Do’s and Don’ts When Learning a Foreign Language

One of the many hobbies I indulge in is learning foreign language. As a native speaker of Bahasa Indonesia, I’ve been learning English and Mandarin since 7 years old and have been using both of them in my daily life ever since. I’ve learned French, Japanese and Korean in my University years. Now, I have varying degree of proficiency for these languages and have visited the countries that speak them (except for Korea).

Language learning is a life-long learning experience. Feeling that I should continue brushing up all the foreign languages I’ve learned to a new level, I decided to make a summary of the Do’s and Don’ts when learning a foreign language.

DO’s

1) Get the basic right –> attend a proper language class. Work on all grammar and pronunciation aspects from the very beginning. Increase your vocabulary bank steadily as you learn the language and know how to look for new words and its meanings. Nowadays, everything is made easy with online translator, but there’s a limit to how accurate the translator is. So we still need to know the basics.

2) Practice listening –> my method: watching movies or dramas or listening to songs (take note of the lyrics) in the language that you’re learning as much as possible. When attending a class, just listen carefully to what and how the teacher speaks it. I recently watched this Korean drama, You From Another Star. Very entertaining and hilarious. Highly recommended. One of my favorites so far. Other than that, I used to watch many Japanese (still with English subtitles) and Taiwanese drama (with Mandarin subtitle) and of course all the English movies or TV series without any subtitle.

3) Start small with the aim to visit the country and if possible, start learning foreign languages as early as possible (when you’re still 5 or 6 y.o.)  –> the brain will absorb more when language learning starts from a very young age. It’s easier to acquire near-native pronunciation too.

4) Participate in language exchange with native speakers, practice speaking –> here. I’ve done some exchanges in Mandarin, Korean, and Japanese before. Just meet fellow foreign language learners from this website.

5) Teach the language –> teaching is also a form of learning. When you’re an advanced learner of the language, you’ll know how to dissect and analyze the language because that’s what you’re used to do. So when it comes to teaching it, you can help your students on the basic knowledge. For the pronunciation, you’ll need to encourage them to listen more to native speakers to get the tone right. Of course, if you’ve used your 2nd language for most of your life, lived in the country where it’s spoken and have developed a neutral accent and the right tone, you can always be the role model for your students.

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DON’Ts

1) Give up -> persevere, persevere, persevere. Be patient. Don’t expect yourself to master the language in 1 year or more. The best way to master a language is to be exposed to it day in and day out, by living in the country where it’s spoken. But not all of us can move to the target language country as soon as we develop an interest in its language and culture. So we have to learn it for the sake of the future possibility or just out of pure interest (for fun) in our own native country. I learned English and Mandarin when I’m still back at home in Indonesia. The perseverance paid off. I’m using them daily now. French and Japanese, I’ve used them when I traveled there. Korean, I’ve yet to use it real-time, it was still basic Korean with words that I pickup from watching dramas.

2) Be too hard on yourself –> go slowly and try not to learn more than 2 languages at the same time. You’ll get confused when trying to switch language and doing review.

3) Be afraid to make mistakes –> always practice out loud in the classroom. Make mistakes. Talk to your teacher. Talk to strangers while you’re traveling in the target language country.

4) Focus too much on direct translation –> at one point of time, once you’ve passed the beginner level of one foreign language, it’s important to start THINKING in that language, rather than just translating them words by words from your native language. I know it’s easier said than done. But if we make a conscious effort to stop translating in our head, we’ll be more fluent eventually.

5) Stop learning – your language ability will boost your confidence. You’ll become more open-minded and culturally sensitive. Ultimately, you’ll be a better person and who knows how far your language ability can take you.

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So folks, I fell in love with languages when I was 7 years old. I’m still in love right now.

How about you? How many languages do you know? Have you learned any foreign language recently?

Cheers,

Sien

*Here’s my previous juvenile post on how I fell in love with foreign languages.

