Monday, September 11, 2006

More Tips for Learning a Language

The last post looked primarily at passive language learning skills such as reading and listening. They are important skills, but the more active skills of writing and speaking are also essential to practice, though that is harder to do, especially if you don’t live in a country where people speak the language you are learning.

In terms of writing, it is not much fun to fill in lots of worksheets, even if that is a good method if you have a self-study textbook with an answer key. More enjoyable and useful would be to use that time-tested technique of having a pen-pal who is a native speaker, especially if that pen-pal is willing to correct your mistakes. These days, you can use regular mail, e-mail, or instant messenger to write to your pen-pal. It is also possible to find language groups online, to take online courses that focus on writing, or to find a private tutor willing to work with you via mail or e-mail. Students have certainly sent me many e-mails and asked me to correct their texts. It’s an easy and helpful way to get better at writing.

As already mentioned, the best thing would be to live in or visit a country where people speak the language, so you can practice and get more confident about your speaking skills. Failing that, you can adapt the pen-pal method mentioned above and have a native speaker with whom you get together regularly or with whom you exchange conversational tapes or cds. You can also use a service such as Skype to chat. If you want to work on your pronunciation alone, record people (whether on tv, radio, or in person) talking in the language you want to learn, and then record yourself saying the same words and phrases. Compare your pronunciation and accent to the native speakers’ and keep working at it until you feel more comfortable and sound more natural.

The next post will look at some websites that could help you as you learn a new language.

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