When I first started learning Spanish in high school, one of the greatest challenges was having the courage to speak the language. I had already been studying Spanish for four years in high school, yet, by the time I went to college to double major in Spanish and Psychology, my Spanish still had a heavy American accent. It didn’t matter that I could write a ten-page essay or even read an entire novel in Spanish, but when I spoke it sounded as if I was still a high school student.
I learned that if I wanted to improve my Spanish speaking skills and sound like a native speaker, I would have to leave my comfort zone and make the effort to talk to native Spanish speakers. Luckily, I worked in nearby schools that had a Latino/Hispanic majority so it was easy to find people to speak with. It was only until I immersed myself and forced myself to only speak in Spanish that my accent finally improved. For the first time ever, after hearing me speak in Spanish, people would ask me if I was Mexican or study abroad in Spanish speaking countries.
However, if you are having difficulty finding native speakers of the foreign language you are learning, here are some other strategies you can use to immerse yourself in the language:
- Find material that reflect your language level. If you are new to learning a language, find videos and TV shows that contain more basic sentences. For example, you can start off with television shows that are geared towards children.
- Don’t limit yourself to language books. Language books do a good job of covering different vocabulary topics, but don’t limit yourself to only these subjects. Also, language books will never cover slang words so your vocabulary could sound overly formal.
- Learn how to recognize the basic sounds of a language. With a language as complicated as Mandarin, if you are unable to recognize the different sounds then it will be extremely difficult to pronounce any word. Listen to YouTube videos and movies in the foreign language and pay attention closely to the sounds. Challenge yourself by not placing English subtitles or else that will distract you from the sounds that the people are saying.
- Look for certain components of the language. When you are watching a video, movie, etc. in another language, look out for characteristics such as the tones, pitch, and rhythm. Remember that each language has it’s own style, so try to mimic that style when you speak in the language.
- Find yourself a personal language tutor! Nowadays, it is much easier to find a foreign language tutor online. You don’t even have to meet up with the tutor in person. Some people are willing to meet up over Skype or online classrooms.
- Take a phonetics class. If you prefer the classroom setting, then a phonetics class is the way to go! Learning the theory of phonetics is useful for understanding the basic sounds of any language and seeing how the sounds combine together to form words.
In my opinion, immersion is the best way to learn a language quickly. It may seem daunting to gather the courage to speak to someone in a completely different language, but your skills will develop the more you practice. The first months may be a drag as you struggle to form words and sentences, but it will be worth the effort once you see your language skills improving.