How to Study

Learning a language takes time. There’s no two ways about it. When learning a new language you should expect it to take at least two years. If anyone tells you otherwise, he is lying to you. How far you go in that two years is of course up to you, but expect it to take at least that long before you really start to feel comfortable. This is especially true if you are not immersed in the language every day. Three years is probably a better estimate. This is not meant to discourage you. On the contrary, it’s important to have realistic goals so that you do not get discouraged. Here are some general rules:

  1. Study EVERY DAY. Even if some days you only are able to do 5 or 10 minutes, at least do that. When you are feeling discouraged — and you will feel discouraged sometimes — just tell yourself that the feeling will pass and keep going. In fact, this is a good rule of thumb for anything you do. If you are feeling discouraged, frustrated, or moody, tell yourself the feeling will pass and simply avoid making any decisions while you are feeling that way. Do what Scarlet O’Hara does — tell yourself you’ll think about that tomorrow. It is helpful to have a specific time of day that you do your lessons or exercises every day so that you develop a habit of doing it.
  2. Don’t try to do too much at once. Try to find resources that challenge you, without being too difficult. You want to find your zone of optimal learning. If you choose to use the Pimsleur Method, you’ll find that you will have no problem with this — until you finish all the Pimsleur exercises and you’re on your own, that is. But, while you are doing the Pimsleur lessons, notice how you learn only so many new words a day. This is the optimal way to learn; attaching new information to what you already know. And there is a limit to what you can retain in one day. If you try to exceed it, you actually end up retarding the rate at which you learn. You must continually try to find the resources that keep you in that optimal zone.
  3. At times, skip around. If you’re having a problem with some aspect of the language, try to focus on that problem, but if your study sessions seem to become flat, don’t seem optimal, or you find yourself avoiding them, skip to some other aspect of the language for awhile, or look for other tools. For example, if you don’t seem to be in the zone when you are doing verb drills, switch to a reading exercise, or do some listening exercises.
  4. Express your own thoughts. If you are learning on your own, at some point you will need to find someone to practice with you. You will want to find a native speaker. Try joining or organizing a Meetup group as a possible way to meet other speakers of the language you are learning, or you can hire a tutor.
  5. Watch cartoons. Cartoons provide a variety of accents and colloquial expressions, and they tend to be short. This is useful because if at first you listen to things that are too long, you will become too tired to finish them and this can be discouraging. Also choose lessons and reading or audio material that you can finish in one sitting without becoming tired. This will help you to have a feeling of accomplishment that keeps you moving forward. And anyway, cartoons are fun!
  6. Read the newspaper. Again, read short pieces and gradually work up to longer ones as you progress. Be aware that some newspapers use more sophisticated language than others. You may have to start out with less sophisticated material. Don’t let this discourage you, remember your goal is language learning.
  7. Read Aloud. Read aloud whenever possible. With most languages, you can start doing this almost immediately by simply investing in an easy reader for language learners. Read the same passages over and over again until you can do it without stumbling or slowing down. You can move on to new passages and come back again and again until you get it just right. Each time you do this you make your accent better and you begin to remember the meanings of the words.
  8. Record Yourself. Record yourself reading and then play it back without the book in front of you. This not only allows you to perfect your accent, but it helps with comprehension, too.

Again, you must express your OWN thoughts.

  1. Talk to yourself. When you are shopping, talk to yourself softly in the language. Don’t worry about looking crazy, you are busy learning a language!
  2. Keep a diary. Choose a new word or expression to focus on for at least a paragraph each day. Write for as long as you can, but stop when you are tired.
  3. Warm up before speaking. When you do have the opportunity to speak to others in the language you are learning, warm up first by reading or writing in the language. Your mind needs a period of transition.
  4. Don’t speak English! When you begin speaking to someone else, don’t revert to English. Learn how to say “how do you say…” then say the English and go immediately back to the language you are studying. Try to cut out the English as much as possible.

These tips will get you speaking. Once you do, I guarantee you will be hooked on learning languages! There’s nothing quite like understanding. There’s so much to learn! Get started! See my recommended books in the My Italian Diary Amazon Bookstore.