When traveling in a foreign country, English is of course often very useful but mastering, at least partially, the language of the country opens many doors.
With Deux Pas Vers l’Autre, we will walk across 17 countries in which 13 languages are spoken! The two of us speak French, English, Spanish and some basics in Italian. There are 9 remaining languages to learn - even if we may put Catalan aside, since we can make it work with Spanish...!
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Obviously, we do not aim at mastering perfectly all these languages, but as we will meet people along the road, we will need to be able to communicate with them, at least for the basics. Therefore, we have tried to categorized the various languages we will have to learn over the next months, and here below is our method:
This is the first piece of advice I would give you because it is the one that helped me the most when I was learning English. When I understood that if I made the effort to speak their language, people would, in return, make the effort to understand me, this unlocked a lot of things in the learning process.
The key is to get rid of our fear of making mistakes, not to take ourselves too seriously. In fact, we must accept to go back being a little child, and to dare saying things as they come, without taboo or inhibition.
By accepting this, we feel less likely to end up being in intimidating or even embarrassing situations. Each interaction is an opportunity to put our skills into practice and makes it more easier for the next one.
Of course the grammar is important but I do not think you should wait for mastering it perfectly before daring to give it a try. Despite using the wrong verbal form or putting a word at an unusual position in a sentence, the sentence will always be understood by indulgent and open-minded people. If you have scruples, start the conversation by explaining that you are learning and would like to practice, most people will be patient or even happy to help.
2. Let's integrate the new language into our daily life
There are many ways to spread the new language into your everyday life: watching films and series in original language, then subtitled in the original language, listening to the radio, reading the press, change the language of your phone device, install a mobile app, subscribe to a flow in the language studied on social networks, sing in the shower... There are dozens of possibilities, to each one’s own, the important thing is to be confronted with the language every day. When I was learning Spanish, listening to and singing songs helped me a lot (Lhasa de Sela, the soundtrack of the film Frida, some Peruvian tunes of cumbia, La Yegros...).
As for mobile applications, the following ones are those we think are the best, each of them having their own pros and cons:
Duolingo: no need to introduce this one anymore, the application is free of charge, customizable by allowing us to set daily goals, suggests tests every week, identifies our weak points and makes us review them on a regular basis.
Babbel: this was created by a small German Start-up, it is today a reference in the field. Compared to Duolingo, you have to pay for it but it allows to go further in the learning.
Memrise: this application is not exclusively dedicated to languages but rather to memorization in the broad sense. Memrise offers lists of vocabulary classified according to the frequency of use of the words - very useful.
Gymglish : here we have fun!. Gymglish sends an audio file each morning, after listening to it, you have to read the course and answer questions. The application sends you the result together with an explanation for each error.
With all these tricks, learning quickly becomes a normal part of our daily life rather than a chore at the end of the day.
3. Learn together
Let’s be honest, learning a language can make you feel really lonely...
From experience, I confirm that it is much more friendly and therefore more effective to learn with other people. By motivating someone in our environment to learn the same language, we can then share the difficulties, help each other, re-motivate each other if needed and even add some competition to spice up the exercise.
4. Practice with native speakers
This is obvious, to progress one must practice and, ideally, with native speakers. If you know someone among your acquaintances, you can probably ask them to arrange meetings and conversations. In my opinion, these situations always seem unnatural to me and the strength of habit always takes over and it seems more spontaneous to me to speak with strangers.
Where to find these strangers? When you are traveling, it is easy to find people on the spot, but it is also possible to anticipate it a bit and meet them in our home location. Today, there are many websites that allow people who wish to practice one or more languages to get connected:
Meetup: this website organizes meetings around diverse and varied interests. Learning a language is one of them but there are dozens of others.
Tandem: the app allows you to chat directly with people from all over the world. The little plus of Tandem is that it connects people with common interests. We find ourselves talking about hiking in Portuguese or about the last Spielberg movie in Italian with someone who happens to live on the other side of the globe.
