5 Language Learning Tips
- They Probably Speak English
You are very lucky. Just by the fact that you’re comprehending this sentence, you’ve won the language lottery and speak English. Well, if you say ‘brought’ instead of ‘bought’, ‘a whole nother’ and ‘could care less’, then you’re a little behind, but don’t go worrying about that.
How many times have you studied the language of the country you’re in just before heading outside, repeating the phrase you want to ask over and over in your head so you don’t forget it, only to get the response of “Yeah, just head down this road and take a left” to your masterfully pronounced line.
Most people you’ll encounter will speak English.
However, don’t use this as your excuse. Don’t be that guy. People who speak other languages, regardless of their proficiency in English really appreciate it when you’re giving it a go. Even if you ask if you can buy seven million kilos of rice, instead of just seven (which is still a little much if you ask me), it’s the polite, courteous thing to do and it shows that you respect the way that they do things.
- Key Phrases
This is where phrasebooks can be great tools.
So when I get to a new country, the first thing I learn is the number system- the numbers one to a billion (totally necessary in countries with a ridiculous currency). Sounds like a lot right? Well, think about it. 1-10. How the teens work, how the multiples of ten work, 100. 1000. 1,000,000, 1,000,000,000. That’s about 16 things to remember, and you’ve nailed the number system.
After that, just think about what you’re going to be doing with your time? If you’re doing a lot of market-hopping, learn the words for “How much?”, “Nah mate, that’s far too expensive” and “I wasn’t born yesterday”. Spending a lot of time bungee jumping? Learn phrases like “Are you sure this thing is tied on?” and “Arghhh why did I decide to do this??”. If you’re in Brazil, that one’s “Ayy, por que eu decidir fazer isso??” You’re welcome.
But realistically, you can get by for 80% of life in that country with 20% of the vocabulary. (Big love to Mr. Pareto for that one). So as long as you’ve got your everyday encounters sorted, and the activity specific vocab, who cares if your grammar sucks?
- Body Language
Have you ever been on a balcony, looking down onto a situation that you just know is a breakup. You can tell. We’re smart, man. We can tell what people are saying without even hearing them. Use this! Head onto the interwebz, watch some youtube videos of Czech body language, Cuban body language, find out what it’s all about.
Stick your tongue out at someone in tibet, don’t make too much eye contact in certain parts of Asia and Africa, and wave your arms about in Italy to express… anything at all.
Want a good way to stick this all together and see it in action? Check out some films. Dissect what they’re doing, how they’re saying things, what you understand from the situation- and you will be a lot more prepared when you’re in that country.
I’d suggest a first time with subtitles, then a second without. The first will get you translating in your head, and understanding how they express certain things, and the second time will get you trying to get a feel for what they’re saying without the use of vocabulary knowledge- a skill which you will definitely need if you’re still a novice.
I wouldn’t try to use what you see in the films too much. Characters in films are characters. Imagine meeting a Chinese guy who used this method by watching only Ace Ventura. That. Would. Be. Awesome.
- Speaking With Native Speaker
This has been totally invaluable to me, specifically. Even if you just practice the things you know you’ll need, speaking with a native speaker ups your game from Joey Nobody to Michael Jordan. Or, at least a high school player. Well, the guy that was picked last for the team. But still!
No, this isn’t going to seamlessly transition into an advert for a certain new online system so they give me the money I need to get my car a new alternator- what I would suggest is googling ‘The Mixxer’ - where you put in “I speak English, and I want to learn/practice Portuguese”. About an hour later, Maria from Sao Paulo who wants to practice English will be in touch. Now you can either go on Skype, or- my personal favourite- is to do it on WhatsApp. Then you can send Maria a voice message saying “Oi… vôce.. quero fala… comigo?”, to which she’ll reply. “Vôce quer fala! Seu Português é muito rum!” and you’ll be sufficiently embarrassed.
If you do all these things, not only will you be able to say things you’ll be saying every day, navigate whatever activities you’ll be doing and be able to know when someone wants to let you know something without telling you, but you’ll also know that Maria thinks your Portuguese sucks, but also loves that you’re trying and is patient with you.
Which is what you should be with yourself. It’s hard. But it’s worth it. Don’t be that guy.
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