It’s pretty easy to get started learning a new language. Becoming truly fluent, though, is difficult. I’m often asked for advice by English learners who have been studying the language for years but haven’t improved as much as they would have liked. This is the advice I give them:
On my site PhraseMix.com, I teach English through example sentences. When I explain a sentence, I don’t break it up into words and grammar points. Instead, I pick out useful combinations of words. For example, this paragraph uses the phrases:
- on my site
- break ~ up into ~ and ~
- pick out ~
Learning phrases is effective because a phrase is like a box. If you try to pick up a bunch of little items that are sitting on your desk, you’ll only be able to hold a few before you drop them. But if you collect the items in boxes, you can hold a lot more of them. Likewise, you can hold more words and grammatical structures in your memory by storing them as phrases.
2. Always review what you’ve learned.
Imagine trying to learn a language by reading a translation of each word in the dictionary, one by one, in order. At the end of that course, how much of the language would you remember? Almost none, I’d venture.
If you’re not already creating custom flashcards for yourself, start today. A flashcard system that automatically schedules reviews, like Brainscape, makes reviewing even easier and more effective.
You know the old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” But there’s another saying as well, “Practice makes permanent.” If you continue to use language that’s incorrect, you’ll develop bad habits that are difficult to break.Most material that’s written for language learners is a little unnatural. It’s designed to be easy to understand, which makes sense. But there can be a big gap between the way things are written in a language textbook and the way that native speakers really speak and write. Use material that’s meant for native speakers whenever possible. It will be difficult in the beginning, but4. Mix it up.
This leads me to my next point: you need variety. I’ve met plenty of long-time English learners who still weren’t fluent after years of going to classes and listening to the English news on the radio. Don’t fall into the trap of doing the same one or two activities every day.If you usually study vocabulary, try listening to a podcast from time to time. If you usually watch foreign TV shows, try watching amateur videos on YouTube instead. If you usually discuss politics with a tutor, try acting out different scenarios that might happen at the bank one day.
5. Make it an addiction.