Monday, October 23, 2017

Five Secrets to Speaking Any Language Fluently by Louise Taylor

We’ve all listened (with varying degrees of envy, depending on our own linguistic abilities) to those who’ve been raised bilingual switching effortlessly between two languages as they converse with friends and family members. Perhaps they can flip from without a moment’s notice from Japanese to English. Perhaps they’re even good enough to offer professional English to French translation services (or translation to and from any other language) and build an entire career out of their linguistic ability.

Whatever the language, fluency in two or more tongues is a wonderful thing. Sadly, for most of us – in the English-speaking world, at least – it doesn’t come naturally as part of our upbringing. 

For most people, mastery of a second (or third, or fourth) language involves a great deal of time learning endless lists of vocab and spending countless hours practicing conjugating verbs – two areas of language that those raised in bilingual homes barely have to give a second’s thought to as they grow up and naturally absorb the languages they hear. 

Grammar and vocab are two essential elements of speaking any language proficiently. However, they’re not the only relevant factors – they are simply two of five items that one must master in order to achieve fluency. As such, we here explore the five secrets of speaking any language fluently, to help speed along your studies and sharpen your linguistic skills. 


1. Grammar


Mastering grammar is essential if you are to speak a language fluently. It is the cornerstone of being able to communicate with any degree of sense. As such, painful though it may seem at times, getting to grips with those dratted irregular verbs is an indispensable part of the process and one that you need to ensure you commit sufficient time to. 

2. Vocabulary


There’s a reason that teachers assign their pupils lists of words to learn, in their first language as well as any other – it’s another essential component of language mastery. The more words you know, the closer you are to fluency. It’s as simple as that. 

If you’re learning another language, therefore, make sure your brain is as exposed to as many new words as possible. Write a list of food items and stick it on the fridge. Read through it every time you open the fridge. As soon as you’ve learned the list, replace it with a new one. Do this in every room in your house, so that you have plenty of opportunities to learn. Bite-size chunks like this should help you to absorb new words every day, particularly if the words are relevant to the room that you’re in, so your mind can build associations to help it remember. 

3. Accent


This is where language learning can be really fun. Accent is a core part of learning to speak another tongue. A superb accent will allow you to do justice to all those hours spent learning lists of words and grammatical quirks. However, attaining the right accent isn’t always easy. 

Babies are born with the ability to speak with any accent imaginable, but lose the skill as they grow up. Studies have shown that part of that loss relates to the way in which we hear sound. Somewhere between six months and a year old, children lose the ability to distinguish between similar sounds that we don’t hear very often. Those exposed regularly to the sounds can still tell them apart, but those with limited or no exposure lose this skill (the English sounds ‘ra’ and ‘la,’ the Chinese ‘shee’ and ‘chee’ sounds and the Spanish pronunciation of ‘p,’ ‘b,’ and ‘v’ all fall into this category). 

As children lose the ability to distinguish between sounds they aren’t exposed to, it becomes harder for them to recreate those sounds. If you didn’t grow up being able to roll your Rs, you’ll have a harder time learning to do so than those who have done it since childhood. 

Research has shown how strong the link between hearing an accent and imitating one can be. If you can imitate an accent, you’re more likely to be able to understand the person speaking to you with that same accent – the brain attunes itself to understanding faster. That’s why practicing your accent when language learning is so important. 

When it comes to accent practice, anywhere will do. Pop in a language CD or tune in to a foreign language radio station whenever you’re driving and chatter along with it. Train your ear to listen to each distinct sound and repeat those sounds over and over. Practice whenever you’re alone, whether it’s in the bath or while you’re making a sandwich. Teach your mouth and your ears to feel their way around the language you’re learning. And if you can’t quite pronounce a particular sound, don’t give up and settle for an approximation – keep going until you’ve perfected it!


4. Immersion 


If you want to speak a language fluently, immersion is key. Textbooks are a great resource, but learning is about more than reading books. Look around you and consider all of the ways in which you are presented with your first language. Then try to recreate that with the language you’re learning. Whether it’s the songs you hear or the videos you watch of the recipes you use to cook your evening meal, try to do as much of it as possible in the new language. 

Linguistic immersion of this nature is a wonderful way of seeing a language from another angle and picking up information that you will struggle to find in books. Does your new language use imperial or metric measurements, for example, when it comes to ingredients? And in either case, how are the measurements abbreviated? Understanding this level of detail is all part of achieving fluency, but it’s an area where vocab lists are of only limited use. You need to experience a language from multiple perspectives in order to understand it fully. 

5. Culture


Culture, too, is a key part of learning a language. This is particularly true when it comes to keeping up with languages as they evolve. In English, ‘corporation pop’ has just been added to the dictionary as slang for ‘water.’ It’s not a term that you’re likely to find in any textbook that teaches English. Most of those who teach English to speakers of other languages probably don’t include it in their syllabus either. To appreciate why ‘corporation pop’ refers to water, you need to understand the office culture of chatting by the water cooler for a few minutes and the social role this plays within companies in the UK.

Understanding the popular culture references and idioms in any language means having a feel for its culture, from ancient traditions to current trends. Magazines and newspapers, both online and offline, are an extremely useful resource in this respect. Keeping up with current developments can reveal a great deal about a country’s culture, morals, standards and more. A decent delve into its history can also be extremely revealing.  

So there you have it – the five key elements of learning to speak a language fluently. If you’re currently studying another tongue, make sure that you incorporate all five of these components in your studies if you want to achieve fluency faster.

Louise Taylor is the content writer of the Tomedes Translation Blog.