When you first start learning a language, you may feel the need to “get to a certain level” before you can start actively using your skills. This magical “certain level” of proficiency, unfortunately, has a nasty way of being like a mirage – every time you get close enough to reach it, it seems to shimmer just a bit more down the road. In order to avoid the mistake of focussing solely on passive language learning and to put your skills to use from your first encounter with a language, we’ve compiled this list of tips on how to start actively using a language from day one.
Consider Your Goals
In the language hacking circles, there is a lot of emphasis on starting to speak your target language from day one. While this is a very commendable goal, it also doesn’t leave much room for the wide variety of reasons why people learn a language. If your goal is to freely communicate with native speakers in their mother tongue, this is a very good principle to follow. However, if you need to learn a language to read literature in your field, for example, or write professionally, it does little to help.
The more you practice each of the four skills, the more at home you will be at using them. So, if your goal is to read the newest scientific magazines in French, or write perfect Spanish, you should shift your focus accordingly.
Get the Basics, Take It from There
Use a phrasebook to learn the very basic phrases and vocabulary you need to start improving and then start building on that. Although this might seem like a huge task, breaking it down to manageable pieces will help you improve quickly. Set weekly and daily goals of what you want to achieve – for example, write a short introduction about yourself without mistakes, or be able to understand a children’s radio show.
Figure out ways to achieve your goals quickly – watch Sesame Street in French to help your understanding of the language, try language exchange to converse with native Thai people, or learn the Arabic alphabet.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
While this is a tip focused more on people looking to improve their skills quickly, it’s also a useful motto to follow when you’re not specifically focussed on rushing to fluency. This is because the comfort zone has this magical trait of being quite flexible – if you spend time out of it, in a situation that was at start new and intimidating, your comfort zone will stretch to include these new conditions. And before it does, your brain works hard to acquire new skills.
In language learning terms, this mostly means that you should keep putting yourself in situations where you need to actively use and practice you target language. You’re very lucky if you live in a country where your target language is widely used but, even if that’s not the case, there are always ways to push yourself to more.
The internet provides so many options for practicing any language you might want to learn, that there really is no excuse for not actively putting your skills to use from day one!