Foreign Language Learning Tips

Matt & Annalee, tutors at Homeworks for Students, offer their advice for gaining fluency of a foreign language.

Intensity of study trumps length of study

Immersion is possible outside of the native country of a foreign language when it is prioritized and scheduled. Being immersed 30 minutes a day, or even every other day, are like heavy work-outs for your language skills. Studying languages over a long period of time only matters if the intensity increases as you learn.

Create your own pocket dictionary

Use a journal type notebook and label it like a dictionary with alphabetical headings. Carry it everywhere and write down words that you hear or don’t know. Later, at home, look up the definition or better yet, ask a friend, teacher or tutor what it meant. Writing it down in your own ‘pocket dictionary’ helps acquire the meaning with the added bonus of referring back to it.

There will be a lot of ambiguity and miscommunication

Learning a language is a full contact sport, you will make a lot of mistakes but grow after every conversation. If you stick to the simple vocabulary and grammar that you know, you will get stuck in a linguistic rut. It’s important to get comfortable with miscommunication, and even more important to give yourself credit every time you learn something new.

Acquiring a new language is like figuring out your identity in that language, and the only way to learn is by interacting with others. Learning a foreign language requires embracing your errors, laughing at the funny ones, and learning from the ones you repeat.

Find a language learning partner

The beauty of language is that it lives in conversations and connections, and that no matter your language ability, you are expanding your knowledge of key vocabulary and grammar every time you flex your speaking and listening muscles. This requires finding a speaking partner, preferably one with better language skills than you. In the process of making conversations, listening to new ideas, or figuring out how to communicate thoughts, students push themselves further into the direction of being able to navigate the world in their new language!

Finally, find a way to make it fun

As is the case for all great things in life, learning a language can be hard and you’re less likely to stick with it if you don’t make it fun. Conversations, art, food, music, hobbies (whatever it is that matters to you) should be involved it in your language learning experience. We are all a Spanish cookbook or a German poem away from doing something we love through the lens of the language we are learning.

Ready, write, study, speak and go explore the world!

Foreign Language Tutor Spotlight:

Annalee has a MA in Hispanic Linguistics from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she taught undergraduate level Spanish. During her undergrad, she studied abroad in Ecuador, Argentina, and Mexico. After her first study abroad, Annalee was hooked on the goofiness involved in complete immersion, and loved the sense of achievement that came with developing the ability to communicate in a new culture. Before earning her MA, she lived in Argentina for 1.5 years and worked with the Minneapolis Public Schools as a Bilingual Associate Educator.

Matt is a licensed k-12 Spanish teacher. He enjoys watching students explore the Spanish language and find their own methods that most help them grow their speaking abilities. Matt lived in Spain for a year, and had the opportunity to teach elementary English. Returning to the U.S. Matt taught Spanish at Highland Senior for 2 years until 2014 when his teaching career led him to develop a passion for working with students with special needs. Matt is currently a Special Educational paraprofessional at the charter school, SPCPA, in St. Paul. When he’s not nerding out about the langue learning process or helping students finish their homework, he can be found outdoors enjoying a book, a good hike, or camping.

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