Tag Archives: learning a second language

My ideas to improve my conversational skills in a new language

Recently, I have had a number of things that have been making me frustrated while trying to learn a second language. I think it has to do with a couple of things. Firstly, I am impatient. I want to learn this language more than anything I have ever wanted before. The second issue is that I am still struggling to speak easily in conversation despite the amount of practice I have done and the large amount of vocabulary I know. Does this sound familiar to you?

I have been studying the language I want to learn in a serious way for about 8 months now. There has been progress, I can do things I could not do 8 months ago. I can actually talk to a native speaker to communicate simple ideas, I understand quite a bit when reading and listening too. These are all signs of progress which is good. However, I have felt like my progression has slowed down instead of continued to accelerate. Obviously I have learned some new things but, likely not the right things that will help to improve my flow in conversation.

So, I had to start reflecting on what is preventing me from learning this language quickly. Why is it taking me so long to learn?  I have a few ideas, maybe you guys can leave your comments below and share some of your own discoveries to help other language learners get over challenges they are facing.

The goal I am working on right now is to be able to have a 30 minute conversation in my new language without feeling anxious or feeling like I am constantly straining my ears to understanding what the other person is saying to me. My goal is not fluency right now, it is only to be at a stage where it doesn’t feel difficult to communicate. So I asked myself: What part of the conversation is the most difficult?

learn english better

My first realization was that I was frustrated in general with the language. For the first time since I have started learning, I actually considered taking a break from learning for a while. That is not going to happen, I don’t want to lose the progress I have made.

I don’t know about you but when I am frustrated I do not learn very well, my focus is very poor and I am even less receptive to criticism or corrections. In fact, when I am in a frustrated state of mind, the corrections have received actually take away from my confidence while speaking! What is interesting is that I WANT corrections, I need to know how to speak like a native speaker and how they would say it naturally. So, why am I losing confidence and feeling like a failure when I make a mistake? I can tell you, it is not in my mindset, it is my natural emotional reaction. I think it comes from the school system and how it is ‘bad’ to be wrong.

You may want to read my last article I wrote about problems with learning in a classroom or a group environment to understand what I am talking about in more detail.

I noticed I needed to focus on improving the areas where I am struggling during my conversations. Lately, I have been avoiding my grammar and verb textbook because I am trying to stop thinking like a word-for-word translator or conjugating verbs like a grammar textbook; however, there were 2 past tenses that I have been unable to use in conversation because I am always doubting myself. I can’t remember the verb ‘rules’ and which verbs have the exceptions. So naturally, I have not been using it and I have forgotten the rules. To my surprise, I was able to review the 2 tenses and the rules in less than an hour (rather than the month it took me to learn the first time). I have no idea why I didn’t do this sooner.

A concern that I really needed to address (to look at), was my reaction to corrections. Consciously, I know that corrections are what I want and need. My emotional reaction says something different. I decided to make this into a positive mental game. Every time I make a mistake (and the other person is nice enough to correct me), I give myself a point or make a note to myself that this is a positive thing. ‘Mistakes’ signify that I am speaking outside of the vocabulary and grammar that I am comfortable speaking. The more mistakes I make, the more corrections I receive, the more I can learn in one conversation.

Be brave to start a real conversation

As I said before, I have a good vocabulary base in the language but I noticed I am using the same words over and over again instead of new vocabulary or verbs. Active vocabulary refers to the words that are easy for you remember and you feel comfortable and confident using them. Lately, my focus has been on building new vocabulary but I clearly need to strengthen some of the original vocabulary I studied and ‘learned’. When I am speaking, I know that these words are in my head but they are not part of my active vocabulary. I have too many words that are part of my passive vocabulary.  Words that feel like they are stored in the basement of a library, that is super difficult to access, instead of being accessible at the front of my mind easily. I will leave some more information about the vocabulary app I use at the end of this article, it’s a really good one and it’s free!

I have changed my approach to ‘learning’ the vocabulary in my word this time. When I see a word, I try to put it into at least 3 sentences. I have been surprised by how many words I could not do this with. Usually this happens with verbs that I am unsure of the conjugation or how it works grammatically in an actual sentence. I also I have to say the sentences out loud. Yes, I talk to myself all the time, luckily it is usually in my car but I do it while walking too. When I speak out loud, I can identify words that are difficult to say and I work on the pronunciation.

