Language learning sometimes might be boring. And there is a reason for this. Many of us have already learned a foreign language at school for many years. And as we know, in most cases it didn’t lead to big results. So the conclusion we make is that language learning is not for me.
Of course, this is not true because anybody can learn a language, and do it in months, not years. And we can do this in a fun way without even opening a grammar book. How? In this article, I will show you 6 ways to learn any language naturally.
Learn a language naturally? What does it mean?
After studying different approaches to language learning for many years, professor Stephen Krashen came to the conclusion that we all acquire languages the same way — by getting comprehensive input, i.e. by reading and listening.
Based on his theory:
1) We learn languages by using them, not by studying grammar;
Notice, that the process of using the language has to be comprehensive. You cannot learn a language just by hearing the sounds, you have to catch at least half of the meaning.
2) We learn more efficiently when there’s no anxiety.
We learn better when we are not afraid of being judged. Now you see why the language learning system at the school is so bad. They teach us in an absolutely opposite way — studying a lot of grammar, with no comprehensive input, bad estimation and so on. This kind of environment causes students to remain silent because of the fear of getting a bad mark.
Sounds great! So how to learn a language naturally?
Well, it’s pretty easy if you already have an intermediate level. Just find the way to use your target language daily. Again, you have to understand the meaning, not necessarily completely, but at least 40-60%.
In such a way you will guess the unknown words from the content and will grow your vocabulary. If you cannot catch a familiar word in 30 seconds of listening, you will not learn that much. So it’s important to chose material that is relevant to your level of language proficiency.
If you are a beginner, find bilingual short texts on basic topics like human qualities, family, hobbies, work, school etc. It’s better to repeat after a native speaker so text with audio would be perfect. These are necessary to grow your basic vocabulary. Read them aloud and practice your pronunciation.
As for listening, find something with translation into your native language. Once you are familiar with this kind of basic content, pass to a higher level — read and listen to what you would read and listen to in your mother tongue.
The 6 ways you can learn any language naturally:
1. Read articles
It has a lot of advantages. First of all, the language used on the internet is generally simple and full of commonly used words (if the article is not on a specialized subject). Articles are short so you can reach the end, which is not always the case with books (at least in my case).
You can easily copy and paste words you don’t know in a translator. If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, there are a lot of websites where you can check the pronunciation. And don’t miss comments, that’s one place where you can come across many colloquial phrases.
2. Listen to podcasts
This one is definitely my favorite. Surprisingly enough, many people don’t even know what podcasting is. I discovered it some years ago when I was learning English and it significantly boosted my comprehension skills, just in a few months.
It is actually the easiest way to learn a language (and a very efficient one). All you need is to listen to it on a daily basis. It’s important to focus on understanding the message, as I said before. If you let everything fall on deaf ears you’re not going to learn.
The other good thing about podcasts is that you don’t need to stay in one place while listening. Instead, you’re free to listen to it anywhere you go: in public transport while doing sports, working (sometimes) etc. If you want to improve your target language, go to iTunes and find what you like. There are podcasts for any interest on the web, just google it.
3. Watch Youtube videos
This is also a very easy way to learn languages. But it has a disadvantage — you cannot do other things, but sit and watch a video.
It also might be a very time-consuming activity if you do not have a specific goal. You start watching a video with the goal of learning a language, then you follow recommendations on the right, then you pass to a video that has nothing to do with your language learning and so on. Finally, you realize that you have spent the whole day watching videos about anything and basically have learned nothing.
On the other hand, the advantages are also huge. If you approach the matter wisely, you can find a lot of useful information. Lectures, talks, interviews, somebody might be interested in politics or economy. All of these, you can find on youtube.
For those who are learning English, I highly recommend watching TED talks. And, of course, there is a lot of useful information in any language. If you are a beginner you can search for channels teaching a language using visual context to help you understand the meaning. Lots of good stuff there.
4. Read literature
Honestly, I am not a big fan of reading literature in a foreign language. Usually, I want to understand every detail and I try, probably wrongly, to translate every single word I don’t know. It takes me so long to read a single page and I often quit this kind of activity.
I personally don’t like it because the vocabulary used in books (I am talking about classic literature) is so vast, sometimes old-fashioned and in most cases you will never use those words. I am sure that there are a lot of people out there who love reading literature. I would recommend reading bilingual texts, which is probably the fastest way to understand the main idea.
Also, if you’ve already read something in your native language, reread it in your target language. It might take a long time, but keep going, it will greatly increase your vocabulary. If you start learning a language, try to find a book with audio and repeat aloud after the speaker, a great way to improve your pronunciation, just like I said before.
5. Listen to music
I love it! That’s what motivates me a lot. If you really like a song, you will be eager to translate it and maybe even sing it. I do not sing that much myself, but listening to music is what makes me love the language even more.
On the internet sometimes it’s hard to find something that suits your interests. If you have a foreign friend ask him to recommend you some singers and bands. While singing a song in a foreign language you can perfect your pronunciation.
There is a famous polyglot Susanna Zaraysky who claims that language is music, meaning that listening to music and trying to sing it is a very efficient and fun way to learn a language.
6. Watch movies
This is also a very fun way of learning a language. There’s a huge debate on the best way to watch movies: with subtitles in your native language, with subtitles in your target language or without subtitles at all.
It really depends, if you don’t understand a word, subtitles will not help anyway — you should find something easier. If you understand the general meaning, I recommend trying different ways. There is no right way.
Though instead of watching a lot of different movies, try to watch a single one 2, 3 or even 5 times. You will see how effective it is. The first time you watch without subtitles, the second with them, the third time you might want to stop each time you see an unknown word and so on. Again, there is no right way, try and see what works best for you.
And remember, while you are practicing, you are progressing, even if you think you aren’t. So enjoy the time you spend watching great movies. In addition, by watching movies you will see the way people behave, speak, and learn their body language, which is a part of a language.
You can do whatever you like to learn a language. And it doesn’t have to be painful. I hope now you will put aside your grammar book and start enjoying languages.
If you like grammar, there’s no problem with using it. What is important is to do things you like in that language on a daily basis and never stop because it’s very frustrating to start over and over again. Just keep going and there will be a moment when you realize that you can actually speak a foreign language. It’s an amazing feeling!
Of course, the comprehensive input is a very good start, but to become fluent in a language there has to be output as well. In the next articles, I will cover this topic and I will describe the points I’ve mentioned here in more detail. I will also give you the resources that I use to learn languages in a natural way.