or learning. By regularly recalling the information, you will LEARN it rather than forget it.

Ask us for recommendations to learn your chosen language - we’ll be happy to let you know specific recommendations that will suit your budget, your level, your schedule and your target.





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