Learning a new language is hard work, but there are some tools you can use to make it a little easier for those words or phrases you use a lot in your target language. Below are some of my favorite:
1. Use music to your advantage.
Music is everywhere, and in every language. Singing along to the words in your target language is convenient with the use of YouTube or your favorite app or website. It’s even better if you have the lyrics in front of you to follow along as you sing.
Want to know more about my favorite Spanish music? Check out this blog here!
2. Have a cache of words or phrases to use while you’re thinking of the word you want to say.
Also known as “filler words”, this is something like “like, so, and”, etc. in English – and can be something like “ah, así que, entonces”, etc. in Spanish. This doesn’t have to be an exhaustive list, but we all tend to have our own filler words in the midst of a conversation, since it lets the other person know you haven’t found your word, but are still intending to finish the thought.
3. Start thinking around a word or topic, instead of finding THE word.
We all get caught up trying to find the perfect word, which leaves the other person in the conversation bored. After all, filler words can get annoying if used too much. This is where the true power of language comes in – if you’re looking for the word for “salmon”, for example, try “pescado rosado” – pink fish. Use whatever vocabulary you have to describe what you mean. If we go back to the salmon example, you could also try “Que lo comen los osos” – what the bears eat. Keep trying, and practice expanding your vocabulary based on everyday life.
4. Make connections to everyday life
Tip #3 bleeds right into this – people talk about their lives. A farmer in the Midwestern U.S. is going to talk about different topics than a banker in New York, and a soapmaker in France. When we travel, we learn idioms (modismos) that tell us a bit about the lives and conversations, but it’s not until we truly live somewhere that we can connect our conversation to everyday life. As much as it pains me, no one really wants to know where the library is (a key phrase we all learned in Spanish class; ¿dónde está la biblioteca? Instead, if you work with accountants, learn some key financial terms. If you work in construction, learn basic tool names. If you remember these vocabulary words, move onto verbs, and as you say them in English, practice saying them in Spanish.
5. Use TV shows or movies to learn different phrases
This is by far one of the easiest tips. If you’re already following a show, turn on your target language subtitles. Stream a movie in Spanish (“Pocahontas” and “Aladdin” are my personal favorites). Listen to something that is either a basic level, such as Disney, or a level above. Some of my favorite movies include “También la Lluvia”, “Maria, llena eres de gracia”, and “Secuestro Express”.
6. Focus on your senses
This may sound a bit more out of the box, but it helps expand your vocabulary. Take an apple, for example – what is apple in Spanish? (manzana). What do you do with an apple? La comes, la masticas. How does an apple taste? How does it smell? (Huele como fruta, tiene sabor dulce, etc.). Instead of learning your regular vocabulary words, expand them so you can speak about these topics the same as you would in your native language.
7. Learn the basics, focus on conversation, then revisit the basics
I’ll be the first to tell you, verb tenses are confusing! It’s so much easier when you’re in conversation or mid-sentence in your book to comprehend what’s going on, instead of pulling out your magnifying glass like, “Hark! I see a pluscamperfecto verb here!” And I’ll again be the first to tell you, you need to know what you’re saying! The game is only made a game because there are rules and a process – and with every language comes rules and tenses to memorize. Therefore, the first rule is to learn the basics – then, go out in the world and focus on the natural progression of a conversation. The other person or people within your conversation won’t necessarily care what verb you choose, as long as it makes sense. Once you’ve done this, go back and revisit the basics – this is a very important step! Don’t think that just because you can speak with other people, you know everything. People may speak at any time, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they’ll be understood. Focus on this cycle; respect the cycle, and you will reap the rewards.
8. Read, read, read!
This is as important in your native language as it is in your target language. What are languages made of? Words. What are books made of? You guessed where this is going – you can only be truly fluent in a language when you can meet anyone of any class or standing, and be able to talk to them – this means speaking to a tradesman about plumbing, a professor about socioeconomic factors, or a mechanic about car issues. When you feel as though you’re using your target language about the same or more than your native language, you will feel truly bilingual. That feeling may stay, especially if you’re living abroad. However, more likely, the feeling will go, and reading will be able to transport you back to that fully bilingual stage.
9. Use technology to your advantage
There are so many ways to interact with native speakers; either through forums, going on websites such as MyLanguageExchange.com, and social media. Try following some of your favorite locations, and commenting in your target language.
10. Speak, speak, speak!
This tip is key and it’s also the hardest. To truly master a language, inside and out, you must be able to speak out loud with someone, practicing vocabulary, verbs, subject matter, and body language. Whenever and wherever you get the chance, speak your target language – even if it’s reading aloud, speaking to yourself, or singing along to music.