Learning How to Speak in Your Target Language
Learning how to speak in a language can be a daunting task but over my eight years of learning languages I know quite a few helpful tips that I wish I had know when I was first starting.
1) Learn how to hear and pronounce as many minimal pairs in the language you are learning. What are minimal pairs? They are words that are very similar in sound but often times have different meaning. If you look it up for the language you are learning you can often find a list with pronunciations. If you can't find a list start noticing the words that are similar, write them down and pay close attention to how they are pronounced.
2) Be diligent in learning pronunciation AT THE START OF LEARNING A LANGUAGE. I was extremely lucky that my first two semesters of French my professor was from France and she made sure we learned the correct pronunciation. I have a lot of friends that are Native French speakers who tell me they are more impressed by my pronunciation (which correct about 90% of the time) than they are by grammar. There are specific letter groups that when put together make a certain sound (with some exceptions) in every language. For example in French ille/ill/il makes the ye sound like in yes or if you are familiar with the phonetic alphabet [j] as shown in maille, veilleuse, gaillard, ail, orteil, deuil, fille, tilleul, billard, coquillage. However there are exceptions. This can be hard when you are first starting but it pays off to do this because this will help train your ear to hear the differences in words (goes back to number 1 on the list) which will help you understand what is being said. I also say at the start because once you have been learning a language for a while and you've trained yourself to say the words a certain way it becomes that much harder to unlearn the incorrect pronunciations.
3) Pay attention to how native speakers pronounce words. THIS IS VITAL. Make sure it is a native too not someone else who is learning the language. In French for example in school we learn to say, "Je ne sais pas" but often native speakers take out the e for Je and ne so it sounds more like J'n sais pas. They do this a lot with vowels. Learn that. Learn how to pronounce it.
4) Record yourself saying a sentence and compare it to a native. Did you pronounce everything correctly?
5) However, where many many many people go wrong is they try to learn to speak fast. There are dialects in every language that speak faster and there are dialects that speak slower. People often tend to sound less fluid the faster they try to speak because they take more pauses to think. TAKE YOUR TIME. Speak slowly, give yourself time to think. I have seen this with many of my friends who are trying to learn English. Much of the time when they speak fast I have no idea what they are saying but if they slow down I understand.
6) Speak clearly. Much of the time speaking in another language we are shy/nervous/scared so we almost mumble. Speak so everyone can hear you.
7) Don't use complicated grammar that you don't know well. Use what you know!
8) If you forget a word try your best not to revert back to English (or whatever your native tongue is), find another way to say it in the language you are learning. I understand this can be hard for beginners but intermediate and up should use this as much as possible/always.
9) LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN download podcasts in your target language, listen to songs on repeat, watch videos, movies and pay attention.
10) Learn from context! If you don't know the meaning of a word can you guess by the context of the sentence? Or maybe you don't know a lot of words, do you understand the general idea? Maybe write down a few words that you don't understand and look them up. Spelling them right can be a challenge but if you've learned pronunciation well like I mentioned before usually you can get very close or in the ballpark.
May I add one more thing? Try to read in your target language as soon as you can. It's a great way to build vocabulary, active and passive, and reinforces your grammar skills. No need to look up every word – just read for the general idea, at least at first. And read aloud whenever possible. I find it helps get the rhythm of the language in my head and helps you remember.
Ah darnit! I knew I was missing something! That is on my list too. I think I'll just make another post for that. Thank you for the reminder!
Your comments about learning how to say correctly the target language through daily immersion in listening to or conversations with native speakers were very important.
I've taught English to many immigrants for over 30 years. The most successful students are always those who listen to their target language at least 15 minutes every day, find ways to daily chat with native speakers (Example--Find work where no one speaks your first language) but, most importantly, be childlike in your learning process. Laugh at yourself. Find the music in how your new language is spoken and copy how native speakers make it. IOW--Have fun, not frustration!
Finally, they need to understand that they will never speak the target language without their first language's accent. That fact is true for anyone acquiring a language after their childhood. Therefore, speaking slowly in your new target language will always be critical because natives will be trying to understand you through your accent. You will never match their expertise in speaking the target language but you can make yourself understood and your efforts will be appreciated.
Thank you. I catch myself trying to speak fast and not focusing on pronounciation.
