Learning Tips from a Foreign Language Addict

Hi everyone, my name is Kelly and I’m addicted to learning foreign languages.

It’s true, I love learning new languages—when people ask how many languages I speak, I sigh and secretly smile… Well, there’s English and French, with Spanish I can get by, I can introduce myself in sign language, order coffee in Japanese, perform a one-woman skit in Swedish, tell a joke in Dutch…and the list goes on. I’m addicted to that exhilarating feeling you get in the beginning, when you learn a new word or useful phrase and you think, this is going to change how I communicate! The freshness of starting a new language—it’s like puppy love.

Of course, with learning a new language there come the inevitable errors, mispronunciations and forgotten words. Here are just a few tips that I’ve learned along the way of my language-learning adventures:

1)      I love a good accent. Even if I only know how to order a beer in German, I want to say it like the Germans do, with a big, hearty “Ich möchte ein Bier!”  You know that phrase “practice makes perfect”? It applies to pronunciation as well. If I hear a native speaker say a phrase, whether it be on television, in a restaurant or walking down the street, I try and repeat it in the same way they said it, with the stress, intonation and all. Yes, that’s right – sometimes I am walking around repeating to myself “Pero, que buuuuueeeno! Pero, que buuuueeeeno!” with an exaggerated Argentine accent.

2)      Another good way of practicing your native accent is to find a native-speaking conversation partner. They can help you not only with your accent, but also give you tips and tricks that you might not ever learn elsewhere, plus you can make a life-long friend! You might not even realize how many people there are in your city that are eager to have a conversation exchange. Check out the websites craigslist.com and couchsurfing.com or contact your local university’s study-abroad department, there are always foreign students who love to meet new people and share their culture and language.

3)      Become a teacher! Now, I’m not saying you should run out and become a certified Russian language teacher because you know how to say “Gee, it’s cold outside!” But, when learning a new language I always find it helpful to teach a friend or family member a few words. That way you can practice with them AND look cool in front of all your friends. In high school, I taught my little nieces and nephew how in France people say “Bonjour” and kiss each other on each cheek, we had so much fun greeting each other in public and confusing everyone in the tiny Wisconsin farming town where we lived.

This is also very useful when you need a secret language that nobody else understands. When I was at university I taught my friend, Gwen, the alphabet in sign language, so when we were at parties we could talk to each other from across the room: “C-U-T-E   N-O?” “N-O  H-A-S  G-I-R-L-F-R-I-E-N-D   S-T-A-Y  A-W-A-Y”

4)      Maybe it’s because I’m obsessed with small notebooks as well, but whenever I visit a country where they speak a different language, I carry around a pocket notebook and pen and try to write down new words that I learn. “Dear Diary, Today I  learned two new words: “embarazada” = pregnant and “avergonzada” = embarrassed. Of course, I unfortunately learned these words after telling my boyfriend´s parents : “Oh! Estoy embarazada!”…when I really meant to say “estoy avergonzada” and upon realizing my mistake I was even more embarazada…I MEAN AVERGONZADA!!!”

Do you have any learning tips to share? Please comment and let us know!