1) Think carefully about what is the best way to learn a language.
The first thing I’d say is that it is good that you are asking that question. Many students, teachers and course books launch into the task of learning a language without even thinking about or discussing the ‘why’ the ‘how’ and the ‘what’s best?’ There are many good ways to learn a language but there are bad methods as well, that people think are good, but don’t work. So the first point is simply to spend a few moments thinking about this issue. It’s definitely worth it.
2) Learn from interesting material just about your level.
This is a basic feature of my approach to language learning but very often, students and teachers plough through a course book without any thought to the content: Is it interesting and relevant to use as source material for language learning? Is it at the right level? Not too difficult and not too easy? I favour learning a language by using interesting and useful content in the language. By ‘working with’ I mean reading and listening, figuring out, noticing patterns and extracting new words and phrases for memorisation. Understanding content is the key to language learning but very often, language courses focus instead on tasks for students to complete, or they focus on trying to explain complex grammar points, which leads me on to my next point:
3) Don’t worry about grammar.
Students have difficulty with grammar and become frustrated. They want answers, they want absolute rules to learn and apply. The problem is that trying to learn complex rules before you are familiar with the language is pointless. The best approach to grammar is to observe it in action every time you are working with a new piece of language. Look for simple explanations as to why it’s der, den or dem or there, they’re or their, and learn it in stages. First recognition, active use comes later. The more content in the language you consume, the faster you will improve your grammatical accuracy.
4) Learn vocabulary from language in action, not from lists.
I’ve seen YouTube videos where endless lists of vocab are recited out loud, in the hope that the student will be able to memorise them. It doesn’t work! The reason is that you learn new words and phrases when they are linked with meaningful ideas. It’s much better to see the words embedded in a text or used in a dialogue. You will start to consolidate your knowledge when you see the same words used in a new context. Words often have multiple meanings. A simple definition as found in a list just isn’t enough.
5) Try to ensure you work with the language every day.
‘Work with’ can simply mean speaking aloud, or reading an article or headline, doing some vocabulary exercises using an app or simply saying numbers or phrases aloud from memory. It’s important to have the contact with the language every day. Ideally you need to make it part of your life. Today there are many opportunities to do this through websites, apps, social media, notifications and lots more. And yet people go to live in the country where a foreign language is spoken and don’t even learn one word of it. They fail to take advantage of the language environment around them. Even if you don’t live in the country it’s possible to create exposure to the language. Learn a little every day and a lot on some days and you won’t go far wrong.
6) Try to learn basic words and phrases thoroughly.
In my experience I’ve found many students fail to learn the basics properly. They start by learning important words and phrases and then move on to other topics before they have learned them properly. I have developed a plan to help students to learn the essential words and phrases thoroughly. I have developed my ‘Essential Language Learning Course’ which aims to help students, even at a higher level, to achieve fluency and accuracy at a basic level. I’ll be posting more information about the course, but watch out for links and tweets.