There are three main elements you need to be effective. The first is that you have to learn smart, the second is that you have to practise, and the third is that you need some kind of motivation, so that you don’t give up.
The best way to approach this is to be smart in terms of both vocabulary and grammatical pattern learning.
Oxford foreign language dictionaries, for example, has a set of the 3,000 most important words that underpin their dictionaries. In fact, I think that’s crept up over the years, so it’s closer to around 3,600 now. The lexicographers – dictionary-writers – at Oxford have analysed texts using statistical patterning, and so on, in order to identify the most important and most frequently used words in English. So, my advice here, in terms of language learning, is to focus on the most frequent and useful core words, in the language you’ve decided to learn.
"A claim I’ve seen made frequently, on the web, is that just 300 words make up 65% of all written material in English."
A claim I’ve seen made frequently, on the web, is that just 300 words make up 65% of all written material in English. Hence, it’s worthwhile looking at word frequency lists and being targeted, in your vocabulary learning. After all, it stands to reason that some words will be more frequently used than others in any language.
Another smart way to approach vocabulary learning is to think about what you’re learning the language for. So if you’re learning to be an engineer, concentrate on learning those professional terms first.
Also, be targeted with grammar. You don’t have to learn everything. Again – identify grammatical patterns, focus on the most common, and learn those. There are no shortcuts to memorising stuff, so you have to be smart about it.
My advice here is to interact in your language daily without travelling – and with modern technology this is so easy to do. Depending on one’s area of interest, one can focus on music or literature, download books, comics and newspapers, or watch videos on YouTube. You can link up with site-based conversation practise tutorials, find Skype language buddies or pay people in other languages to talk about things with a mutual interest. So practising is important.
The final element is to have a strong personal motivation, for example having a romantic partner who is a native of the other language, particularly if you don’t share a language. Another is a professional motivation. Or it might be a hobby – liking a particular culture, for example. So identify what motivates you, and focus on those factors.
Vyvyan Evans is the author of The Crucible of Language: How Language and Mind Create Meaning.
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