Picture this: you’re lying in bed after awakening from a really vivid dream. You’re just starting to wake up, and as you scratch your head to recall your dream, it hits you--everyone was speaking a foreign language, and you were too!After studying a foreign language actively for a couple of years it’s pretty common to be able to speak and even think in a non-native tongue. I’ve personally felt the disappointment of grasping for a once familiar word, only to feel embarrassed by an awkward pause or a misused phrase. If you’re anything like me, then you probably could have used a little extra encouragement, or even some guidance on the best way to relearn a language you forgot.Here are some of the best practices that we’ve found for reclaiming your language speaking mojo.First, if you’re worried that you won’t be able to pick up where you left off, just check out what science has to say about language reacquisition here and here. Basically, studies have indicated that if you’ve been exposed to a language early in life--such as during school--you are more likely to be able to pick it up faster, even if you weren’t fluent. For more on this check out this article we wrote on how to learn a language so that you won’t forget it.
Regain Your Confidence
Confidence is the cornerstone of learning a language. When you speak with eloquence, wit, and poise it sets you up for being well-received. It will also help you through the non-verbal language gaps that aid and assist effective communication. On the road to gaining more confidence, you must be willing to practice. Practice and rote repetition aren’t always considered fun, however, they are a must! Believe it or not, there are ways to make practicing much more fun and easier to manage.You may have heard that it’s more important to gauge how you practice rather than how much you practice. Like anything else, learning requires constant, incremental progress. Therefore, sitting at a desk for eight hours a day reading French novels isn’t necessarily the best way to get the job done.Instead, using a process known as “chunking,” you can divvy up your workload to not only improve retention, but keep your time management skills in check.In order to create the most effective strategy for relearning a language, you have to be clear on what your goals are. If you just want to be able to understand your native-speaking friends, your practice strategies will be different from someone looking to learn Mandarin before an important executive meeting.In the first scenario variety, fun, and small doses of learning will be your friend. In the latter, you will want to spend a few hours each day prepping and absorbing the language and culture.In order to obtain the confidence you need to learn a foreign language you will need to focus on two things: practice and immersion.
“It is easier, and much more time-efficient, to catch up versus keep up.”- Tim Ferriss
1. Practice at Restaurants
If you want to take Tim Ferriss’s expert advice and play catch up, rather than keep up, using local restaurants is one of your best bets in terms of developing fluency and real world experience. There’s nothing that helps you remember your language learning nuances quite like ordering the wrong item on a French menu. For proper reception, make sure to inform your server that you will be practicing your foreign speaking skills. Make sure to ask for permission--being polite is appreciated in every culture. Try to go during off-hours, or when you can spend more time developing real relationships. A server is more inclined to say ‘yes’ when he or she isn’t bombarded with ten full lunch tables.
2. Get coffee with a native speaking friend
Rebuilding competence can be a real challenge. However, nothing will help you more than learning how to joke, or sharing a laugh with one of your good friends. You can share the overlap between languages and ideally, they will be patient enough to show you the ropes.
3. The importance of a mentor/teacher
A mentor can help you craft a working vocabulary that is similar to the way you normally speak. For example, if you are very eloquent in your vernacular in your normal tongue, you don’t want to speak like an elementary student in a foreign language. A mentor can help you to make the most of your efforts.Here are a few tricks that we suggest in order to enhance your ability to learn a language.
- Focus on learning the major words of your chosen language. 300 words make up nearly 80% of all communication!
- Learn the cognates--you know, the words that sound the same. For example in English you might use the suffix ‘tion’ where in Spanish it’s literally ‘cion’ changing one letter creates the same familiar word, but now it’s in Spanish.
Regaining your flow is about finding your fluency. And fluency comes down to being able to pick up on the nuances of a language. It’s the small intricacies that make you appear deliberate, rather than mis-informed. In order to create an immersible experience (without traveling to another country) you only need two things: a wifi connection, and a library card.Start listening to your favorite media in a foreign language. It’s important that you know and are familiar with the plot so that you can focus extra mental energy on engaging with the language. Try listening to your favorite books on Audible in your chosen language. Aim to watch at least one movie per day with language subtitles to help you better understand the culture. Grab a pair of headphones and listen to your favorite music in another language. And when you really want to become a language learning star, begin reading and writing in the language.The most important thing to remember is that effort and consistency are the keys to regaining your language speaking skills. Give yourself a break and remember to be gentle with yourself. Don’t rush to learn everything all at once. Being patient and gradually learning will help you to not only retain information better, but to have more fun along the way. And lastly, don’t compare yourself to others. If you put in the work and enjoy your practice time that’s all that truly matters.
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