Learning a new language is tough. One of the most enjoyable and kick-in-the-butt experiences I’ve ever lived. Creativity will be your best friend against boredom when learning a new language and immersion one of your most powerful means.
When people ask me how did I learn English or since when I’ve been learning, I am a bit speechless. All my life? Properly since a few years ago? I don’t know. Finding the specific point on my life-line is a bit too much asking but I can say something for sure:
I started loving this new language since I was 11 or so.
When I was in secondary school, oh boy, the time of ‘crushes’ began and I had no one better than Taylor Swift to walk along with me on this painful journey. Yes, that’s right, I would listen to every single one of her most cheesy songs possible and sing along with the lyrics. I had one big challenge for my self-pity start moments: ENGLISH.
My first Taylor Swift song ever? ‘You belong with me’ and the video was so epic that I had to understand what she was saying! “She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts. She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers” (Yep, the struggle was real).
I looked up the lyrics and did this awesome thing that changed my life (okay, not quite): Lyrics in Spanish! I couldn’t believe that beautiful language that sounded so beautiful could be translated into such a boring language (sorry, Spanish) or at least that is the feeling after living all your life talking the same language. Every expression sounded better! my voice as well sounded better in English! (not quite, again) and that was the beginning of my love story with English.
You see, it wasn’t because English was so fun in the first place, but because I needed that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to start getting more and more involved in English so let me give you a summary of the most significant things that helped me to get a decent English level and stay (mostly) sane:
✓ Find something you love and start little by little introducing the new language into it.
I found it fascinating the world out there in English, from those Taylor Swift songs to listening to my favourite characters in my rom-com movies/programs. Then I found beauty gurus on Youtube in English and little by little I became fonder into the language. Later on, I found it so interesting reading my bible in English, it just became so much personal and easy to understand in my opinion. I was introducing everything I was so into to this new Crazy Language world.
Ain’t sure where to start? Run to your YouTube search history and see where your curiosity often leads you, do the same with the random questions you throw to Google like “How to make friends” and stuff (hey, all questions are valid). Now you have an idea what are you into, what worries you or something you really are looking for answers, so try the same titles in that language and see where it takes you!
✓ Reading books!
I am not a good reader. I read the first “Hunger Games” book in a year and a half and no shame there (well, a little). During the first months, I wasn’t constant due to it was so tiring to translate minimum a word of every single line (for real). I learned I needed to make more effort on getting engaged with the story, which sometimes (half of the time) meant I had to ignore my perfectionist-tended mind and only start translating the words that keep me from understanding the plot or that appear consecutive times and build it up from there.
✓ Time to text/email to a friend!
Having a friend who has more or the same experience as you learning that language who you can walk with it’s pretty awesome! A really good friend of mine who has more experience learning English and I started texting in English which made me look for real expressions I would use with a long-life friend. So you know, get a friend along on this crazy journey.
✓ Take the advantage of International events, groups at University, a local church, etc.
Coming to the UK is an absolute bargain when it comes to looking for affordable English classes. Don’t miss the opportunities out! International groups at University are amazing. I started going to “International Cafe” in Glasgow, which was and still is an amazing experience. Colleges are able to offer free full-time classes too, but watch out the deadlines for the applications! And another wonderful option many people here in Scotland and in the whole UK love is the option for free English classes in local churches, which are very well organised and full of a bunch of worm people.
✓ A language exchange with new friends
Coming to Scotland was an exciting experience, although I can’t deny that the idea of having to make new friends from scratch can feel quite overwhelming. Something really fun I did was getting new friends interested in learning Spanish to meet up with me during the week and do a language exchange! 30 minutes each language, preparing some questions to get to know each other better or using specific cards topics for academic purposes. It is so fun, not only because I am a quite awkward person who thinks introducing cards with pre-made questions would be ideal to know new people (oops!), but because… Well, to be honest, that’s quite it. Kidding! It also has a similar shape to the academic type of official exams (and the awkwardness again, why not).
✓ Sing sing sing and then do it again.
