As native English speakers, we are the luckiest (but really unluckiest) people when it comes to learning a language! When you arrive to your destination, ready and excited to throw yourself into the culture and experience, you are going to come across a few hiccups!
One. Every man and their dog will speak ‘some’ English! So, if you are a beginner, your opportunity to practice, “Hola, me pones una cerveza” has been taken away without warning.
Two. If you already have a good grasp of the language, enough to have an understood but grammatically incorrect conversation. The “very helpful and understanding person” you are speaking to, will switch to English as soon as they hear an incorrect conjugation (even though, they will probably make just as many mistakes in English as you did in their language, if not more).
Three. You then have the ones who want to practice their English every opportunity they get! “Why don’t you move to England Kind Sir and spend as much money as I have moving here to learn,” is what I begrudgingly say in my head every time this happens.
Four. You finally get that foreign boyfriend/ girlfriend you’ve always wanted :). They end up learning more English than you do their language, enough said!
Five. Last but not least, when you finally think you speak well and do finally respond to that annoying person who has just switched to speaking English, “Could you reply in your language because we are in your country and I need to practice”, is when the pressure of saying that is just too much and you lose the ability to speak altogether.
This is why we are not really that lucky! If you are learning a language, being a native English speaker is going to be the biggest hurdle you’ll have to overcome.
Tips on learning a language and how to overcome being an native English speaker
Before you read the following… Please note, this is only going to work if you dedicate to this method like you have never dedicated before. Doing the following once a week is not enough, you need to do it every day, all day, as if your life depended on it!
Tip Number One: Watch TV programs that you have watched before, dubbed in the language that you want to learn. If you have watched them before, you already know the context; therefore, you do not need to understand word for word what is going on. Finally you have the excuse to sit in front of the TV all day, you are studying, no?
Anyway, this really works and you guys are luckier than ever before as you now have Netflix and HBO spreading across the globe. When I first arrived here, these sites (in different languages) did not exist! Believe me, watching the same episode of Sex and the City on youtube 1000 time because it is the only one you can find dubbed in Spanish, really takes it’s toll. “Yes Carrie, we know that Aiden needs to forgive you!”
Tip Number two: Read a book you have read before in your chosen language. Again, using materials that you are familiar with help so much! It took me about a year and a half to start understanding films and books that I had never watched/ read before. Furthermore, I don’t think I would have got there AT ALL if I hadn’t done what I am suggesting for you to do now.
Tip Number Three: Split your learning up! Please don’t use subtitles, life doesn’t have subtitles and you really need to practice listening if you want to make it in the real world. Leave the TV to listening and the books to reading, do not combine the two!
Tip Number four: Don’t worry if you don’t understand, it really doesn’t matter! You will one day, I promise.
Tip Number Five: Take part in organised language exchanges. It is very important to have that time dedicated to YOU speaking, especially at the beginning.
Tip Number Six: Get your head around what a verb, noun, adjective is, etc. before you even THINK about learning a language. Us Brits (not so much Americans) don’t tend to know much about grammar, and it can get really confusing when having to conjugate.
Most importantly, never stop! Think in the language, write a diary in the language, text in the language, listen to the language on the radio, all day, every day. Just do it, take control of it and make it happen. ‘Nothing good ever comes to those who wait’!