Monday, February 26, 2018

How to Know When You're Ready to Curse in a Foreign Language by Olivia Ryan

People say you don’t know a foreign language unless you know to swear in it. As a matter of fact, swearing in a foreign language has become such a joy to many learners, some teachers will dedicate a class to it. While this may sound terribly wrong to some people, a course on the subject could actually be a good idea.

You've probably already met someone whose only knowledge of a foreign language is limited to a couple of swear words. This is one of the most interesting aspects of a language to many, but should they really learn it before they learn anything else?

The answer is no. Knowing how to swear is not something you should be really proud of, but knowing how to curse correctly is a certain achievement for some language learners. After all, this is a part of every language, and mastering the swearing can be as equally fulfilling as mastering any other part of the language.

While you may know a few swear words in a foreign language, you mightn't know how to swear until you have a certain level of knowledge of that language. You'll probably try to shoehorn these words into sentences and end up making no sense whatsoever. You may end up saying something you don't mean and causing offence, especially given that swearing is already offensive by nature. Using the wrong swear words at the wrong time can get you into serious trouble.

There is a fine line between using foreign language swear words and simply rambling words you learned along the way. You're ready to start swearing in a foreign language when:

1. People Don’t Slow Down in their Language to Help You Understand Them

At the beginning of your foreign language learning, you probably noticed how people slow down their speech intentionally to help you keep up. Even if you don’t ask people to do this, they will probably adjust their speech because you look scared and confused look and constantly ask them to repeat what they said.

When you finally get to the needed level of fluency, people will stop doing such modifications for you.

2. You Understand Their Humour

Everyone knows that humour doesn't translate. Only a person with solid knowledge in a language can start understanding the humour of said language, and this is a result of knowledge of both the speakers’ culture and speech.

Can you understand the comedy in the language, or do you still need someone to explain the jokes to you?

As soon as you understand the punch lines and jokes, you're one step closer to swearing. You should be proud of yourself – understanding humour is a great achievement for any foreign language learner.

3.  You Can Eavesdrop on Other People’s Conversations in the Foreign Language

Yes, it is not a good thing to do, but we all do it. When you finally find a person who speaks the language you are dedicated to learning, your instincts will probably make you eavesdrop, at least a little. It's hard not to get lost in someone else's conversation if you're trying to learn their language.

4. You Can Correct Your Own Mistakes

Being fluent in a foreign language does not make you a native speaker. You are bound to make mistakes from time to time.

The difference between a beginner and an advanced speaker is that the latter doesn't need others to to tell them when they make a mistake. If you can correct your mistakes as and when you make them, you're well on your way.

5. You No Longer Actively Focus on the Language

In the beginning of your learning adventures, you probably focused on the language a lot. New learners focus intently the language they're learning and try to grasp all the rules and understand how other speakers form their thoughts.

When you get to a phase where you are fluent in a language, everything will become second nature to you and you won't pay as much attention as you did when you first started.

6. You Know the Swear Words and How to Use Them

Many native speakers will be willing to teach you a few curse words if you are a foreigner. Just because you've heard them, it doesn't mean you can immediately start using them. Don't start cursing until you're comfortable with how they're used so you don't end up offending anybody.

Additionally, you don’t have to use swear words to know them. These are a part of a foreign language, and as any other part, they are worth learning, even if it's just to know when not to use them!

Olivia is an incurable optimist who always sees the glass as half-full. She likes nature, knows how to enjoy silence, and writes for various websites including Aussie Writing Service. Meet her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, February 19, 2018

How to Use Music to Improve Your Foreign Language Skills by Irina Ponomareva

Listening to songs is one of the most common exercises for those learning foreign languages and also one of the most popular. Here are some of the most common reasons why.

1. Music Stimulates our Memory

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to learn a song by heart?

It is, in fact, much easier to learn a song in a foreign language than simply trying to memorize the words from a dictionary or from your notebook, even if the language in question is very new to you. Some teachers start introducing their students to songs starting as early as at the second lesson - and it works!

Songs learned this way will stay with you for years, even if you abandon the language, and you will still be able to reproduce them from memory long after the rest of the words and all the grammar is gone. Even a poem would be easier to forget. But when we listen to a song - or, better still, singing ourselves, - the words and their meaning get firmly associated with the music and so stay in our memory.

2. Everyone  Loves Music

We all have our favorite genres and singers, and while tastes vary from person to person, one thing stays the same: listening to the music we love is one of the strongest pleasures known to human beings. No one will deny that it is a lot nicer than trying to memorize the table of irregular verbs from a textbook. And what is enjoyable is in most cases much more effective than something we do under pressure and therefore hate.

