You are probably reading this post because you want to do something about shooting up your proficiency in a language. And if this isn’t the case, thanks for stopping by all the same.
Let me start with a fact which you may or may not agree on. Here goes!
80% of people who learnt a language in the university understand the syntax, pragmatics and semantics- basically the structure of the language they studied; but are not fluent in the usage of this language. They know all the grammar rules and can teach them but they find it very difficult to apply it in real life situations. Sound familiar?
The remaining 20% who can speak their target language(s) fluently are autonomous learners who didn’t depend solely on regular language learning methods but made deliberate attempts to go beyond the walls of the traditional language classroom. Surprisingly, these are the people we call “geniuses” or “talented language learners”
What am I on about? In a typical language class, emphasis is placed on grammar RULES- Word order, case system, inflections etc. Do we need to have a knowledge of grammar? YES! It is pivotal to making correct sentences when we interact. The problem however, is the anxiety that comes with the consciousness of grammar rules. Does this sound familiar too?
Imagine having to think about grammatical structures and vocabulary at the same time, before you speak. Difficult yeah? I know. You’ll agree with me that you don’t think about grammar rules before you speak your mother tongue or native language. You just speak it!
So why do you stutter when you speak your target language?
There is a syndrome called “Foreign language Anxiety” – it’s the feeling of nervousness that comes with learning a foreign language. In other words, It is the fear of screwing up. It is highly triggered by oral related tasks. Sound familiar? I guess we’ve found the enemy here- Anxiety. The absence of anxiety is the beginning of perfection! No wonder children are better language learners. It’s because they have absolutely nothing to worry about.
So what do we do?
We can’t scrap grammar but it can be delayed. Stephen Krashen, a renowned expert in the field of linguistics, suggests that in learning a language, it is more efficient to delay grammar study until the student has acquired enough vocabulary through reading. In other words, it’s input(reading and listening) before output (speaking and writing).
We stutter because we didn’t know enough words, phrases and collocations through reading before we started speaking. What have we done? By starting our language journey with a bunch of grammar rules, we have placed the cart before the horse and have while being babies skipped milk to taking solid food that we now find difficult to chew. Can we correct this anomaly? Yes!
Here are a few steps to take to build your vocabulary and help you get fluent.
- Read books in your target language.- Read, read and read! Read books, blog posts, articles written in your target language. You don’t want to get bored up, so I suggest you read on a topic that fascinates you. You shouldn’t also read large chunks of texts if you can’t. Go from simple to complex.
- Listen a lot! – News, podcasts, music. Some language experts say that transcribing while actively listening helps to train the ears. Well it does more than this. When we listen often, our brain registers frequently heard words and translates them to active vocabulary. These words become spontaneously available to us when we speak. This is why we should listen more.
- Learn noun and verb collocations– Don’t learn words independently. Learn collocations. A Collocation is a combination of two or more words that often go together.To attain linguistic intuition, find out what native speakers would rather say. In English for example, one would say fast food and not
quick food. Also, a native speaker would say I’m on the bus not in the bus.
- Make those passively learnt words active– Use new words frequently in a sentence. write it, say it, post it.
- Grammar is not your enemy– You shouldn’t stop studying grammar but you should practice in bits so that you don’t get overwhelmed. For starters, pick a topic and study it for 2-3 weeks. Take online practice tests to track your progress. Doing this consistently would grant you an intuitive knowledge in your target language. In German, this concept is called Sprachgefühl
- Set achievable goals and be consistent– Design a language study time table and follow it strictly. Applaud yourself when you complete daily tasks.
- Keep it fun and simple!
And most importantly, get rid of that anxiety. You are doing amazing!
You might need an accountability partner. I’d love to hold your hands on your journey to fluency. Send me a message.