Action Plan for the Terminally Bad at Language

So if you found this blog there’s a chance you’re interested in language learning and you may even consider yourself bad at language learning and if that is the case – fear not! You can get good at language no matter how bad you think you are!

Step 1

You have to start somewhere to get some basic vocabulary and enough conversational ability to be useful and boost your confidence enough to progress further. One way to get that initial boost is through using an audio course like Pimsleur or even Rosetta Stone for a more complete computer based training system. Either one will do the job if you follow their instructions and don’t expect overnight fluency.

One quite major downside with both Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone is the price which can be quite high if you are serious enough to buy all levels. However there is an alternative for what may be a more palatable price – FREE! Yes thats right, you can get an audio based language course (often with text) for absolutely nothing thanks to the US government’s Foreign Service Institute which produced a range of language courses for training diplomats and other government employees. These FSI courses can be downloaded here and are great way to get started with a new language and also to accompany Pimsleur or other methods. There are some issues with the FSI courses though for example they can seem quite dated in the language used and some levels may be missing or incomplete but they are free so don’t complain! 

Step 2

Once you’ve completed Pimsleur or some other similar course (or alongside if you’re up to the challenge) you need to boost vocabulary. Learning long lists of vocabulary is one of the worst aspects of language learning that many of us were forced to endure at school and in general is just not much fun and quite often not much use since what is learned one day is forgotten the next. Modern technology comes to the rescue in the form of spaced repetition software. One of the better known SRS applications is AnkiSRS – a type of computerised flashcard system which is free and available on many platforms including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iPhone and more. Simply install it and grab any of the countless language packs and let it do its job – a few minutes every day is all it takes to learn and actually remember lots of new vocabulary.

Step 3

Traditionally language immersion has been considered (rightly so) one of the best ways to attain fluency in a language. These days one can immerse in a language withough ever leaving home through the use of online resources. YouTube has millions of foreign language videos, many popular sites offer interfaces in multiple languages, Internet radio stations provide free streaming music and talk from every corner of the globe, 24 hours a day.

Step 4

Once you have a few words under your belt you can move on to the language exchange – you can actually do this at a very early stage as long as you can find a willing exchange partner. With a language exchange you can have real live conversations with native speakers of any language you want and in exchange of course you help your partner to talk in your language. Such exchanges can be done online for free using VOIP systems such as Skype and can be arranged through various language learning communities.

Step 5

Ok now you’re doing well and you could be pretty much fluent by now, particularly after doing lots of language exchanges, you’re able to hold a conversation about all manner of things and you have a decent vocabulary. But you can go further if you want – head off to whatever exotic part of the world speaks the language you are learning and once there you must drop your old language like a hot brick. Avoid anyone that speaks your own language, go out and mingle with the locals and force yourself to speak in their language and even if you find you don’t know a word, just wave your arms around or point to things or even draw a picture if you have to – whatever it takes to get the message across without you having to fall back to your language. By all accounts this can be painful at first but if you persevere you will make huge progress and soon be fully fluent while also making new friends and having lots of fun!

If you are really brave you can even just jump straight in at step 5 and do whatever fits from the other steps while fully immersed with the locals. Naturally it will be much harder at the beginning but the end result will be the same as long as you can stay there long enough.

You can of course pick and choose what methods work for you, or do them in any order you feel like. There’s no rules here, just as long as you keep at it, don’t give up too soon. Steady consistent effort with a range of methods will yield great progress – just mix it up and keep it fun.