The Most Important Stages of Foreign language Studying

Knowing an extra language is always a plus. Today, learning foreign languages is more important than ever. However, when we decide to start learning, a myriad technical and practical questions arise and get us lost and confused.

There are a lot of books and even more Internet posts about the stages of language-learning from the academic point of view. However, there are stages that have little to nothing to do with pedagogy. They are also crucial, and yet they are often overlooked. Here are a few important stages of studying a foreign language many people ignore, along with some tips and ideas on how to avoid any discomfort at a given stage.

1. GETTING A MOTIVATION

People often drop studying a foreign language soon after they start, which is extremely sad. There may be reasons of all sorts, but more often than not, it happens due to the lack of motivation. Studying a foreign language is a long process, that may be exhausting at times. This is why it is important to find something that will strongly motivate you in the long run, that will get you committed to the cause. Wanting to impress a certain native speaker or a group of them is obviously a weak motivation. Job-related matters or some of the more personal reasons, on the other hand, may just do well enough.

2. SETTING GOALS

After making up our minds on studying a certain language, we most often pick a textbook or a language course without being too critical about it (at best, just having read some reviews and testimonials online and/or having asked around for references). The ultimate truth is that you are the person responsible for your success in language study. This is why, you need to remember that your primary goal is to learn the language, and not to please the teacher or, as funny as it may sound, a virtual tutor figure from the textbook. You are the one in control over the level of your knowledge, and you are the main person who has to work for it. So, you should set ‘intermediary’ goals during the course of your studies.

For the sake of illustration, here is an example. Researches have shown that about 50% of spoken communication in any given language comprise of 100 most common words. So, it only makes sense to start with memorizing these words.

Once done, you can safely move on and begin with the grammar. Some of the most basic sentences (such as ‘Where can I eat?’ or “I don’t like this color” or “I am 27 years old”) should give you quite the insight into the fundamentals of grammar.

3. INVITING THE LANGUAGE INTO YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE

Merely visualizing the benefits of knowing an extra language in some distant future is not enough. Find the practical application of mastering this particular foreign language. Make this language a part of your lifestyle. The most obvious way is to start watching movies and TV-shows in the original language, memorize the catch phrases, and use them in your everyday life. But you are more than welcome to be inventive about it.


4. RELEASING THE INNER CHILD

Of course, you should not tease the heck out of your pets or eat with your hands at a restaurant, but you should not be afraid of failure. There is a popular idea that children are much better learners than adults. The reason for that, so it seems, is that a child is not afraid to make mistakes, but rather expected to. An adult, on the other hand, is expected to be perfect at everything. The very idea of making a mistake is some kind of a social taboo. It is understandable how a doctor or a policeman is not allowed to make mistakes – their mistakes are often critical. While learning a foreign language, on the contrary, the life or welfare of any human being (or any being, for that matter) does not exactly depend on a single little word that you might mispronounce. You might notice that adults say “I can’t” much more often than “I haven’t learned that yet.” It is clear that “I can’t speak Spanish” sounds much worse and pessimistic than “I haven’t learned Spanish yet.” This is the point in releasing your inner child and recollecting the days when everything was new and exciting, and this is one of the most important stages of learning a foreign language. Remember that you learn by making mistakes.

5. ACCEPTING THE POSSIBILITY OF MISTAKES

It is quite an unfortunate fact, but nobody is perfect. Surely, the path to knowing a foreign language is full of hidden pitfalls, but it is not as dark and full of terrors, as one might imagine. You will surely make some mistakes on your way, so you need to be ready to accept them and work on them. At times, it may look like you are making just too many mistakes, that learning a foreign language is simply not your cup of tea, and that you should probably quit. But don’t let it get to you. Just stay on your way and you are sure to succeed.

6. MAKING FRIENDS WITH NATIVE SPEAKERS

Time will come, when you feel ready to interact with the native speakers. As soon as you feel ready – do so. If you cannot find the so much needed native speaker in your area – just go online. There is a great variety of platforms where you can get a partner for a chat and/or Skype. People often use those for the same reasons as you, and so surely you can find someone who is learning your mother tongue and is desperate for your help.

You cannot possibly overestimate the importance of immersing yourself into the language environment. You should not feel embarrassed if your native-speaking counterpart points out and corrects your mistakes. As a matter of fact, you should encourage them to do so and be grateful when they do. However, people often overestimate the role that a native speaker can play in foreign language learning. Most people are not trained as experts in linguistics and pedagogy, so avoid having too high expectations from a native speaker. Moreover, if you remember every native speaker of your mother tongue, you will surely notice that they do not always speak perfectly. In fact, many of them will make mistakes repeatedly. So, putting it briefly, do interact with native speakers as much as you can, but maintain a critical approach.

Speaking of which…

7. BECOMING CRITICAL

If you are learning a foreign language with a teacher or a tutor, you will surely reach a stage where some of the things they say just seem wrong to you. Such a “mistake” may lie in any field of linguistics: it can be phonetic, or grammatical, stylistic, etc. You might also encounter such things while interacting with a native speaker, watching a TV-show or a movie in the original, or even listening to a song in the foreign language that you are studying. Of course, it does not mean that the “mistake” you have spotted is an actual mistake. Nevertheless, don’t be shy to ask your tutor about it or to give it a thorough investigation yourself. This will give you the opportunity to discuss a certain linguistic phenomenon, ultimately resulting in a better insight into the structure of the language. With such practices, you will most surely avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

Not everything is written in the books, including the books on pedagogy. So, if you decided to study a foreign language, do not expect your teacher or tutor to do all the work for you. This post lists a few stages that every learner of a foreign language passes (or should pass), but you will unlikely find all of them in textbooks. Consider these recommendations before you begin studying a foreign language, and – who knows – your studies might just become much more effective!

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