We don’t even mind listening to the same song hundreds (literally) of times if we like it and, if singing is among our hobbies, we will also sing it multiple times. And repetition is one of the keys to successful language learning: the more times we repeat an unknown word or phrase, the better we will remember it.

3. Lyrics don’t really have to be primitive

It depends on the poet really. Some lyrics even contain subjunctives, one of the trickiest parts of the grammar of all Romance languages. Trying to learn those from a textbook is sheer waste of time for the majority of language learners. It is much more effective to get used them in the correct context, and songs are perfect for that purpose - along with books, of course.

What next?

Once you have decided to add songs to your daily language learning activities, the question will be how to use them most effectively. If you just listen to your carefully-chosen playlist over and over again in the office while doing your work, it can help a little too - your subconscious will pick up bits and pieces - but when you are consciously working on the language as such, this just won’t do. The point is to try and understand as much as possible, whether by listening or by looking at the lyrics, and then to look up all the new words and to note the syntactic constructs you hadn’t encountered before. At the next stage you might want to repeat the song after the record. If you don’t feel good about your singing skills, speaking to the music will do, though really, who cares? It’s just language learning!

Other Things to Consider

Unless the language you are learning is a tonal language, singing can be of a huge benefit for your pronunciation, but with tonal languages you have to be careful. Music usually overrides the tones, which you should take into account.

If you have found the lyrics in Google, make sure you proofread them before using them, or ask someone to do it for you. Lyrics published online are often as full of errors as an average social network post. 

I just have to mention a recent - and somewhat hilarious - occurrence in connection with learning languages through music. In a linguistic forum a new member posted to a thread discussing this very topic, averring that learning languages from lyrics was not a good idea, because modern music tends to be obscene. According to this member’s information, a language learner was actually beaten for repeating some lyrics without understanding them.

I read the post several times not believing my eyes. My daily playlist consists mainly of Classical Crossover masterpieces sung by Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, Il Divo, Il Volo and many other famous soloists and groups - and that is modern music too. I tried imagining any of these people singing something - in any language - for which I or another person could possibly be beaten. Tried and failed.

The forum member was soon told off by a moderator for making such unfounded sweeping statements. And yet I thought to myself that if I ever write an article on the topic, it would be only fair to address this concern and to add a couple of warnings.

Firstly, if your favorite musical genre tends to come with obscene lyrics, perhaps you should reconsider your tastes, at least temporarily, for the purpose of learning a language. But, if you can’t imagine doing so, then you should be aware of the possible consequences of your choice and take full responsibility for them. Secondly, it’s a bad idea anyway to utter words you don’t understand. If you are unsure of the meaning of a certain expression, you should definitely look it up before actually using it in a live conversation with tough-looking guys.

Additional Benefits

With all the above precautions in mind, music should be a great addition to your language-learning routines. At the early stages, you might find it hard to understand the lyrics, and help from your teacher might be called for, but about half-way between A2 and B1 you should be ready to do it yourself - and benefit from it. At the start you might prefer slow songs, because then the lyrics will be easier to understand without a printed text, but as your command of the language advances, you’ll find yourself moving on to faster stuff. Thus, apart from improving your language skills you will be able to track them, too, by using the kind of music you are listening to as a kind of an improvised gauge.

Finally, the so-called language core - the control center of the language that forms in our brain as we proceed - will be greatly stimulated by listening to songs. The language core is all about the neural connections, in fact, and the stronger it becomes, the more intuitive you get with your target language and the harder it will be to lose it later. 

Irina Ponomareva is a long-time language enthusiast from Russia. Having spent a significant part of her life learning English, she then decided that it would be cool to become a real polyglot and added several other languages to her daily learning routine. During the day she is a technical writer in a large IT company, but after hours she also collaborates with an online linguistic school called Lingostan as a web copywriter. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

5 Tips for Learning 5 Languages by Warren Fowler

Five years ago, I was just an ordinary guy from Milwaukee, there was nothing special about me. I was your random guy with a random job.

I can’t remember the exact day when things changed since the growth was a rather lengthy process. In fact, it’s still going on. I can, however, remember the decision that made me change. After a boring Sunday, I started thinking about my life.

Languages – The Way Out of Boredom

“So this doesn’t work. I have to change something. I want a more exciting life. To get it, I need to become a more exciting person.” I brainstormed for some solutions and I came up with three alternatives:

  • Meet more people
  • Travel through European countries
  • Learn languages        

The goal of learning languages seemed like the most exciting one at that moment. I could start doing that right away. Plus, meeting this goal would help me meet the other two goals on my list. When I know more languages, I’ll meet more people and go to Europe and I’ll speak the languages there.

So what did I decide to do? I set a clear goal: learn 5 languages.