Great post! From my experience- do not overcomplicate things, use simple words at first and build up your vocabulary from there. Memorizing words does not help without the context. Don't let grammar ruin your fun so get a book (A1 level), you'll pick-up instantly at least 400 easiest and most used words in everyday conversation. And when you think all that brain-pain was for nothing and you cannot possibly learn any more, turn on some good music in your target language and dance like crazy!
First two points are especially important in languages of the Caucasus such as Georgian, Circassian, Abkhaz, or Chechen.
This was a nice read. Thanks!
Excellent post, and a special reminder that speaking fast is not always best. I lingot you.
Great tips! You would probably be in the 20's when it comes to upvotes, but today, the trolls have been working hard today.
Today, I gave seen posts go from 10 to -2. I would caution everyone to refrain from posting today, until this wave of downvotes goes away.
It's only been an hour and OP has 15 upvotes. Perhaps the downvoters decided to go
get a life to bed.
These are great tips. I especially like the one about learning minimal pairs. Korean has a lot of those, which I previously found daunting, but I think if I use your tip to study them I will feel much more confident. Thank you so much! :)
1 is interesting...one of the courses I'd started one time, I think it was the FSI Spanish Basic Course, pretty much started out with the student listening to and repeating long strings of what must have been minimal pairs. Annoyed the HECK out of me at the time as I was getting all of these words and they weren't bothering to tell me the meaning of any of them. :P
Oh geez! That would be overwhelming! I am surprised they gave no explanation as to what was going on or what they were doing...
Oh they did, but I'd probably skipped over that part lol. Focusing on understanding and producing proper pronunciation (at speed) before anything else is an unusual way to teach a language, but might be a good thing. It just made me frustrated though.
Ah ah ah that would be a problem xD It has actually been proven that focusing on pronunciation and the sound of a language before learning what everything means helps you pick up more of the language faster because you can catch what they are saying, get really close at spelling it correctly so you can write it down to find out what it means. It also allows you to catch the nuances that anyone who focuses on grammar would not be able to. I have done a LOT of research on language learning and the psychology of it. The problem is our education system (in the US) thinks that forcing grammar down our throat is the way to go right from the start and it really isn't. It has distorted our way of thinking what the proper way of learning a language is. You really can overload your brain by studying too much, yet another thing the education system has yet to learn. I could probably write a five page essay on everything wrong with the education system here but I'll leave it at this; it is infinitely better to learn a language from context clues and imagery than from translation (which is what the education system often employs).
I'm able to learn a language at least 20 times faster than most people I've hung out with, not because I'm some sort of genius, but because I studied phonetics first, so much that I could read in the language with native like pronunciation but with zero understanding of what I was reading.
People (even FL teachers) think that in order to sound native you need to learn a language for years. Not true, it's just learning how to pronounce it from the beginning. You, sir, know the ''secret''!
PS: To prove my point, I've taught native pronunciation to two students who were in their early 70's plus both my grandmas. They all got it right on the first try, just like one hundred other students. The ones who didn't score it right away were the ones who had already become accustomed to saying things wrong or convinced themselves they were stupid.
It IS a lot of work to study languages, so they didn't keep up with correcting their pronunciations, but the proof was there.
People think native pronunciation is wizardry, but it all comes down to constantly saying something that at first feels weird and then growing used to it.
I am the same way! I never learned the phonetic alphabet but I have trained my ears to hear the slight nuances in how people pronounce words so I can pick up the differences. That makes all the difference. Once I have seen the language enough and heard how the words are pronounced, I can figure out how to pronounce most words if not close to all.
I always laugh when people give me weird looks when I tell them what they should do to help them learn a language because I always tell them focus on the sound and pronunciation first before anything else. And most of the time none of them listen to me. I am to the point where I will put my tips out there and people can decide whether they use them or not. I do love being proven wrong but you better have sources because I will say, "Prove it". I have done my research, I know what I am talking about.
I completely agree that it is work but I also think it isn't as much as we think. It's just we go about learning it all the wrong way.
I feel like practicing harder grammar helps you improve. Instead of sticking to what you know--you'll never improve if you only use what you know.
I say don't use complicated grammar that you don't know well when speaking because it makes it much more intimidating to speak. This however, doesn't mean you won't improve because if you follow the other tips I give they will help you in acquiring more vocabulary and more grammar. I also made a post here https://www.duolingo.com/comment/26471406 that expands on another point which is using reading to help learn to speak. So what you know will grow and the more you've heard something, the more comfortable you feel in using it. You'll find that over time what you found hard a year ago, is simple and you use it every day.