This last idea for building active vocabulary is my favorite one. I have a few different language exchange partners and I have noticed we all want the same thing… We want a customized recording from a native speaker. So, I send them a list of words I am trying to learn and they make a story out of the words. It is so easy for the native speaker to record 5 minutes of audio in their own language. The benefit for me is priceless. I can review hundreds of vocabulary words in less than 30 minutes of audio. Beyond that, you get to hear the accent of the person you are practicing with. Not only will you be able to understand them better when you speak but you can try to mimic the accent and how they say the words or sentences. I appreciate these recordings so much.  I even try to create a dictation so I can study the grammar of the story, test my listening comprehension,  identify new words in the audio and learn what they mean.

Please tell me what ideas you have or ideas that have helped you with your conversations. Don’t forget to follow this blog so you know when I release a new post. I’ll try to  give you guys an update to share if my new techniques are helping my progress with conversation.

As I promised, the application or website I use  for reviewing words is a flashcard app called Brainscape. It’s a free app and you can build your own flashcard decks or purchase one of their existing flashcard decks for the language you are learning. This website or phone app uses a system called spaced repetition, which shows you words you are not confident with more often than the words you know well.

Happy learning!

The Big Problem with Learning Languages in a Classroom

Recently, I was talking to a girl I know who decided to start learning a language to be able to travel comfortably later this year. She is studying to be a lawyer at a university already, so she decided to take the language course through the university. The previous week, I had recommended a website where she could find a native speaker to practice with, a service that is free, (www.conversationexchange.com.) This was her response,

No, not yet. The reason is that I am worried about saying something wrong. I am kind of nervous to try, It’s also very uncomfortable for me to talk to people for the first time especially by Skype. Sometimes when I am in my language class, my professor will ask me a question. Even if I think I know the answer, I don’t want to say it because I think I might be wrong or I think I might have misunderstood the question.”

Where does negative feeling of being ‘incorrect or wrong’ come from??? Well, I will tell you what I think…

Schools from all around the world use a similar method for teaching groups of people. They present the information to the students, they ask some questions to make sure the students understand, theembarrassed girl intermediate englishy do some exercises and then they give you a test to evaluate your performance. This is the system I know and see the most often in public schools since, I was a child. Of course, there are exceptions. So what is the problem with the system?

There is only one goal for the student: To try to be correct!

The education system values these ideas: it is bad to make errors, to be incorrect or to not know the answer. If you are not correct, you will receive a penalty such as a lower grades or marks, social humiliation and you will likely feel stupid for not knowing the answers.

We are not borne with this knowledge, which is why we are in school or a course. The only way to learn is to make mistakes until you figure out how to do it correctly. This teaching method is accepted and is used because it allows teachers to measure results. The issue with this style of teaching is very clear when you compare learning a subject like math to learning a language. Math requires practice of a method to learn how to find the right answer. Language is creative and there are dozens of ways of expressing the same thought. There is no single answer that is right or wrong, just lots of practice to figure out how to say it better.

Anyone who is learning a language knows that you need try to use it. What happens is: we make lots of mistakes, ask lots of questions (questions that feel like stupid questions) and we need to be corrected all the time! In order to learn ANYTHING you need to try you start by taking a few guesses or tries until you find the answer.

I want you to imagine you are in a classroom and the teacher decides to ask you a question. You aren’t sure of the answer. This isn’t your fault because the teacher has not taught you or given an environment where you can safely ask the question. Next, you are classroom learning a languageforced to respond with either a guess or to announce to the entire class that you do not know the answer. Then you feel like an idiot, you feel stupid, you feel that everyone else in the class must think you are stupid too and of course, the teacher thinks you don’t remember anything they have taught you. This is a perfect example of the social humiliation aspect of being incorrect. If you are correct and you know the answer – you are allowed to skip the penalty for not knowing something new.

