When it comes to learning languages, how can we become multilingual? Can we teach ourselves?
Is there a fast way? Is it necessary to go abroad to study a foreign language?
In the course of teaching myself several foreign languages I have realized a few things. I would like to share those lessons to provide some information with people who are interested in studying languages themselves.
Having an interest and love for the language you are learning is fundamental. With that you can gain knowledge easily. Learn with passion and wonder about many things. Get interested and have fun. Studying another language can be a tool to have fun, expose you to new experiences and be a strong weapon to change your life.
Let’s look at how to teach yourself a language more specifically:
1. Memorize the Characters
Obviously, you have to memorize the chracters in order to read and write.
2. Study Grammar
If you are not trying to be a linguist, you don’t necessarily have to study grammar terms like subject, object, etc., but you should learn how to conjugate. You should find the verb infinitives and conjugate them appropriately.
For example, in English, let’s say you are studying the grammar rules for ‘want to do something’. To make it work, you should add infinitives such as go, eat, study, etc. right after ‘to’. Then you will make the sentences: “I want to go”, “I want to eat”, and “I want to study”.
It’s simple, right? From there you can begin to memorize words like ‘he’ and ‘she’ and swap them out with ‘I’ to make new sentences.
Korean language, Japanese, Chinese and many other languages work the same way. Try to understand as
simply as possible, so that you will be able to say whatever you want if you have the right words. You can make thousands of sentences if you learn proper grammar.
3. Memorize Words Everyday, little by little
Instead of memorizing 10-20 words all at once, I recommend memorizing the words around you one at a time.
Take an interest in things and situations around you and learn these words first. Put them in a portable device that you always have with you such as a cellphone. Use your free time, for example, waiting for the bus or riding the subway, to look at the words you entered whenever possible. It is also good to write the words on memo paper (like Post-it Notes) and stick them all around you. You can stick the words right next to your bed, on your desk, refrigerator, light switches, mirrors, closets, etc., so that you can always review these new words.
4. Study with Movies and TV Shows
Downloading a movie or a drama with subtitles is an easy way to be influenced by any language.
First, pause what you are watching and read the subtitles out loud before an actor speaks, then play it and listen to what the actor says. Pause it again, and mimic the actor.
Repeat this a few times until you get used to it and feel like you are speaking just like the actor. By doing this, you are studying the accent and intonation that the actor has. It can be helpful to memorize and learn some words and expressions that you hear as well. Words you don’t know can easily be searched on the internet.
Simply watching dramas and movies without practicing can be helpful too, but only when you are already familiar with the language.
5. Talk to Native Speakers
Talk with native speakers in person, over the phone, through texting or on a computer every day.
If possible, make friends with native speakers who have the same interests as you. Use tools such as penpal websites, applications, voice calling, and video calling for chances to talk to them as much as you can. Social media outlets are not only for sharing your thoughts and pictures with your friends, but also can be useful tools to study languages. Many language exchange applications exist to reach native speakers of the language you are learning.
6. Meet Native Speakers
Memorizing words and studying grammar at your desk is not the only way to study languages. Meet people, hang out with them, and spend time with them, too!
You should be exposed to the circumstances in which the language is used. Don’t be shy even though you have just started studying, and be confident even though you will make mistakes. Use mistakes as another way of studying and take note when you make them. Review and correct the mistakes you made and try to use the correct language the next time.
7. Don’t Ask Why
There are many questions you should ask when learning a language, for example, you should ask if things are correct or not. But if you are not a linguist, and only want to speak, understand and interact with other people in the language you are studying, don’t ask why! It is not important to figure out why ‘bag’ is ‘bag’ in English for instance. Instead, focus your energy on what is essential, the actual use of the language. If you are using the language correctly, keep using it. If not, fix your mistakes. Irregulars? Memorize them!
8. Take the Language As It Is
Once you start learning a language you might have a habit of translating the language into your
mother tongue. Doing this is okay at the beginning, but it is not a good habit. Native speakers would not read a book by translating it in their heads. Think of yourself as a native speaker of your new language and try to read and understand and speak as they do. It won’t be easy at the beginning but you will get used to it and be able to speak and listen to native speakers without translating.
9. Use the Circumstances Around You
Let’s say there’s a man walking outside, a girl is on the phone, another person is driving, and someone is drinking coffee.
Don’t just walk away. Think about the situations in your head like “A man is walking”, “A girl is talking on the phone with her friend” and see if you can describe these situations in the language you are studying.
Listen to what people are saying around you and think about how to say the phrases you hear in the language you are studying.
Everything that happens around you can be an opportunity to learn. In this way, you don’t need to go abroad to study a language.
You don’t have to use big, difficult words. You don’t have to try to find a perfectly matched word from your mother tongue. Instead, use simple words that you have learned and already know.
Don’t forget that a great speaker is not a person who explains things with big words, but one who
explains things using easy words that can be understood by people from age 10 to 100.
I hope these tips will help you as much as they helped me in learning new languages. Good luck and don’t give up.
Written by SongWon, an author of Korean Grammar for Speaking