You’re on a journey. Yes, that’s what mastering a new language is. There is no overnight “quick-fix.” Language mastery involves speaking, reading, writing, and listening – all four. And getting to mastery in each of these four facets of foreign language learning will involve different strategies.
So, let’s unpack the strategies that will ultimately result in full mastery of a foreign language.
If you want to master speaking a foreign language, you have to actually speak it. And while this may be truly uncomfortable at first, the more you practice, the better you will become. Here are some key strategies:
- Get an app that provides verbal practice. There are so many out there, you can choose one that you find most engaging.
- Find a conversational “buddy.” There are plenty of websites that exist to match partners who want to learn each other’s language. Using any of the current “meet-up” programs, you will sit face-to-face with a native of your target language. You will hear that native pronounce words and phrases, with the right accents and intonations, and correct your mistakes as you correct theirs. This is an activity with very low risk, and that can be truly comfortable.
While listening to other natives in their own tongues can help with pronunciation, the larger value is what is often called “total immersion.” While you may be completely “in the dark” at first, over time, you will begin to recognize words, phrases, and sentences that you have heard before and be able to put them into context and garner meaning.
- Listen to the type of music you like in the target language, even with headphones while you do other things
- Install some language apps that will help to practice speaking and your pronunciation.
- Watch movies in the target language. You can begin with captions if you must, but at some point, you must watch them without any aids. You will be surprised how much you will understand as you watch the action unfold along with the verbiage.
So, this can be one of the biggest challenges. But it doesn’t have to be. Your success in mastering reading in the target language will be more gradual than that of speaking or listening, and it will depend on how you go about it.
- Start with children’s books. Why? Because you will see pictures that go along with the words. Yes, the vocabulary will be simple. And the sentence structure will be as well, but it will be correct. You will easily grasp the meaning and may even pick up some new words. From there, graduate to comic books, again more pictures but also a more sophisticated vocabulary and phrasing arrangements.
- Graduate to newspaper articles – short pieces that won’t bog you down as a lengthier piece, like a book, might. The more newspaper and journal articles you read, the more you will pick up more sophisticated sentence structures and vocabulary.
- Ultimately, move on to books – fiction or nonfiction – with topics or genres that really interest you. The greater the interest, the more motivation you will have.
Writing is perhaps the longest journey you have. Again, you will begin with short simple sentences.
- Read the writings of others you understand, and then try to mimic their sentence structures.
- Take those sentence structures and then construct your own sentences using those patterns.
- In the end, you may also want to get solid grammar and composition text.
What Level of Expertise Do You Want or Need?
There are all levels of mastery when someone learns a foreign language. The level you want depends upon what you want to do with that language.
If you plan to use it to communicate with others who are native to the target language, to read novels, to watch movies, or to perhaps tutor those of that language as they learn yours, then you will want a working mastery.
On the other hand, if you intend to use that foreign language in a career, that’s quite a different matter. For example, you might freelance for a translation service and provide employee handbook translation for businesses.
This type of work requires full mastery in all four areas of a language. Whichever your choice, begin with these 10 strategies, stick with your journey until you reach the mastery level that satisfies you.