Songs are a great mean of learning, I know that very well! I used to take a song, translate the lyrics and learn those words I really liked or thought I could use for common situations, class exams, etc and then sing along with the original lyrics! Repetition and music are the best ways to memorise vocabulary in my opinion and helps your brain to process those words quicker. You know what another advantage? It is so fun!!! So you know, put on your dancing shoes (barefoot the best) and sing along to your favourite tunes all day long 😉
PS: here I leave you my first Taylor Swift song so you can imagine how cheesy I was at 11 years old (not judging, ah?!) Enjoy!
✓ Writing, why not?
I find writing fascinating. I was very into writing essays in Spanish and English, although I was mostly into the creative writing side of it. I found my English improving a lot when I started blogging because it made me learn those things I would say in real life, from my own heart and not that systematic English you learn from the books. My best tools? Google translator and Context revers for better expressions, they work like magic together, why not trying writing? You’d love it!
ps: Sometimes we can be so hard on ourselves, which I am a lot but writing a blog helped me to realize how much English knowledge I’ve got in the last few years, which was incredibly encouraging to keep going.
✓ Hey! where do you go without your notepad?
Yes, where is it? You cannot forget it! Every situation is an opportunity to learn, so always have with you your notepad for new words or simply to get over some learned content. Writing is so important when trying to learn! In all the situations above, your notepad takes an important role to play. My friend, don’t fool yourself thinking you will remember without writing things down! This little notebook is gonna be your best friend on the journey (aww ain’t that cute?).
✓ Dear pal, let’s get some study done (sorry, not sorry.)
From my experience I have to say, the first years of truly learning English weren’t that fun. I’m glad I was forced to do it first, even before I knew that language was gonna be part of my whole life later on. Learning the foundation and dedicate to it many hours is so important, get that grammar clear first from the books and when you are able to make some decent phrases it is gonna become more fun to learn. Build on top a strong foundation!
Let’s get practical.
- Translating your whole world overnight is not only quite impossible but a thick process that will push you away from learning. Slowly but safely!
- Dear friend, give your brain a break. Sometimes you might feel drained at the end of the day and there will be times when it feels you’re not improving at all but it’s not true! In those moments it’s time to do something fun and productive at the same time, your brain might be just screaming for a break. I remember feeling like that for months, but I just needed to chill out a little bit, and after months of trying to enjoy the language and be more creative with my ways of learning I found out I had been so much better all this long.
- Like I said before, it is always worth it! Even when you feel you re not improving, that is just impossible. Every single attempt will be worth it and that’s the wonderful thing about learning a language, it is sometimes more about getting your brain and mind used to it. How do you get used to things? Repetitions, constant reminders, habit, engaging your passions and hobbies, etc. It is about a lot of effort, don’t get me wrong, but most of the time it will mainly require time and just you to keep trying. Even when you sleep your brain keeps processing and saving all the information you’ve learned, isn’t that cool?!
I know I know, you’re gonna hate me after repeating this again, but having fun and being creative is so important! Make sure you don’t turn this great opportunity to give your brain a huge challenge into a draining activity. Here’s something really important I want you to know from my heart to yours, you that are learning a new language:
Never ever ever make yourself feel stupid when you cannot make a sentence, find a word or whatever you are doing, please. YOU, brave human being, have taken the challenge to learn a NEW, ANOTHER, DIFFERENT language, remember that. You already know a language and what you are trying to do is something extraordinary -literally learning to talk again and translating your whole world into that new language.
I am very serious here. I’ve heard so many MANY times people saying they feel stupid amongst natives, like second-class citizens because they are not able to communicate well enough but hey, DON’T YOU DARE feeling stupid again, okay? so from now on keep that beautiful head of yours up and embrace that extra challenge you decided to take.
Friend, You’ve got yourself a fan.
Hey friend! Hope these tips were useful to you, let me know your favourite in the comments down below!
-Do you have any other advice? Please share, I would love to know!
-Have you ever felt embarrassed or self-defeated by your language abilities?
-Don’t forget to check the other posts about this Crazy bilingual world!
If you are coming to the UK and need information about local churches that offer English classes, or international groups at university send me an email and I’ll be glad to help!