As most of you know, languages are kinda my thing. I study French and Spanish at uni and I’ve always been infatuated with the idea of speaking lots of languages! I remember my first family holiday abroad to the South of France when I was 7 and everyday I went to the campsite shop on my own and bought one single apricot, just so I could say bonjour to the lady on the till. That was the beginning of my love of French, and Spanish followed not long after.
I have so many people message me asking for tips on learning a new language, and others who simply say ‘I don’t know how you do it, my brain just doesn’t like languages’. It is definitely true that for some people, it is a lot harder to pick up foreign languages than others, I am very lucky in that respect. Everybody’s brain works in different ways and some people are better at maths and science (definitely not me), but even for those who struggle to pick up the basics, there are ways you can train your brain to embrace a new language.
Here are my top 10 tips to becoming polylingual in no time:
- Immerse yourself: Don’t just read a few pages in a textbook. If you seriously want to learn you need to listen to music, tune in to the radio, watch films with English subtitles, switch your internet browser to the language, change your Facebook settings… Even if you barely understand, your brain will begin to recognize words over time.
- Get a tutor: It is perfectly possible to learn a language on your own but finding a tutor will speed the whole process up. I’m talking the grammar here – it really helps to have somebody sit down and explain the grammar rules and to be there to ask questions when you get stuck.
- Find a partner to practice with: Once you feel confident to start speaking, find somebody of a similar level to yourself to practice conversations. Eventually you will feel confident enough to practice with native speakers, but that can be quite daunting when you can barely string a sentence together. Start slow, and use flashcards of sentence starters if you get stuck.
- Use phone apps to practice in your spare time: I sometimes use Duolingo when learning a new language as you can start from scratch and build your way up as you progress through the levels. It is free and the best language learning app (in my opinion).. You will absorb more if you take notes at the same time, i.e new vocab.
- Visit the country: Obviously it goes without saying if you want to learn a language you should go there and get a feel for the accent, the people, and how they interact with each other. This is the only way you will learn to speak naturally, and to better understand slang. I learnt more French during my year abroad than I have during almost 15 years of study.
- Start a scrapbook: I have different scrapbooks for each of my languages which are basically homemade dictionaries of all of the new words and phrases I learn. I don’t hold back, one minute you read the word ‘peanut butter’, and directly underneath is the phrase ‘go f’ck yourself’. If you want to speak like a native, you need to know the euphemisms, insults, and all…
- Sing in a foreign language: Even if you’re tone deaf, try and learn a song in a foreign language to practice pronunciation. I used to do this in Spanish long before I ever started studying it. I remember learning High School Musical’s Breaking Free in Spanish when I was 9. I paused it every second and wrote out how the words sounded (a jumble of letters that was definitely not Spanish).. but it helped me to get a feel for the pronunciation and how to use your tongue to create certain sounds -i.e the ‘r’ sound.
- Talk to yourself: Maybe not in public as you might get a few funny looks, but when you are alone, you should try to practice speaking. I always narrate what I am doing in the kitchen as I cook as if I’m Nigella Lawson, or I have pretend arguments and act out scenarios in my room in Spanish. you might feel silly but it is the best way to keep it fresh in your head, and if you get stuck and don’t know how to say something it doesn’t matter because nobody is listening!
- Date somebody who speaks the language: I’m definitely not saying you should use someone for their language, but I have dated a few Spanish and French boys over the years and it definitely helps!! They say love is the best motivator to learn a language…
- Enjoy it! Learning a language should be fun so don’t stress if you make an idiot of yourself. The amount of times I have said stupid things and the room has erupted into laughter! (Trust me, I once asked if there was any penis in the fridge for dinner when I meant to say chicken… facepalm). Have confidence in yourself and the rest will follow. The worst thing you can do is doubt yourself and feel embarrassed to speak (I have definitely learnt this along the way)!!
So there you have it, Guru Lucy’s top tips to becoming Spanglish for your next holiday. Learning a language takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but if you put the hours in you will reap the rewards, and there is no better feeling than having a conversation with a local and being understood! I hope this helps those who asked 😛