I often get mails from TOPIK GUIDE readers asking for tips on things like how to improve Korean language skills, what is the best way to learn vocabulary, how to speak fluent Korean and so on. In this post, I would like to share with you the Best Method to improve your foreign language skills.
The first thing that I would like to tell you that there is not any one ‘best’ method to learn a language. So if you think that your friend, who speaks with perfect fluency in a foreign language, has some secret method that s/he is not telling you, then you should stop thinking so. That is very much possible that s/he has a great method that helps him/her learn the language in a more efficient way; but it doesn’t mean you will also become a fluent speaker as soon as you get your hand on that secret learning method. All of us are different and the language learning part of our brains work differently. All of us use different methods to memorize and remember things. Someone else’s amazing learning method will not necessarily suit you as well. So the best method for learning language, or for learning anything, is the one that you develop yourself; the exclusive learning method that suits you the best.
Many language learners prefer to have long lists of vocabulary and memorize them by reading repeatedly. Most of the studies have shown that this method is not efficient but this is what works best for some learners. And there is no need for them to change their learning method just because some research say this is not good. Similarly, those who prefer flashcards, images and smartphone apps to memorize words don’t need to use word lists just because their teachers recommend that method.
Many language learners make the lists of grammar rules and practice them by making new sentences. This is one of the most common methods to study grammar but many people find it boring and useless. They rather like to learn new grammar rules while reading some meaningful text, like – story, newspaper, magazine etc. Some other people don’t like even this method. They prefer audio and visual materials – like songs, dramas and movies, over reading text. And it works for them. I have met many foreign students in Korea who learned Korean by watching Korean drama alone and speak better Korean that people who studied Korean formally at an institute. I have observed that the learners who learn the language through audio-visual material mainly, are often very good at speaking and listening but their writing skills are weak. Many of them are not able to write coherent and cohesive text and make frequent spelling mistakes in writing. On the other hand, those who learn the language mainly in traditional way, using textbooks and grammar-vocabulary lists, are good at reading and writing but they lack fluency in speaking and their listening ability is weak as well. When speaking, they are grammatically perfect but lack fluency and natural intonation and so their speech sounds quite unnatural. So a good and balanced combination of these method is necessary.
If you don’t have the opportunity of living in the country where the foreign language is spoken, it gets more difficult to acquire near-native level of fluency and natural intonation. The reason is that listening is a very crucial part of language learning. Books can teach you the grammar, words and other technical aspects of the language but to understand the practical usage of those linguistic things in real-life situations, you need to live in the society and cultural environment where that language is spoken. But there are ways to understand the natural intonation and practical/colloquial usage of a language without going to that country as well. Movies, dramas, songs and user generated videos on YouTube are great sources to understand real authentic language. There are people who can’t develop their language skills even living in that country for a long time and on the other hand there are people who fully utilize these resources available online and get proficient in the language without ever visiting the country.
These days, there are numerous websites and online communities to help you with language learning and language exchange. Moreover, there is social media, like Facebook and Twitter, where you can meet native speakers and fellow language learners and share resources, problems and solutions. Some good websites for language learners, that I can remember now, are – Anki, Memrise, Livemocha and Duilingo.
Finally, I want to share with you a language learning method that I, personally, find very effective. Don’t just consume (read and listen) the language, but Produce (speak and write) it – from Day 1. Most of the language learners have the common problem of Foreign Language Anxiety. They feel uneasy and nervous before using the foreign language, specially in front of people. There are many causes of this anxiety but the main cause is the fear of negative evaluation – the fear that you might make mistakes and people will have a bad image of you, criticize you or laugh at you. This fear of negative evaluation is the biggest barrier in learning a foreign language successfully. Overcome this fear of making mistakes and you will notice that you have become much better at using the language instantly.
I had a friend whose Korean speaking was really weak. He couldn’t utter a complete sentence without stammering. But after drinking some bottles of Soju he spoke very fluent Korean. 😉 Why was it so? his language ability was the same as it was before drinking Soju; it was just that he was not so much afraid of making mistakes while speaking when he was a little drunk. When children start speaking their first language – their speech is full of grammatical errors. Sometimes it doesn’t make a sense at all. But fortunately, kids don’t care. they keep speaking the language with the one and only aim of communicating what they want to. When you are speaking, think the other person/s as someone who is interested in knowing what you want to say, not as someone who is there to judge your grammar or pronunciation. If you make mistakes and are not able to convey the meaning, repeat.. rephrase, repeat again.. use body gestures – do everything you would do if you were a kid. When you make a serious mistake when talking to someone whose language skills are better than you, there are good chances that they will correct you. And that’s a great way to learn languages – making a lot of mistakes and getting corrected.
Do you know any other great language learning method? Want to add something. Share in the comments!