Where is the encouragement to try even if you are incorrect? Why is there no system to reward students for trying? The harder you try, the more you should be rewarded. A person who tries all the time, without fear of being embarrassed, receiving poor grades or looking stupid will perform better, they will learn more. They will ask more questions too.

Unfortunately, after going through an educational system that values ‘being correct’ above everything else; we develop a mental attitude that makes us hate the feeling of ‘being incorrect’. It has created an ego inside of us and that ego has one goal: I must be correct so I can be reward by the education system. Making mistakes is an unavoidable part of learning, teachers know this fact but the method of teaching does not create the optimal environment for learning.

I cannot offer any solutions to the problems in the teaching methods I have talked about today, but I hope that by telling you my opinion, you will be aware of your natural desire to be ‘correct’ all the time and where it comes from. Please share your opinion in the comments below and let me know if you like the educational system or if you feel it could be improved.

Be sure to follow this blog if you liked this post. Visit my website at http://www.realenglishconversations.net/.

Keeping your Motivation Momentum for Learning Part 3

The biggest motivator is progress, hands down (without any doubt). At times you can forget to look at the amazing progress you have made. Personally, I am not very good at documenting my progress on a calendar or even taking measurements before I start on a goal.  For this reason, it can feel like I am not making any progress.

To view part 1 of this article Click Here ‘Are you lacking discipline or motivation to learn English’

To view Part 2 of this article Click Here ‘Finding the long term motivation to learn another language’

What I find to be an effective way to appreciate my progress is to look back one month. It seems to be enough time that I can still clearly remember with clarity how I was feeling or what my skill level was at during that time. It is also enough time to make noticeable progress.

Motivational Quote Learn English

Last month I was working on my listening skills. Something I have be struggling with since I started to learn another language.  I decided to give a bit of special attention to my listening comprehension for about 3 weeks, mainly to improve conversations. I started listening to more challenging audio of conversations than I was comfortable listening to. I also had real conversations through language exchanges with native speakers. I really tried to focus on the sounds, tried to separate the sounds into words I was hearing and most importantly, I stopped trying to understand every word I was hearing.

The first time I listened to a 100% Spanish conversation I could only understand about 50% of what was said and I could only handle 10 minutes of listening at a time. My brain was overloaded. How was I feeling when I heard a difficult conversation? I was feeling frustrated that I could not understand more and that I was still overwhelmed by the speed of the conversation.

One month later: I can listen to 2-3 hours of Spanish audio at a time without my brain feeling tired or overwhelmed. The ‘intermediate’ audio now seems slow. Initially I could not hear that the hosts were actually speaking slower. I now understand 80-90% of all the words and can now learn new words just from listening to the audio.

Have I made progress? Absolutely but the truth is, if you asked me if I have made any progress since last week, I would say, “No, I do not feel I have made progress since last week.” This is why it is very important to remember back to a period of time you can still remember well; and make sure it is enough time where you have had time to make progress.

Momentum Quote Learn English

What if you cannot recognize any progress? Firstly, you need to ask yourself if you have been studying and if you method is working. If you are not sure, I would suggest trying a different technique. Sometimes we are stuck in a certain learning style but trying something different can be an easy solution to see more progress. If you are confident in the system you are using but you cannot recognize your results, you might have to find a way of recording you current level for comparison at a later time.

I use a goal tracking app to track how many new words I have learned, how many hours I have studied, hours spoken and hours I have listened to my target language. This is another tool I use to stay motivated. When I see that I have learned 2500+ words in 8 months or that I have studied over 400 hours… that’s cool. I have no choice but to recognize I have come a long way.

What methods have worked for you to stay motivated? Please share your strategies so that others can learn from your ideas!

P.S. – A side note, but a great piece of advice I would like to share with you about listening comprehension. If you struggle with understanding what you hear:

  1. Try to figure out what the person is talking about, in general. Stop trying to hear every word.
  2. Do not stop to think about a word you recognize: you either know it or you don’t. If you know the word, your brain will be able to process the meaning, don’t worry about the ones you don’t know or recognize.

Are you lacking discipline or motivation to learn English? Part 1

Where does our self-discipline come from? Why can some people operate in a way that allows them to accomplish anything, while others can hardly maintain their existence? How can we change the negative feeling of discipline into the positive feeling of motivation?

