“I came here to learn Spanish,” I said to myself, “and therefore I will stop at nothing to learn it.” True, this is a common battle cry of many foreigners as they eagerly step off the plane and onto the soil of their temporary homeland. This eagerness is fleeting in some and concrete in others. Some become bemused and frustrated every time they struggle to order a meal while waiters roll their eyes impatiently. Others remain positive in their quest, but learn only enough to get by. They stick to asking for directions, recommendations and how to order food (of course). However, those who learn are those who accept this foreign language as the catalyst for their new life. They choose to learn, read, yell, laugh, play, argue and sing in their new language. They return to their childhood with the hope to establish this new language just as they had for their first: living and practicing through continuous trial and error.
So, what am I trying to say with this whole spiel? How do you boil down millions of theories on language learning to actions and facts that will help you succeed? Well, I am here to tell you with my six simple steps for learning a language—-HA. Unfortunately, I am no linguist. Nor am I yet a complete master at a second language. The best advice I can offer are things to keep in mind on your quest to a bilingual life. Things I have done, been told to do and wish that I had completed.
1. Live with a host family or native. This is a self-explanatory step in immersing yourself in another language. You can read more about it on another post of mine, “Hostesses with the Mostest.”
2. Go to school with foreigners and where your grade matters. I did not have the opportunity yet to take classes with locals and it is one of my biggest regrets. Forcing yourself to move at the same academic rate as others is challenging but you will always be motivated to keep up. If not, you will be seen as a dumb foreigner and come back with a wounded GPA.
3. Develop a hobby with locals. ‘Urban Gardening’ was my escape from the concrete city and my loophole for not taking classes with the natives.
Adult learning courses put you in contact with people who share your interests while allowing you to interact with them in a relaxed environment. Not to mention you build up your vocab. My Spanish gardening terminology is undoubtedly larger than my English vocab on the subject.
4. Make friends with foreigners. Sign up for exchanges through your university or ConversationExchange.com. Set up as many meetings as you like and eventually you will find a set of great friends. Just be sure to meet in public or within groups until you feel comfortable with your exchange partner.
5. Keep an open mind in everyday situations. Try not to be offended by rude waiters and locals. Everyone has off days and some people have less patience than others. Do not let this stop you from talking to everyone you can.
6. Write down all of the new words you learn. Keep a small notebook on you and to create your own dictionary of words.
Most important in all of this is to look back at yourself as a child and reflect on how you liked to spend your time. The days of your youth were the days you could relax and drink up every new word and phrase. Did you watch a lot of TV? Then ditch all your English shows for Spanish ones. Were you the kid who sat in the back of the room reading during free time? Then read only in French. Did you prefer to sing and dance as your parents filmed you? Then put German music on your iPod, get drunk and dance around the stage of a karaoke bar while you sing your new tune. Enjoy the time you have to learn.