Do you ever feel lost and alone?
If so, that’s okay—we all feel like that sometimes. Humans are social creatures, and we have a built-in need for human connection.
When we try to learn a new language, that feeling of being lost can definitely flare up in new and strange ways. But that feeling is also normal, and there’s even something you can do about it: You need to make a meaningful connection with both the language you’re learning and the people who speak it.
Making a personal connection is not only a great way to get rid of loneliness, it’s also the easiest way to learn a new foreign language.
If you’re not yet convinced, allow me to persuade you. I’ll give you four easy yet important things you should know in order to learn a new language by forging a meaningful personal connection, along with plenty of tips and ideas to help you get started and continue on your road to success.
Making Meaningful Connections: The Easiest Way to Learn a New Language
Where Do I Begin?
Many people want to learn new languages for various reasons, but knowing where and how to start is very important.
While it’s true that everyone learns in different ways and some ways work better than others, I believe the easiest way to learn a new language is to create a personal connection with people who speak the language you’re trying to learn.
Creating a personal connection with people by spending one-on-one time with them is the most natural way to learn a new language, and my tips below have that crucial idea as their foundation.
Making foreign friends and connecting with children are two of many ways to create a personal connection with people who are fluent in the language you want to learn, so we’ll look at those ideas first.
You’ll Get By with a Little Help from Your Foreign Friends
One of the easiest ways to learn a new language is to learn from (or together with) friends you already have—or to make new friends specifically so you can learn a language.
Obviously, if you want to learn a language, it’s especially great if you make friends with native speakers of the language you’re trying to learn.
There are many great ways to make foreign friends. You can go on an overseas humanitarian trip. If you’re planning a trip abroad, you can use a website like Meetup.com to meet local people who speak the language you want to learn. You can join a club or take up a hobby that has meetings about things you’re interested in. There are nearly as many ways to meet new friends as there are new friends to meet.
Once you’ve made your new foreign friends, you need to practice, practice, practice.
Not only is learning a new language through your foreign friends a great way to make your friendship even stronger, you’ll also learn things from them you probably wouldn’t learn by taking a language class or by reading a textbook.
These things include elements of language that carry cultural baggage, like figures of speech, jokes and idioms. Learning a new language is much more than just learning about grammar and how to structure a sentence. It’s about learning how a culture thinks and immersing yourself into that culture through their language. Most of us would agree that it’s more fun to learn a new language through a friend than it is to learn it through a complete stranger, and that makes the entire process much easier.
One of the biggest advantages to learning a new language through your foreign friends is that they’ll most likely have more friends who speak the same language they do. This is a good thing because it’ll be easy for you to ask your foreign friend if they can introduce you to their friends, and that will be a great way to practice the language with them as well. The more friends you meet, the larger your friend network becomes, and it will naturally become easier and more enjoyable to learn their language.
Learn to Learn a Language Like a Child Does
It’s been said that children are able to learn a language much faster than an adult, but why is that?
Well, if you’ve ever noticed, children aren’t capable of taking a course at the local community college, downloading the latest language app by themselves or pulling all-night study sessions to learn a language.
According to a Standford University study, children learn a language fastest by simply hearing their parents talk to them in a relational way.
So in the case of learning a new language, rather than focusing on growing up, we actually need to grow down to match the simplicity of a child’s thinking. Kids don’t know anything about the language they’re trying to learn, and that’s why they’re always asking, “What’s that?”
Another thing that holds us back from learning a new language is our fear of making mistakes. Most young children aren’t afraid of trying something new or making mistakes because they haven’t experienced failure yet.
If your first language is English, then the way you think about how a sentence should be structured will be based on English sentence structure. The problem with this way of thinking is that the rules of grammar and sentence structure are different in every language. In Spanish, for example, “el gato negro” means “the black cat.” But for native English speakers, they might be tempted to say that phrase as “el negro gato.”
While that would be a direct translation, that’s not the correct way to say it in Spanish because the Spanish rules of grammar are different. But those differences don’t seem to faze children.
One reason children are able to learn languages so quickly is because they don’t need to unlearn a previously-acquired sentence structure so they can relearn the process of structuring sentences in another language. It’s important when we learn a new language to disregard (or at least view with a healthy dose of inquiry) everything we think we know about things like sentence structure, grammar and pronunciation.
Thinking like a child can also help you to connect personally with children, and connecting with a child in a personal way helps you to learn like a child. While that’s certainly much easier said than done, we can definitely learn a thing or two from children about learning a new language more effectively.
Now that we’ve seen the importance of making personal connections and why it’s important to learn like a child, let’s consider some ways to put those connections and approaches to use.
Make a One-on-one Connection with a Tutor
Now you might be thinking, “Doesn’t tutoring fall under the same category as taking a class?”
Well kind of, but not really. The big difference between the two is that tutoring is one-on-one, and taking a language class often involves 30 or more students trying to learn from one teacher who has a limited amount of time to spend with each student. Many people may think tutoring is not a realistic option because it’s expensive, but that’s not true.
In this day and age there are plenty of one-on-one online tutors who offer very low-priced language learning services. For example, a site like Wyzant will let you review the profile of your potential tutor to make sure they’re the right fit for you.
There are multiple benefits to having a private tutor. Two of the most important benefits are that you can receive one-on-one dialogue and get an understanding about proper grammar as well. These two things are important because, as I mentioned above, adults need to unlearn the grammar rules of their mother language before they can learn a foreign language. Having a private tutor can help to make this unlearn/relearn process much easier by giving you the undivided attention you need to learn quickly.
Another potential benefit to having a private tutor is that they can be like a personal coach. For those of you who have trouble motivating yourselves to connect with other people, let alone those who speak a foreign language, having a personal tutor will help give you the motivation you need to open up and learn a new language as fast as possible.
Lend a Hand: Volunteer
Depending on the type of charity or organization and the services they provide, volunteering for a humanitarian aid group is a great way to learn a new language by directly connecting with people in need. For example, I just recently signed up to volunteer for World Relief in Sacramento.
In this type of organization, I’ve discovered that learning a new language doesn’t have to be a one-way street. Not only does it give me the opportunity to help refugees from other nations learn English, but it also opens up the possibility for me to learn their language as well.
You can take a similar approach and volunteer where you live, or you can go to a new place to volunteer right in the middle of the action—where your target language is spoken. Most foreigners will naturally want to help you learn their language if you take the first step by helping them with something they need.
There are many, many options for learning a language while volunteering, depending on where you live and what language you want to learn. If you’re interested in Spanish and live in the US, for example, there are lots of opportunities right at your doorstep.
But don’t let geography limit you: you can always travel to a new place to volunteer and learn. Doing so will let you experience a new culture, learn a new language and, most importantly, make a personal connection with new people.
There are many good ways to learn a language, but building a real connection with people who are fluent in the language you want to learn is the easiest way.
For many of you, it may be challenging to put yourselves out there and build a real connection with new people.
While taking a risk and getting and to know people who speak a foreign language isn’t always easy, you’ll discover that this process gets much easier over time.
Learning a new language can be challenging but if you take the time to personally connect with the people you want to learn from, you’ll end up with a much easier, richer, faster and more enjoyable language learning experience.
Ernesto is an author, blogger and freelancer writer, and he is passionate about helping refugees and the poor. If you would like to connect with him, you can find him at ErnestoAragon.com
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