I was thinking about the difference between self-discipline and motivation. The word discipline, in general, has a negative sound to it. It is a word that makes you feel like you have to do something even though you do not want to.  Whether it is the type of discipline you receive for bad behaviour from someone else (example: being disciplined as a child from a parent). Or self-discipline which creates negative feeling about yourself when you do not complete a task you have decided to do. Therefore, you are disciplining yourself.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
‒Nelson Mandela

The type of discipline I am speaking about in this article is self-discipline. We praise ourselves when we have self-disciple because it means you have the ability do something, even if you don’t want to do it. Discipline is also known as will-power. Everyone has a different amount of will-power within themselves and the amount of will-power within a person changes from day-to-day. It is also different from one person to the next.

I would like you to think about your will-power as a bank account. Your will-power (or discipline) will run out each day if you are not careful how you use it. Everyday activities are taking withdrawals from you will-power account, or in other words, taking away from the amount of will-power you have left for the day. Going to work, taking care of kids, doing some exercise, eating healthy and learning a second language are great examples that typically require discipline and will power.

Where does motivation come from? How is it different than will-power or discipline? Unlike discipline, the word motivation has a positive energy. Motivation comes an idea to improve something. Motivation also creates action. When you take action towards a goal, you will have results, which can create more motivation.

Motivation starts with a great idea. One that is really going to help you to improve you life in some way. The motivation comes when you decide to take action on this great idea. At the beginning, you will see progress and some results. The idea is new, interesting and exciting, so you naturally have a high level of motivation to do the activity every day.

But then… something becomes difficult or it is not as intereMotivational quote to learn englishsting anymore and the natural motivation dies.

This is the point in time where you need to decide: Am I going to use my will-power every day until this goal is complete? Or am I going to figure out how to stay motivated? When you are motivated about an activity, you do not need to withdrawal or deduct from your will-power account to complete that activity.

Find the second part of this article by clicking here. This is part one of a four part series. Follow this blog to receive updates when I post a new article! Thanks for reading :)

-Amy

Is learning English one of your Greatest Accomplishments?

In June of this year I turned 30 years old. I heard many comments near my birthday from other people relating to  being in my 30’s. The most common question was: How do you feel about being 30?

The truth is I feel like I have the life experience of someone who is much older, maybe even 40. So my answer to the question is typically: I have done a lot of great things already and I don’t have any regrets about not taking action on the things I wanted to pursue. I feel pretty good with what I have accomplished so far!

What have I accomplished so far that make me feel this way? And how do these accomplishments compare to my feelings about learning a second language? Well, here are the highlights:

  • I started my first business at 20, it has been successfully operating for over 10 years now.Success Quote
  • I have travelled to many countries.
  • I found a wonderful husband who feels like my best friend for 12 years now.
  • I own my own home.
  • And I know exactly what I want to do with my life in within the next 5 years.

For someone that is 30, other people may think I have had ‘success’ or accomplished a lot in my life so far; however, none of these things compare to the feeling I have inside when I think about how it will feel when I am able to communicate easily in a second language. I cannot wait until I am able to live the moment where I am in another country and have conversations with new friends in another language, just like the conversations I have now.

There is something different about the process of working through the constant challenges of learning a new language. It is a humbling experience that makes you feel excited, frustrated, super-smart, very stupid, brave, intimidated and embarrassed all in one day! It is nothing like starting a business where you can blame the economy, lack of experience or any other factor – learning a language is personal and the challenges affect you on a personal level.

Success is often determined by money; even though learning a language does not have a monetary impact on your life, I still consider it a huge accomplishment. I even believe it will be one of my greatest success stories. By experience the process that you must go through when learning a language, it is amazing feeling of success when you finally reach your goal. It’s a set of challenges that you have to deal with and overcome them. These are the type of skills that make you a better person at the end of the day, a more productive person that thinks creatively, has discipline and doesn’t give up when things get difficult.Success picture

I hope you guys realize that you have already accomplished a lot, especially if you are reading this blog post in English. Take a minute to recognize how far you have come and give yourself a moment to find that feeling of success you will have inside when you can finally communicate in your new language.