Forget What You Learned in Your High School Language Class

Most people learn a second language in school as part of their formal education. High school classes teach words, grammar, and conduct regular tests, but this method of learning isn't as beneficial as it should be.

Most people learn a second language in school as part of their formal education. High school classes teach words, grammar, and conduct regular tests, but this method of learning isn’t as beneficial as it should be. Many students can’t carry out a basic conversation or understand native speakers.

Language instructions provided in schools aren’t useful because most students only study it for around three hours a week during nine months of school. That accounts for less than 550 hours over a student’s high school career.

Understanding How We Learn Languages

Think about how we learn our native tongue. Human beings are exposed to their native language from the moment they’re born. Our brain forms connections as parents read stories, sing lullabies, indulge in some baby talk, etc. We absorb knowledge through exposure by communicating with other people and speaking it every day.

No one starts by learning strict grammar rules or accurate vocabulary. Children assimilate this knowledge by being immersed in a productive environment. That’s why people surrounded by a language pick it up faster. For example, students are more likely to learn Chinese accurately if they live in China for 2-3 years or are exposed to it regularly.

Did you know that children learning their mother tongue get approximately 14,000 hours of exposure in a period of 5 years? Students learning a second language in immersive environments would get around 7,000 hours of exposure in that period of time. That’s equivalent to eight and four hours every day, respectively.

Learn by Speaking

Don’t let these numbers intimidate you. Most people don’t have time to dedicate 4-8 hours every day, but they can still master a second language while having a busy lifestyle. Speaking is the best way to learn, especially if you’re conversing with a native. Here’s a look at some benefits of speaking:

  • Mastering Accent and Pronunciation – Regular speaking helps students learn proper pronunciation and develop a coherent accent. This aspect is especially crucial while learning tonal languages like Chinese. A change in tone can completely transform the meaning of the spoken word.
  • Gaining Confidence – Learners who speak regularly are more confident. They aren’t as worried about mistakes and are more eager to converse with natives. This confidence influences other aspects of learning as well. Speakers pick up new vocabulary quickly while some also develop a more instinctual grasp of grammar.
  • Motivation – Languages are complex and confusing, so it’s natural for people to lose motivation sometimes. Speaking is the least complicated aspect of this process; it simplifies things and helps new learners remain motivated.

Most native speakers will happily help, especially if you’re sincere about your desire to learn. Accept all corrections without hesitation and ask for clarifications whenever needed. Converse with natives from different regions, as that gives a broader understanding of a language.

Most people join classes which can be very beneficial. But you still need to supplement these classes every day by creating an immersive environment. Listen to different forms of media like podcasts, music, television programs, movies, etc., in the second language for the best results.

LinguaVirtua is for anyone who loves learning foreign languages. We get together online most Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and sometimes on weekends to practice speaking various languages.