Second Language Acquisition

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How can I learn foreign languages rapidly and efficiently, please?

Expert Answers

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I have traveled and learned several languages conversationally and learned one language at depth in a military language school. Immersion (or as close as you can get to it) is key. That means a very uncomfortable time period where you are listening and watching and picking up as much as you can in context. Try to mimic the process of learning your native language: listening first, moving on to speaking for functional needs (food, etc.), then reading and writing. Think of the natural process of learning language, and how it serves a functional purpose, i.e. helping you get what you want/need first. If you skip ahead to the writing/reading part before you are a fairly accomplished listener, you will find it much more difficult to become fluent, so be patient with yourself. Learning by immersion is fairly stressful, so give yourself breaks. I would recommend finding native speakers to speak with in a functional setting (buying items at a store, eating and ordering at a restaurant, traversing a town and following directions, etc.) Try to make it functional: It is a great reward to receive a dish you ordered, or even find the bathroom (based on directions given in a foreign language). 

While you are finishing building your listening base, it is a great tool if you can find find movies, etc. that are subtitled in the foreign language, so you can start making connections between the written text and the spoken word.

The best advice I can give you is to be patient with yourself, connect to actual native speakers, and follow the natural language progression from listening up (slowly) through writing.

Good luck! I wish you the best in your language learning adventures.

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Different students learn best using different modalities, and not every method works well for every student. Also, the strategies you should use for learning a foreign language vary with the purpose of your learning it. If you are preparing for graduate level language exams, you need reading fluency, but you do not need to write or speak the language, as the purpose is simply to be able to read scholarship in a specific field. On the other hand, if you are preparing to visit a country, and just want to be able to ask directions and order meals, you need speaking fluency, but grammar and writing are less important. If, however, you plan to study abroad or emigrate, you need to aim for near-native fluency.

In all language learning, immersion is the key. If you are focused on reading, spend at least 1-2 hours a day, every day reading in the target language. Make a flash card for each word you encounter that you do not know and review your flashcards two or three times a day.

For spoken fluency, begin by listening to the language as much as possible, combining audio lessons with watching movies or TV shows in the language, and eventually moving on to practicing conversation. 

The more hours you put into studying your target language and immersing yourself in it in your daily environment, the more fluency your will develop. Think about incorporating language practice into as many parts of your life as possible -- listening only to music in the language, watching movies in the language, listening to vocabulary lessons as you commute or exercise, etc.

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