I focused on English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. I had to learn more about English, too. Although it’s my native language, I wasn’t a master of grammar. Without knowing the grammar of your own language, you can’t even think about mastering the grammar of a foreign one.

This journey started 5 years ago and I'm still on it today. I can safely say that I’m relatively fluent in all these languages today. Since everything revolves around the number five in this article, I’ll present you with 5 steps to learning 5 different languages!

1. Learn Your Native Language First

So you want to join the polyglot club? Good for you!

But how well do you know your own language? You can speak it, that’s for sure. You can probably identify the noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, preposition, and other main concepts in a sentence. But do this test right now: can you instantly define key grammar concepts such as interjections, conjunctions, subjunctive mood, pronoun-antecedent, transitive and intransitive verbs, and all verb tenses?

While we learned all these things at school, somewhere along the way, we stopped paying attention to grammar. When you stop worrying about these concepts because you didn't have any more tests to take, your language skills started degrading.

While grammar is important, you’ll focus mainly on the conversational elements of foreign languages when you start learning them. However, grammar is an inevitable part of all conversations and you’ll have to go through a few lessons of it whether you like it or not. When you can clearly understand all grammar concepts of your native language, the learning process will be much smoother.

The good news is that it’s easy to brush up on your native language skills. It took me only a month of intensive learning and practice. I used The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips. Take a look at those tips and you’ll soon realize that grammar is practically endless. There are so many concepts we’ve forgotten about, and so many more we never knew about.

You don’t have to learn everything. You won’t be getting a degree in your native language, unless that’s what you want to. It’s just important to focus on the major grammar concepts. Pick few resources in your native language and start your journey!

2. Make Language Learning Part of Your Daily Life

You want to turn this into a habit or you’ll soon be back to your old ways. You’ll learn something new every single day. With no exceptions! With apps like Duolingo and Rosetta Stone, learning takes less than half an hour a day.

But you’ll have to make a plan. I decided that starting to learn several foreign languages at once was a bit too much. This is the structure I gave to my learning process:

  • First, I grouped the languages. French, Italian, and Spanish belong to the Latin language branch, and German belongs to the Germanic language branch, just as English.
  • With German being the closest one to English, I started with it. I was learning German quite intensively for an entire year.
  • When I got the feeling that I was getting more fluent in German, I started with another language - French. I kept learning German, but I kept my daily lessons to half hour a day, and I devoted an entire hour to French. I kept this going for nine months.
  • Then, I was ready to add another language - Italian. I was still learning German and French for 40 minutes a day, and I added a whole hour for Italian.
  • After nine months, I added Spanish to my daily learning routine. I was practicing German, French, and Italian for an hour per day, and Spanish for another hour. I broke up these learning sessions throughout the day, so I wouldn’t have to process too much information at once.

This method worked for me. I highly recommend you to structure your own method and stick to it. The point is in consistency.

3. Keep a Language Journal

Writing practice is crucially important for mastering a language. It helps you expand your vocabulary and make sense of the grammar rules you’re going through. It’s important to write as much as possible.

In your language journal, you can write about the new things you learned. However, I also recommend writing a small random text on any prompt. Write about something that inspires you.

You’ll start with the first language on your list, and then you’ll start creating short daily entries on multiple languages.

Keeping a journal not only helps you practice, but it also helps you track your progress. While you’ll only write one to three sentences at first, you’ll be writing more and more soon enough.

If you feel that you’ve achieved a decent level of language skills, you may even start a blog and share your daily entries with other learners.

4. Watch Videos and Listen to the Radio

Teachers and online guides will keep telling you the same thing: immersion is the most effective way of learning. When you surround yourself with the language, you have no other choice but to learn it.

However, immersion isn't also as achievable as you'd think. I couldn’t go to Germany for an entire year to learn the language and then spend three years in France, Italy, and Spain. There was something I could do: start watching videos with native speakers.

YouTube is full of reviews and other types of videos in any language. Just start watching! Find a TV show in your target language and start watching it.

Listen to radio! Online services like Internet Radio and Radio Garden give you access to radio stations from all around the world. Find a station from your target country and listen to it. You can listen to music and native speakers.

5. Find Language Partners

Here’s another way to immerse yourself even when you’re not able to travel: find online language partners. Just search Facebook and you’ll easily find groups of people from your target country who are willing to learn your native language. Join those groups and become part of the conversation. With time, you’ll become closer with some of the members and you can ask them if they would like to keep practicing through conference calls.

For me, Facebook was the easiest and most effective way to find language partners. These people were also looking for someone to help them with the learning process, so we gained mutual benefits. 
If you’re too shy for making connections via social media, you could try a specialized platform that will immediately team you up with a suitable language partner.

Remember: This is a Long-Term Commitment

My language learning experience improved many aspects of my life. First of all, I stopped being bored, I met interesting people, and I finally started traveling.

