When you are choosing to learn a language for the love of learning (and to join Camp Acquisition), there are many decisions to be made. From language choice to learning materials, it's all up to you! How do you feel about that - liberated to be free from school classes and teachers, or wary of riding without stabilizers?
My friend Ruth has recently gone through this process and documented it quite impressively on her new blog. I'm really excited that she's giving readers a close-up of getting to know the new language, right from the start. I have drawn some effective tips for all new language learners from Ruth's experience to make sure you hit the ground running.
Document the Motivation
Motivation is at the heart of your new adventure. Write down three things that you feel you get out of being a person who speaks a foreign language, and imagine the kinds of situations in which you'd use it. You should use positive thinking techniques here and really picture yourself being the speaker you want to be. If you're hiring a tutor, tell them about your goals too.
Once your list is complete, print it out or type it up so you have a copy. Paste it into your textbook or dictionary. Refer back to it in three months.
Create a Shortlist
Ruth found that one of the hardest decisions about language learning was the question "Which language is right for me?" She says:
After my initial fancy, I tend to think pragmatically. So for example, I have a curiosity about Chinese, but having done Japanese for a while I know that it takes a long time to progress in a language which is so different, and I have to be realistic with myself which is to say I do tend to lose interest when I don’t see any progress. So it then becomes a case of what do I want to do in my heart for the genuine motivations and then what will I realistically stay tuned in to, and I think Russian is more likely than Chinese in that respect. So I think I would like to stick with the Russian plan.
It's really important to think about the following questions to make sure your language learning plan is realistic as well as pie-in-the-sky ambitious:
- How much do I already know about the structure of my own native language?
- Am I fired up for this challenge, or a little apprehensive and tempted to keep it safe? (Consider this for guidance.)
- How much time can I dedicate to the learning project?
- Which language matches up with my motivation?
You have put all this thought into the project, now you have GOT to get started. Exactly how that looks is up to you alone. Some people want to really throw themselves into the adventure and "Speak from Day 1". Others prefer the scenic route: take some pressure off, perhaps listen and repeat the BBC Language Tasters.
It's important to make the pace something you are comfortable with, but also to put yourself to the test. Ruth did this very admirably when she got straight in front of the camera to practice her pronunciation and speaking habits. You could also use a proofreader from (for example) People per Hour or Gumtree, or upload your audio to Soundcloud.
You Have Now Lift Off
However little your first step may have been, it doesn't matter. Welcome! It was that easy. You have started learning a new language!