One of my friends journeyed across the Atlantic for a new job where he’ll need to learn a new language. As a farewell gift, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of my practical experience in successfully learning two foreign languages while working abroad. In the past, my masters in teaching English as a second language provided me with some excellent practical strategies. These are the ones that worked for me. I hope they help you, too!
1. Eaves-dropping: I learned this from my professor in graduate school, world-famous second language researcher, Rebecca Oxford. This learner strategy was mentioned as useful by surveyed students in a book she edited, Language Learning Strategies Around the World: Cross-cultural Perspectives (1996). This would fall under Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory.
2. Silent rehearsal (a.k.a private speech or subvocal rehearsal): I also learned this from Dr. Oxford back in the 90s.
3. Read your favorite children’s book in that new language. For, example, I’ve read The Little Prince in three languages—it never loses its beauty. The simplified language of a children’s book will assist you in becoming a successful reader in the second language. Your familiarity with the storyline will aid your comprehension.
4. Find a tutor to exchange language journals. Meet with them regularly and informally. Write about what interests you. For example, I wrote a short form of poetry in free verse in Portuguese. I still have it to this day. Your language journals will become your memorabilia.
5. Immerse yourself in the everyday language communicated on their radio stations, TV channels, local newspaper. and yes, the local pub!
6. Learn the shared words that have crept into their language through pop culture, history, or religion. These are called friendly cognates. Also, learn the false cognates; they don’t mean the same thing
7. Study, test, test, test yourself on the grammar to develop long-term memory of it. Roediger & Karpicke (2006) found that students in the treatment group of study-test-test-test (STTT), outperformed other students in other treatment groups (SSST and SSSS). This is referred to as the testing effect.
8. Become the extrovert that pushes the envelop to encounter opportunities to practice the language by yourself. If you hangout with other English language speakers, they will keep you from learning the language. Try to find locations where no one speaks English.
9. Watch classic children’s movies in the target language. The strategy is similar to #3 but with media, you will hear the language. I remember watching Pinocchio in Spanish when I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras at a movie theater. Nowadays, you can simply select the language settings on your movie streaming devices.
10. Change the language settings on all of your devices. Force yourself to learn the language within a situated task. This is called situational learning.
Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Roediger, H. L. III, & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181-210.
(Note: This is a work-in-progress. I’ll keep adding the research basis when I have more time to devote to this.)