Couchsurfing: this site is normally used to find a couch to spend the night and at the same time to meet people, by selecting the city and filtering on the spoken language, the website can be used to find people close to home. People willing to welcome strangers to sleep at home are usually quite open to the idea of meeting new people, a small message later, you find yourself drinking a coffee together while practicing the language!
When we hear a language for the first time, it can seem very strange, diametrically opposed to what we know and the way to go before mastering it seems endless. When we hear it regularly, it quickly becomes less foreign, we get more familiar with the sounds, we recall things heard previously. Thus, the more we hear it, the easier and more natural it becomes to express oneself in a new language.
The safest way to pronounce words or even difficult sounds is to hear it regularly, to repeat it and to understand how the sound is produced. Indeed, each sound corresponds to a position of the mouth and all of its muscles. This is the first step in the learning process. Remember that you learned your native language by listening to and repeating well before you could read or write it.
The human being learns most of the things they know by watching others doing and mimicking afterwards.
Every idiom and every accent has their own gestures, their own movements of mouth, lips, tongue and even of throat. A good way to understand them is to observe a native speaker and try to reproduce these gestures at the same time as repeating the sounds.
If you do not have a native speaker on hand, movies in original version or even any You Tube video are an infinite source of examples.
7. Use what we know
When we discover a language, what often strikes us the most are the differences with our mother tongue. Looking at it a little closer and especially if we already speak another foreign language, we can identify many similarities that will be of a great help for memorization.
This is obviously the case for all Latin languages that share a similar grammar and a wide range of vocabulary but the principle applies to others: English, Dutch and German are Germanic languages and many words have common roots in these three languages. If you speak English already, learning the other two languages will be easier if you try to see the positive side of things, that is resemblance rather than differences.
In the same way, with Deux Pas Vers l’Autre, the Southern Slavic languages share a lot and once we know a bit of Croatian, it will be easier to apprehend the Serbian and the Bosnian. For example, here is the word coffee in these three languages: kava / kafa / kahva.
Even before starting to learn a new language, sometimes you know more than you think!
8. Set goals
"In a week, I will be able to conjugate in the present the verbs ending in 'IR'", "next month I will be able to introduce myself, where I live, what are my hobbies, my job...". Depending on the reason that decided you to learn a language, these objectives can be very varied.
As for me, I made the decision to improve my English skills due to work-related reasons. To tell the truth, I had not decided so much but I ended up working with a British boss, determined to speak English only. I had to adapt and I do not regret it! At the time, my goals were more like "this week I will write three emails per day in English", "next week I will know the vocabulary to take a job interview in English"...
I find that these small challenges are useful for keeping up the pace of learning, they also make it possible to measure our progress and therefore to remain motivated to carry on.
9. Repeat, repeat, repeat
You have to repeat over and over again! On the one hand, it is probably the best way to remember something, on the other hand it trains our mouth to pronounce unusual sounds and to make them more spontaneous.
To repeat what we hear and to imitate a native speaker, even without understanding all what is pronounced, is an excellent exercise. Again, the most important thing is to take it as a game and all the occasions are good to take: a podcast while cooking, watching of a film... This technique, sometimes called shadowing, brings us back to our young years when we learned to speak by listening, mimicking and repeating over and over again.
We do not always have at hand someone being available to help us practicing so why not just talking to oneself? It may sounds a bit odd, even really bizarre, but I think that just hearing oneself speaking into another language can increase our self-confidence and help us memorize the vocabulary.
10. Let's have fun
Beyond revisions and conversations, I think it's important to have fun and find pleasant ways to practice.
I just found this hereafter mentioned site that I found super funny: Lyrics Training. The aim to complete the lyrics of the song that is played out and several languages are available. And this is the moment where you realize that you have always sung it wrong!
To each person their own taste and all means are good! For my part, when I learned Spanish I organized a dinner taking Spain as a theme for the party: tapas, tortilla, paella and Catalan cream and one watchword: everyone makes the effort to jabber in Spanish. The sangria helping, we had a real good time!
There are a thousand other opportunities to practice while having fun, it's up to you to find yours!
A bientôt ! See you soon! ¡Hasta la proxima! Görüşürüz! Θα σας δούμε σύντομα ! Até logo !
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