Language Learning 2.0: Simple, Sensible Short Cuts to Mastering New Languages in the Web 2.0 Age

Often I meet people who are trying to improve their communications but at the same time are trying to do it in a language that is not their first. I understand the problem well since it is what I do myself most of the time, but over the years I have picked up some useful shortcuts to speaking and writing more effectively in other languages. Some I have discovered myself and others I have learnt from language coaches around Europe. Today I will share some of them with you.

Traditional school methods are not suitable for busy people and are usually not focused at all on practical communications; there are many people who can conjugate verbs perfectly yet cannot make a simple presentation. A much more effective way is to follow these three tips:

1. DEFINE CLEAR, ACHIEVABLE GOALS. For each phase of your learning define a concrete and testable goal. For example, the first can be simply to go and buy something. A more advanced goal might be to deliver a simple presentation; a higher level goal might be to participate in a round table. With a goal for each phase you have something to focus on and you have the satisfaction of completing something when you have reached the goal.

2. LISTEN, LISTEN AND LISTEN. To train your brain to parse the new language it is important to listen as much as possible to the language. Today this is very simple because everyone has access to streamed radio and podcasts. Listen to talk radio or podcasts when you are travelling or any other dead time. You don’t even need to concentrate on what is being said because your brain can learn even when it is in the background. This technique is slow but takes no effort.

3. READ, READ AND READ. You’ll also need to read as much as possible in the new language. You need to read in two ways: first scanning large volumes quickly but without studying every word and occasionally to take one article and read it carefully, looking up every word. All serious newspapers have a website so you have access to new texts every day.

There are many other ways that the Web tools can help you master new languages. For example, if you need to practice talking you can chat free with people in other countries using Skype. You can also test phrases to see if they are correct by googling them. If you get zero hits the phrase is probably wrong. Check out also language learning podcasts, which you can find easily through Google. There are also some very handy online dictionaries and you can reach them quickly using the Google “define” operator (define:X finds you all the definitions of X).

But just one word of warning: Internet based free translation tools are not very useful for language learners because they are so unreliable. If you don’t believe me try translating some text you’re your language into another and then back again; the results are sometimes very funny. These free translation tools are only useful when you need to get a rough idea of the content of a document in another language.


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