Do you know how many languages there are in the world? No idea? Here goes... there are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today! As all of us know, English is the universal language and is the main language used for communication by most people in the world; however it is being replaced by Mandarin Chinese as the most popular language and there are about 1.2 billion people in the world that speak Mandarin Chinese. As we travel all around the world and wish to speak like a local, how do we really learn and be fluent in a language in a faster way?
I personally know of a friend, Michael, who can speak nine languages (English, Mandarin including a couple of native Chinese dialects like Hokkien, Hakka, Cantonse; Malay, Tamil, Japanese, Korea & French) fluently and understands more than a dozen more. We work in the same office in Singapore so I constantly hear him using his skills, switching from language to language like a chameleon changes colors.
When I told Michael how I’ve been struggling to merely pick up a second language, he lists down the following 10 tips for me:
- Know why you’re doing it
- Find a partner or teacher
- Act like a child
- Forget translation
- Talk to yourself
- Have fun with it
- Listen (Songs, Conversation)
- Watch (Movies, people talking)
Below are some tips for your reference which I have personally been practicing:
Forget direct translations and think like a baby!
In learning a new language, you have to empty your brain. Forget everything about direct translations as you will soon realize how hilarious it would be if you direct translate a sentence to a new language, not to mention the meaning could be totally different! Sometimes, we do have to behave like a baby. Let’s think, how do babies learn a language? Basically, they are through imitation, repetition of sounds and most importantly, not being shy and self-conscious! In this case, babies can be our role model. Carefully observe how others speak that language and imitate the way they speak. In short, copy and paste!
Watch, listen and read
Ever watched an English or French movie and wish to speak the same as the actors? By watching your favorite movies and listening to your favorite music, make learning fun while it helps to improve your pronunciation and comprehension. Carefully listen to the lyrics of the song; you will begin pronouncing words more accurately! Reading newspapers is an effective way too. Newspapers normally use simple languages and terms that is easily understandable. Reading newspapers would not only enhance your general knowledge, it would also help you to understand each word and phrase.
I am a big fan of the Harry Potter and Twilight series. I read the novel in both the English and Chinese versions so that I can understand it more. I even watched the movies! It is productive and you can learn a new language really fast as you can literally spend all day in front of the TV while learning in an interesting way!
Travelling in a foreign country allows you to hear the sounds and rhythms, embrace the culture, and experience the pace of life as well as the inflections of a new language either spoken on the streets, at the market or on television. Immerse yourself in that foreign culture and your brain will start to process and interpret the new language. While enjoying the beauty of the country, you can learn a new language by interacting with the local such as living with a host family. Ingratiate yourself with the community and you’re halfway there! Bonjour!
Practice at every opportunity
Ever felt a lack of confidence in speaking a language? Feeling shy when speaking with others? Languages are alive and require exercise. Find avenues to practice wherever and whenever you can. Be brave and speak to others. You will be able to see how these little differences can improved you in leaps and bounds. Grab the opportunity and start practicing now with your families and friends!
Good luck with your new language and most of all enjoy the learning experience!