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5 thoughts on “Do’s and Don’ts When Learning a Foreign Language

  1. Hi Sien, such a nice entry! I can definitely relate to mostly everything 🙂 I’d like to share my opinions on some of the points you’ve discussed:
    – I agree that online translator is not very accurate. Learners need to learn how to deduce meaning from context without having to stop and look up new words in dictionary every time a difficult word is encountered. Reading the sentence where the word is in and the sentence before and after would help learners estimate the general meaning of the word. 
    – We share the same method! I remembere playing Westlife cassette over and over again pausing and rewinding so very often to note down the lyrics, ha! Watching movies is also a great way to practise listening, especially with shadowing method. Learners will be able to imitate all aspects of pronunciation, i.e. sounds, stresses, intonations and connected speech – with picking up accent as a bonus. I sometimes let my learners watch with subtitles exactly for this purpose. 
    – language and culture are strongly connected. Interest in the culture will be a natural motivator to learn the language spoken in that culture. The lack thereof, however, may be a hurdle in having a pleasant language learning experience.
    – teaching is definitely a form of learning. I think as a language teacher, be it native or non-native, it is his responsibility to research and present the language to the best of his ability. That includes aspects of pronunciation as well. Although it may be challenging for non-native teachers, it can and should be done at least during part of lessons which focus on vocabulary and pronunciation, e.g. model and drill of vocabulary (word stress), intonation of functional language, learner’s training on mechanism of difficult sounds, awareness of connected speech in speaking, etc.
    – Having said the above, accent is not something that is taught. It can only be acquired, as it is personal and heavily influenced by the environment. I think there’s no right or wrong accent in English being an international language. It doesn’t belong to only the British and Americans. The French speaks English in French accent and there’s nothing wrong with that. As much as I adore British accent and have fun imitating it, I don’t think I can teach with it. In my opinion, teachers shouldn’t be expected to speak the language in a particular accent which deems to be better or “right”, but learners always have a choice as to be taught by teachers with whichever desired accents.
    Thank you for sharing about language learning, Sien! 🙂

    • Awww thx for the comment dear! I love your well-elaborated opinions. On the accent topic, I’ll just share with you the difficulty I had in a real classroom during CELTA. I have this adaptability to accents that I’d sometimes pronounce some words in british accent and some in american accent. I mixed them all up. Talking about inconsistency here. So I guess when I have the chance to teach English in a classroom again (this time for real and not in a course), I have to pick one. I tend to have neutral accent, slightly American but not that strong (thanks to the good old days, dissecting lyrics of code red’s, britney spears’, bsb’s songs). I can always point out the 2 different pronunciation to students (am or br, doesn’t matter). The most important thing is for your listener to understand what you’re trying to say. I agree. It doesn’t matter which accent your students choose to pick up. However, the teacher must be consistent and be fully aware of the different accents available and L1 interference. Something that we’ll acquire through experience and better language awareness:)

  2. I think accent and pronunciation are two different things. Pronunciation can be improved, but accent can only be developed. A person with strong Chinese accent, for example, can have a good pronunciation (and grammar) and be understood. So I think your experience in CELTA about mixing up GB and US pronunciation (I do it too!) has less to do with your accent but more on the sounds and word stresses, i.e. pronunciation. I think slight pronunciation inconsistency in classroom language, so long it’s pronounced in standard GB and/or US, is acceptable – most of your learners won’t even notice it. However, like you said, it is important to highlight the 2 different pronunciation to learners during lessons which focus on vocabulary and pronunciation. I think pronunciation inconsistency in speaking is much more acceptable compared to spelling inconsistency in writing. The latter is a common problem to EFL learners as they use various textbooks at school, read various novels, have different teachers, etc. It is essential to highlight different versions of spelling and encourage them to stick with one version when it comes to writing.

    • Hemm, now that you put it that way, I agree 100%. If I need to be consistent as the teacher, I have to choose how to pronounce my “can’t” in the classroom. And shouldn’t worry too much about accent. Highlighting the different pronunciation during lessons will help too. Thanks again for the wonderful insight Ta:) Anyway, my next post is brewing now. Wait for it….

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