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Unorthodox Language Learning Techniques

How to learn a foreign language? It’s a question everyone has probably asked at least once—and some many, many times. Yet there’s no definite answer. I think it's because everyone’s language learning style is different, and it changes as you become better at it.

So far, I’ve only really discovered how not to learn a language. For example, what absolutely doesn’t work is spending a few hours a week studying if you have the hope of ever becoming fluent. If you want to learn a new language, you have to invest a significant amount of time in it. Period.

What also doesn’t work is studying books without actually using the language in conversations with others. You have to speak it, out loud, all the time. That's the only way to test yourself and see if you really "know it"--not just in theory, but in practice. Also, saying stuff out loud trains your mouth to speak the foreign language. Your mouth basically has to do a daily workout in order to become good at producing all those news sounds and words.

But the absolute worst thing you can do is this: worrying about it, or feeling stupid when you say something wrong. If you’re not enjoying yourself, I don’t think it’s possible to open your mind to the enormous amount of vocabulary and rules that need to be inserted to speak a new language fluently.

My current teacher understands this. In fact, she might understand it a little bit too well. One thing she does to keep lessons interesting is having no rules or structure whatsoever, letting the students choose any topic they like, and showing funny German videos that vaguely relate to what we’re saying.

But the best thing she does to keep things fun is “acting” out words. For example, I didn’t know how to say “against the wall,” so she bashed her head against a wall. I still don’t understand how that’s supposed to help me guess the words, but perhaps it’s effective in the sense that it was extremely funny and I remember the incident well.

Another time—and this really got me giggling—she taught us the multiple forms of the word “threaten” (to threaten, threatened, threatening) by repeatedly yelling gibberish at us and slamming the table. That was the same day she taught us how to say “to throw” by flinging her smartphone across the room, and enacting “fireworks.”

So, I’m happily going to class most days, wondering what the instructor has in store for us. “I’m so happy you don’t know the word for ‘rage’ yet,” she told us today, “so I can act it out.” I just hope she won’t hurt herself one of these days.


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