How To Become Fluent In A Second Language

Learn how to increase your fluency in a second language by implementing these ten ideas.

Most of us have taken a course in Spanish, French or another foreign language in high school or college. Yet how many people actually know how to speak the language as a result? Unfortunately, many individuals who have taken extensive coursework in a second language often visit a country where the language is spoken and find themselves tongue-tied. There are other things that you should do in addition to studying a textbook when attempting to gain true fluency in another language.

1. Make a point to be around people who speak the language that you are trying to learn. In many communities, there are a wide variety of ethnicities and languages. If you are trying to learn Spanish, try attending mass at a Spanish service or going salsa dancing at a club where little English is spoken. If you are trying to learn another language, get in contact with your local refugee relief agency and sign up to be a volunteer. There may be individuals in your community who speak the language you are learning, and while you are helping them integrate into your community, you are also gaining a valuable skill.

2. Visit a country where the language you are learning is the primary language spoken. It is best if you avoid any enclaves of English speakers. For example, you will not learn very much Spanish if the only place you visit in Mexico is Cancun. Visit an area where you are forced to use your second language. There is nothing like ordering the absolutely wrong dish on a menu to make a word or phrase remain in your memory forever.

3. Listen to music in your target language. Music makes it particularly easy to learn a language, because often the words are repetitive, and are sung at a slower pace than they would be spoken in normal conversation. Many times, you can locate lyrics for some of the more popular songs online and sing along. Get a native speaking friend to help you translate the lyrics, or break out your dictionary.

4. Read books and magazines in the language you are trying to learn. It is good to start out with magazines, since the pictures often help put unfamiliar words in context. Also, the articles are shorter, and you have less information to process. As you gain proficiency in the language, read books that have been originally written in the language. Avoid translations.

5. Always keep your dictionary at your side. This way, when you read or hear a word you don't recognize, you can immediately look it up.

6. Use an electronic "speaking" dictionary in addition to your paper dictionary. This is important, because you will learn how to pronounce the word that you are unfamiliar with.

7. Practice your target language every day. If you are not meeting with a friend who speaks the language, be sure to listen to some music in the language and sing along. It is important to both hear and speak the language every day. Reading and writing are skills, which while important, come later in the process. It is absolutely essential that you gain listening exposure on a regular basis.

8. Lower your inhibitions. If you are too worried about how you sound speaking the language, and are afraid of making mistakes, it will become more difficult to learn it. Becoming fluent in a second language requires a certain degree of risk taking. Yes, some people will giggle when you butcher the pronunciation of a word. Realize that they are just having fun, and that it is nothing personal. Have fun laughing alongside them as you make the mistakes that are absolutely inevitable, and even necessary, when one is learning a new language.

9. If possible, watch television programs in the language. This helps you learn idioms that are essential to understanding jokes in the target language, as well as further exposing you to the language. If this is not a possibility, rent films that are made in the language. You may want to see the subtitles at first, as it can be fun to try to catch mistakes in translations, but eventually, you should turn them off, which is an option on most DVD players.

10. Learn the culture behind the language you are studying. If you begin to have an understanding of the culture, you will understand why some idioms exist, have an easier time conversing with people and will begin to understand why the language is structured the way that it is. You will pick up on subtle nuances that no textbook can ever capture.

Learning a language is a time-consuming enterprise. As long as you are taking classes, you should make the most of the experience and incorporate activities that will help you to truly absorb the language and feel comfortable speaking it. Above all, have fun learning your new language. Studies show that people who are having fun and are not feeling self-conscious learn new languages faster! Have a good time, and learn how to sing in your second language while dancing to its rhythms.

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