When learning a new language, there are four main skills you’ll need to work on: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. We like to call them “The Golden Skills of Language-Learning”. Why “Golden” you may ask? Hmm, I don’t know, it just sounds cool. All four parts interconnect with one another and practicing all of them on a daily basis will skyrocket your learning process. A lot of people tend to put a lot more effort on certain skills and not enough on others. While any time spent learning a language is great, varying your skills will give you exceptional results. In this post, we will go through the four golden skills of language-learning and look at how they can be used to maximize results.
Anything with audio will practice your listening skills (hmm, yeah, thanks again Mr. Obvious). When you hear a foreign language that’s completely unknown to you, it may sounds like mumbo jumbo gobbledygook. You might even tell yourself: “How the heck am I gonna learn that?” Your brain is quite confused at this point and it’s just filtering out the noise. “Oh my gosh, what are all these unknown sounds, better ignore them!”. At first, this can be a bit discouraging, but no worries, all that gibberish will eventually make sense. Research has shown that at a very young age, our brain is wired to distinguish certain sounds in our mother tongue. If the language you are trying to learn has sounds that are not in your register, you might have trouble hearing and reproducing them.
For example, many Japanese speakers trying to learn English have a really hard time telling the difference between the English “R” and “L”. Most of them simply can’t hear the subtle variation between “Right” and “Light”. That’s because the brain has the ability of distinguishing sounds it interprets on a daily basis and tries to filter out the rest. Your ear is tuned to hear certain sounds, and any sound outside of what you’re used to hearing are not considered important. Listening to your new language in abundance will eventually rewire your brain to hear the different sounds, stress, emphasis and other foreign subtleties.
There are two main ways to practice the listening aspect of the language. Active listening, which is highly effective, but requires you to be fully engaged in what you’re doing, and passive listening, which is not as effective, but allows you to do something entirely different at the same time, such as cleaning your house, preparing dinner or petting your furry gerbil. In upcoming posts, we will talk about the different ways you can incorporate passive and active listening in your life to eventually turn that gobbledygook into clarity.
This is often the most challenging skill to acquire for most people because it is harder to put into practice. There are countless grammar books, audio courses, computer programs, dictionaries, podcasts and other resources to help you learn a language at home, but in the end you also need to get out there and speak it. Speaking is the end goal of many people and it must become part of your learning routine as soon as possible, even if you feel it’s not possible right now.
If you have the opportunity of speaking the language in the real world, it’s definitely the way to go! If you live in a large multicultural city, there are numerous ways of finding people to speak to locally. Now you might ask, “Okay, but what if I’m trying to learn Greek and I live on the North Pole?”. There’s a myriad of resources available to you even if there is no one around. All you need is an internet connection! There are tons of affordable private teachers and even free language-exchange services you can use. If all else fails, start talking to yourself out loud! Yes, that’s right! Even speaking to yourself and trying to shape sentences as you chat along with your own ego will greatly improve your speaking skills. It may not be as effective, but it’s certainly highly convenient!
This skill allows you to pick apart that giant lump of information called a language and to separate it in those small manageable parts called words. Ever wondered why native speakers seem to speak so darn fast? Well, the main reason is that your brain can’t separate individual words and can’t tell where one word ends and the other begins. It just seems like a never-ending mix of strange syllables. When you’re reading, you can go at any speed you want, you have all the time in the world to look up new words, practice your pronunciation and try to make sense of it all. Plus, reading not only increases your recognition of words, but also allows you to learn new words.
Some people do manage to learn a language without reading much, but we believe that this makes the journey strenuous and that the end result is unstructured. If you want to reach a high level in a language, you need to make reading part of your routine. Read anything you can put your hands on, simple books, movie subtitles, road signs, ideas for delicious recipes, city maps, or even articles about the evolution of the giraffe. Reading is easily accessible anywhere and will work wonders on your language-learning skills in general.
A lot of people seem to be a bit reluctant to write and feel like it’s not something they necessarily need. Possibly because they feel like writing is a chore or don’t know what to write about, but the good news is that writing anything at all will help you a great deal! You can choose any topic you want! For example, you could write your bucket-list, a simple shopping list, make Google searches, start a diary or write a short story about Misty, the hairless Sphinx cat.
You don’t need to become a professional writer to become fluent in a language, but we strongly believe that writing on a regular basis will improve your learning exponentially. Writing is like speaking in slow motion, you can take all the time you need to find words and form sentences, while making sure the structure is right. This is a luxury you don’t have when speaking. Plus, writing will improve other aspects of the language. If you know how to write and you have a good pronunciation, speaking should be much easier.
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