You can actually learn a language naturally without going to school or studying a textbook. I call this “Language Of Life”.
Many expatriates who live outside their native environment can prove this theory to be true. That you do not need a textbook or go to school to learn a foreign language, you just need to experience the language at the place where you work or travel. Young infants can speak by the age of 2 years old or earlier, well before they go to school to be taught to read. There are many ordinary people who will tell you they never went to school to study English but started to speak English in order to sell something, to serve somebody, or simply to communicate with people who only spoke English. Those who live in a multi-lingual community will also tell you the same thing abou their multi-lingual skills.
What these expats, young infants and ordinary folks have in common is the the ‘surrender‘ factor. They surrender themselves to the environment and allow themselves to be immersed in that language. They have inquiring minds and that in turn drive them to make connections with the language.
Here are some of my personal tips on how to learn a language naturally:
- Study phrases in isolation without translating them after understanding its meaning.
- Do not stop saying or using the same words you have learnt until they become as natural as your native language. You may only be saying Buenos Dias for months, but you will soon discover others will say Bien dia or Bueno tardes. The key is to seek familiarity with repetition. The more familiar you are with one or two words, the easier it is to notice new word combinations.
- Listen once and use it often enough to discover the difference in sounds, intonations and way of pronouncing the words. Your goal is enjoy learning it. If repeating is boring, then you may have a problem. How often do we say “I need to…” or “I want to…” or “I have to….” etc? We say them so regularly that we forget that they have become part of us.
- Work with topics or subjects which you will definitely use in your conversations or dicussions on a daily basis. What is the point of learning words associated with driving when you don’t have to drive everyday or do not own a car?
- Look for concrete objects around or near you, which you can point to and make connection between words and the objects. However, I did try that method with my Arabic teacher once, and it was effective only when I had her to prompt me as we spoke. But as soon as she left my house, I totally forgot what I just used. The only way is to repeat step 3, 4, and 5 until my next lesson.
- Live and let live. Mistakes are bound to surface when you attempt to string a few words on your own in a sentence. This may embarrass some adults but certainly not with young infants. In fact we are amused and entertained by their efforts to speak properly. Enjoy the journey and the progression from one phase to another overtime.
- You can set targets but do not make deadlines. Enjoy the journey as the lessons unfold. When we learn naturally, the language should come to you. Of course, we can still seek help with others, refer to dictionaries, listen to the radio or read story books. Learning naturally doesn’t mean do nothing. It means you should feel comfortable to go about your normal activities even while you are learning something new.