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Tips for Language Learning

Susan Ernenwein, M.S.Ed.

Anyone who has studied a foreign language knows how difficult it is to become really fluent. The way a language is spoken in a classroom is often different than the more informal style of speaking used in everyday life. There are many idioms and slang terms to become familiar with. Seeking opportunities to actively use language is very important to reach the goal of fluency. Here are some suggestions to help you practice your language skills.

  1. Find a conversation partner. Try to find someone in your school or community that is a native speaker, and ask him or her to meet with you regularly to have conversations in that language. This is a great way to get experience with actual usage, talking to someone with whom you feel comfortable. You'll be able to ask questions about how to speak correctly and appropriately, while discussing topics that interest both of you. Maybe you can offer to help your partner learn your native language also.

  2. Watch some TV. Try to find a foreign language TV station and watch often. At first the actors will seem to speak too quickly, but try to recognize a few words or phrases. Later it'll become easier to follow dialogue. Pay attention to patterns of pronunciation, and the way that the voices rise and fall when questions are asked and statements are made. Children's shows are great for learning and reviewing basic concepts such as alphabets, counting, object names and more. You can gain some understanding of pop culture and life-styles in another country by watching advertisements and game shows.

  3. If you are visiting a foreign country and trying to learn the language, you'll want to take every opportunity to go out and practice. Each day make a habit of going into a place like a shop, restaurant or bank. Even if you're only buying a loaf of bread or a newspaper, you can try to do so in the host language. Successfully making a purchase or getting information in a foreign language will help you become more confident. As you become more comfortable in these kinds of public situations, you can try to engage others in a bit of casual, polite conversation - a comment about the weather, for example. You'll feel less frustrated about your language skills when you accomplish these functional, routine kinds of activities. Going grocery shopping in your hometown may not be very interesting, but in a foreign culture it can be fascinating - any situation can be a learning experience!

Following these suggestions, you'll become an active user of your second (or third) language. Making consistent efforts to speak, listen and interact with others is the way to gain valuable practical knowledge and experience.

© 2002 Susan Ernenwein

Susan Ernenwein has a Master of Science degree in education and, with her partner, Alice Hoover, has been enthusiastically developing the web site CultureBridge.com as a way of sharing knowledge and information. Susan has a long-standing personal interest in international travel and language learning. In addition to extensive travel throughout Europe and Asia, she lived in Japan for over 3 years, where she taught ESL, reading comprehension and writing courses. With her family, she recently hosted a Japanese exchange student for one year, which she found a wonderfully enriching experience.

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