As you may know, my mother-tongue isn’t English but French is. Over the years, however, I have acquired enough knowledge to start a blog in English, although from time to time you might come across a few grammatical mistakes.
France isn’t a country whose people is reputed for its bilingualism in English and neither was I raised in a family in which English was used, or even well known. Nevertheless, I have had the chance though to take English class ever since I was eight, at primary school. My love for the language hasn’t always been outstanding. When I entered middle school, I took the optional European class which consisted in two more hours of the basic English class. In high school, two hours of non-linguistical discipline were added to the curriculum (in my school it was history). And finally, I picked additional English as my major in the Literature class for the baccalaureate (i.e. A-Levels). Therefore, during my last years of high school, the amount of hours of English class (including history and literature in English) I took was about nine hours per week. That being said, school contributed a lot to my improvement in English.
And yet, it was not until the beginning of high school that my skills in this foreign language increased. Thus, I am now going to tell you my little tips and tricks to become fluent in a foreign language without having necessarily such a huge amount of class to take — or without having family that speaks fluently.
- DON’T NEGLECT CLASS. If you do take a language course at school, follow meticulously the grammar lessons. However boring they may be, sooner or later, they will end up being useful.
- LISTEN TO SONGS /RADIOS in the language you want to learn. This is fairly easy if you want to practice your English, but you may do it with other languages too. (I wouldn’t have come this far if it hadn’t been for those One Direction, Cher Lloyd or Selena Gomez’ songs in my teens.)
- WATCH FOREIGN TV SHOWS & MOVIES. Watching the same TV series over a long period of time enables you to acquire and remember more easily a new vocabulary, popular idioms and get used to the accents. Once your skills are strengthened, try out the subtitles in the original language. You can also follow Youtubers. (Big up to TVD & PLL!).
- USE A UNILINGUAL DICTIONARY. Forget about the bilingual dictionary you used in school, you’ll get used to reading in a language that is not your mother-tongue. EXTRA TIP: When I write some blog posts or poetry, in order not to repeat words too many times, I always open up a Google page to look up for words I don’t know. I type “define curious” if I’m looking for a synonym for this adjective.
- READ BOOKS. Start with the easy ones and then go on with the classics. You don’t have to understand every word of every sentence. Books, books and more books are key to learning vocabulary. Some editors even specialize in bilingual books, that could be a good try. You can also read newspapers and blogs!
- TRAVEL if you can. You get to hear the various accents and discover the lifestyle. Meeting locals is a bonus. (I have been twice to the UK in my life and it’s definitely been a delight to be only surrounded by people speaking English.)
- LEARN ABOUT THE CULTURE. Learning a language is also learning about the customs of the people speaking it. Don’t limit yourself to novels and dictionaries, watch and read documentaries about the history, the geography or any topic specific to the country.
- WRITE. If you enjoy writing, like me, this will be easy. Personally, it’s been the key to improving my English. You don’t necessarily have to start a blog, although it can help with consistency. If you check my very first articles — which I briefly revised — on THHP, you’ll see that my language skills were not always that good. It took time. But the more you write in a language that is not your mother-tongue, the less common mistakes you’ll make. EXTRA TIPS: When you learn a new word, a word that strikes you, one that you hear regularly, try to use it in your next piece of writing. When writing papers for school, I always did that, even during exams. In the end, it paid off. Don’t use the same word more than two times in a paragraph if a synonym exists, this habit will broaden significantly your vocabulary.
If you follow those tips, I bet you’ll soon be a polyglot! Remember that it’s not because you don’t have family that speaks the language you want to learn that you can’t be fluent. I have way more vocabulary in English than I have in Italian — which is weird given that I’m half Italian and visit my family there frequently. But I’m planning on improving it, so I’m currently looking for TV shows to watch to expand my vocabulary — I’m open to every suggestion!
If you’re learning French, English or Portuguese, you can watch Damon & Jo‘s videos which are quite interesting and very entertaining!
How many languages can you speak? How did you learn them? Share away your tips!