By Aaryan Haider:
Language learning is one of the most popular productive hobbies undertaken in the modern world and even more so in the new age of the pandemic, however, it is also one of the most difficult tasks that you can choose to undertake with a high rate of failure and very low chance of success.
Learning a new language is a huge investment of time and effort and that is evident in the measured time it takes to reach fluency in a wide range of increasingly difficult languages. The more separated the language is from English, the more difficult it becomes to acquire and learn how to utilize. For example, French (a language highly similar to English) might take 300-400 hours of studying to acquire, making it comparatively speaking an easier and less time-consuming task. On the other side of the spectrum, Japanese is reported by the US Department of State to take 2200 hours of total study to reach B2 on the CEFR scale which would classify you as a “confident” speaker. Despite the large figures indicated, it is possible to accelerate your learning and achieve a higher level of proficiency faster with more effective study methods and by avoiding common pitfalls that beginner language learners fall into.
The most difficult parts of the process are the beginning stages. It can be characterized as a period of uncertainty where you don’t understand where to go or what to learn in order to get on your feet in your target language. At this point, you are simply trying to acquire basic grammar, common vocabulary and for languages that don’t use the alphabet, you may also be required to become familiar with the script of your target language. When faced with such challenges the best advice is simply to not give up and remind yourself why you started. Establish habits that allow you to learn with a little less thinking involved to prevent yourself from facing difficulties with motivation.
In order to learn a language, you have to memorize a large amount of small and simple pieces of information. The most common example of this type of information would be vocabulary where you simply learn the word and its definitions and proper usage. However, this becomes an increasingly tall order as you amp up the number of words learned per day and the supposedly simple information starts to feel like death by a thousand paper cuts. It can be overwhelming to acquire vocabulary but this hurdle can be overcome by utilizing specific study methods designed to tackle this specific type of information and help you memorize faster. A very recognizable and proven method of acquiring vocabulary is by utilizing flashcards. Flashcards are simple, elegant, and they allow you to utilize the absolute extent of your mental capacity to memorize. My preferred method of using flashcards for language learning would be through the PC-based SRS flashcard program Anki.
Anki is lovingly referred to as “flashcards on steroids” by language learners and medical students alike as it is renowned for its innovative “SRS” system. SRS refers to spaced repetition, a concept whereby asking you to recall information over gradually increasing intervals you can eventually convert short-term memorized information into stronger long-term memories. Basically, the program teaches the learner a piece of information and asks them to recall it the next day and if they successfully recall the information they will be asked to recall the information again 3 days later, then 7 days later, and so on. The interval gradually increases and if you ever fail to recall the information then the cycle repeats itself and the interval is reset to zero.
However, language learning does not simply require you to memorize and recall small bits of information. You will also need to comprehend more complex and difficult to grasp strands of information such as grammar points. It is hard to rely on sheer memorization for these complex grammar concepts so the most effective way to learn grammar would be to either take or listen to lessons that will take you through each concept from top to bottom in order to ensure that you acquire the information and learn how to adequately utilize it. I recommend taking more time with grammar because of how complex it is compared to vocabulary. You should definitely look into finding a teacher or video resource that suits you when you inevitably take the plunge into grammar.
Success in language learning can be defined as reaching an effective level of communication in your target language where you can thereby be referred to as relatively proficient. The way to measure proficiency in a language is quite difficult, however, benchmarks such as language proficiency tests can be a suitable way to measure your ability in a given language. For example, with Chinese, you can take the HSK proficiency tests and with Japanese, you can take the JLPT exams to measure your fluency.
Language proficiency tests can also serve as a great source of motivation to keep you going in your journey as you pursue higher and higher levels of fluency allowing you to maintain efficiency and effectiveness in your learning. These tests allow you to focus all your motivation on improving the actual skills involved in demonstrating language proficiency such as listening, reading, writing, and speaking and force you to remain steady in your goal of reaching that plateau of fluency. In order to get yourself on the right track, I would recommend studying for these specific tests in order to add more reasons to stay motivated and obtain a path through which you know what to learn next, giving you the opportunity to slowly polish your skills as you go further and further down the test syllabus.
It cannot be denied that in order to learn something, you have to utilize it and the best way to utilize your target language on a day-to-day basis would be immersing yourself in books, movies, TV shows, and other materials that you can consume in your target language. After the beginning stages, it becomes gradually easier to use immersion in your learning as you no longer need to take out a dictionary as often. It is very possible to become fluent in a language through immersion alone after you have acquired a solid foundation so this is the path I recommend for the least resistance and headache.
That about wraps it up! If you follow all the steps shown you too can acquire the gift of a new language with a little bit of spare time and hard work.