What’s the perfect method to learn a language? | Natural Language Institute

What’s the perfect method to learn a language?

Written by Victor | Founder - 18/sep/2020 #Language and Education

Choosing the best method to learn and master a language is not easy. That’s why, having learned and taught languages my entire life, I’ve identified seven key factors to guide you in your choice.

Ever since I was five years old, I’ve been thinking about the process of acquiring a language, and for the past twenty years, I’ve been working hard at discovering the perfect method to learn a language as effectively and efficiently as possible. 

I’ve identified 7 key factors that constitute the perfect language-learning approach that I’m going to share with you in this video. The last one is probably the most innovative, so stick around until the end. 

The first key factor in a perfect language-learning method is that it be tailored to your specific interests, preferences, and learning objectives. Typical methods that use standardized content will fail to engage you. But a flexible method that has content tailored to your interests will keep you motivated and interested and that’s key to successful language learning.

The second essential factor in an ideal language-learning method is that it combines the four language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. This is important because you don’t want imbalanced mastery of a language. You don’t want to be able to understand but not speak, read but not write. But it’s also important because the four language skills work synergically. So, by combining the four, you’ll actually learn all of them more quickly.

I’m going to give you a couple of examples: by improving your pronunciation through speaking, and getting feedback from a teacher or a native speaker, your brain will learn to distinguish phonemes better and that will benefit your listening skills greatly. Also, the only way to get good at writing is by practicing a lot of writing, but that will also help your speaking, because writing is kind of a slow motion process where you can take all your passive knowledge that you’ve gained through reading and listening and learn to produce output in the language, which is what you need to do when you’re speaking, just more quickly.

The third key factor in an ideal language-learning method is that it be communicative. So, if you spend your time memorizing long lists of vocabulary or studying grammatical rules or doing translations, that won’t be enough for you to learn to communicate. If it were sufficient to know thousands of definitions and all the grammar rules in a language well, computers would have learned natural language speaking and writing a long time ago. But language is just so much more complex than that. So the only way for your brain to learn the necessary connections and develop the necessary circuitry for effective communication is through a communicative method.

It’s also so important to have context that is meaningful to you. And real communication is what gives you that context. So the other problem with memorizing thousands of vocabulary words in isolation is that you can commit them to your short-term memory, but they won’t stick around in the long-term. Years later you’ll have forgotten all of them if you haven’t used them in communicative ways; whereas, if you learn that vocabulary in a context of real communication that you are emotionally invested in, you will retain most of it in the long-term.

The fourth key factor in an ideal language-learning method is that it uses authentic content. Authentic content is just so much more interesting than textbooks and prefabricated dialogues. I can guarantee that you’re not going to fall in love with textbooks and dialogues, but I can’t guarantee that you won’t fall in love with movies, music, and literature in the language that you’re studying. And if you do, it will not only make the process of learning the language so much more enjoyable and effective in the short term, it will become a lifelong pursuit, allowing you to continue to improve over the years.

Also, authentic content reflects the richness and variety of how that language is naturally used. So avoid that stilted textbook language mastery that actually can work against you, because you think you’ve attained a certain level, but then you go to the country, you’re out in the street and you can’t understand what it’s being said. That is the other reason that authentic content is so important.

The fifth key factor in an ideal method is that it uses level-appropriate content. So, if you’re trying to read things, or listen to things that are far beyond your level, it will be frustrating and it won’t be that efficient, because you’ll have a hard time deciphering anything and absorbing new vocabulary and new grammatical structures. But also, it’s important to learn the most frequently used words, and the most common grammatical structures in the language first. Because that will be the most efficient way for you to get to the next level and continually make progress. 

The sixth key factor in the perfect method is that you get real-time corrections and feedback from a trained native speaker. Why a native speaker? By definition, native speakers have the greatest mastery of the language. They know the ins and the outs, they spend their entire lives communicating in that language. It’s so important to get real-time feedback and corrections because those corrections constitute the level-appropriate vocabulary and grammar that you need to learn to go to the next level. It will also help you to avoid plateauing and developing bad habits in the language. 

The seventh key factor in an ideal language-learning method is that you are able to review the content that you’ve learned in conversation and writing so that you can benefit from the power of repetition. As I said before, simple lists of vocabulary or grammatical rules are not effective, because you don’t have context. But if you take your context-based learning—those vocabulary words, the pronunciation, those grammatical structures that you’ve learned through your writing and throughout your conversation—and then you review them, repeating them again and again, you’ll learn a lot more quickly and effectively. 

So there you have it! If you follow these seven principles, you’ll have an ideal language-learning method.

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