I also realized that language learning is a lifelong journey, and I made that commitment. Are you ready to make it, too?

Warren is a marketing enthusiast and a blogger at BestEssays who loves music. If he doesn’t have a guitar in his hands, he’s probably embracing new technologies and marketing techniques online! You can meet him on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, February 5, 2018

8 Common Mistakes To Avoid While Learning a Foreign Language by Lynn Adamsen

Learning a new language is usually challenging. Therefore, in order to avoid making mistakes, there are articles, tools, and resources that may aid you in the learning process. You should also develop habits that improve your chances of learning a new language.

If you decide to learn a new language, you should be aware that gaining fluency is an arduous task. But the journey can become even more difficult if you fall into common traps. Here are several mistakes that you should avoid while learning a new language:

1. Setting Unrealistic Goals

One common mistake that people do is thinking that a language can be learned in just a few months. That’s far from the truth. Aiming for such goals will only make you believe that you're not good enough and you'll quickly give up. Learning a foreign language is more like a marathon than a sprint. As we all know, practice makes perfect. Therefore, you have to understand that learning any language will require effort, energy, and time.

Start with small steps and learn every single day. Be persistent!

2. Relying on a Single Method

Mistakes usually happen when you focus on a single method. There are a lot of ways to learn a language, so make sure to find the ones that fit you. Some of us might prefer to listen and repeat, others like to learn through reading. You can search for a tutor online and ask him to help you throughout your learning process.  Using a variety of different methods will increase your chances of mastering the language.  

Learning using multiple methods is crucial, as you get the chance to practice all kinds of communication (writing, speaking, listening, and reading). Sometimes the written language is completely different different to the spoken language. This means you may have to diversify your learning methods until you find something that works for you.

3. Using Your Native Language

When you start learning a foreign language, you may use your native language when asking questions and putting your new words and phrases into comprehensible speech. You'll still think in your native language and translate from it, and this is natural when you begin. However, when your skills improve, your mind should start thinking in a foreign language, without having to go through a double-language process. But many learners still can't stop using it which actually hinders their fluency in a targeted language.

"To improve a second language experience my students learn everything in context. We learn set phrases with separate words to have more options for different situations, use monolingual dictionaries, learn synonyms and antonyms to express their thoughts, memorise words by defining their meanings, use visual aids to minimise native language presence in the course of learning," - Jenny Stewart, a language tutor at Superior Papers.

4. Not Speaking

Another mistake that people make when trying to learn a new language is not speaking enough. This doesn't mean repeating words, I mean really talking to one another. There are people that are still struggling to learn a language after 10 years of trying.

Speaking a foreign language for the first time can be difficult, and you will make mistakes. Don’t be embarrassed because you are mispronouncing words! That’s normal, and people will understand. Memorising hundreds of words without using them in speech is a waste of time. So, lose your inhibitions and speak!

5. Not Listening

Just like when babies learn to talk, listening will help you detect and learn patterns, all while reinforcing your vocabulary. Listening is one of the best ways to learn. Try watching a movie in your target language and listen very carefully. Listen to your favourite foreign music while reading the lyrics. In any case, make it an essential part of your learning process. This way you’ll not only acquire new words and patterns, but you'll also train your ear to distinguish the different pronunciation while improving your own.

6. Treating Language like a School Subject

First of all, you must understand that a language is not like maths, history, or any other school subject. A language is an instrument for expressing yourself. It's a skill that will open a new world for you, so treat it with respect. Think of it as a hobby rather than a complicated task. 

7. Not Tracking Your Progress

Without tracking your progress and reviewing the knowledge you've gained, it’s easy to get lost in as all the new information and words keep entering your mind. You need a clear working structure: learning, contextual practising, spaced repetition, and testing for any gaps. Make tracking your progress a habit and revise the words or language patterns you've learnt regularly to keep them fresh and ready to be used.

8. Losing Your Faith

Learning a language can take a while, that’s for sure. Many learners lose their faith along the way and give up because they are not motivated enough.

The funny thing is that we seem to forget that we learned our native language in 9-10 years, and we never thought about giving up. However, it’s true that learning a foreign language is not the same.  Nevertheless, there are films, video games, and online communities that can make learning extremely fun.

As you can see, learning a new language can be a fun activity. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. They're part of the learning process. Take your time and don't rush. Even if it takes you 10 years to get the hang of it, its fine! Remember to practise every day and you will be surprised of the results. 

Lynn Adamsen is a language teacher and a freelance editor from Edinburgh. She believes that one day people will be able to understand each other without any difficulty and speak one language. But, for the time being, she's trying to master Spanish and German to narrow the gap. Feel free to get in touch @lynn_adamsen.