Learning and Mastering a Language

Learning and mastering a language can be one of the most useful, and perhaps one of the most fulfilling, of life's activities. You feel a sense of true success and excitement when you have used a phrase particularly well. It generates much self confidence.

For some of the visitors to this site, you may be from a non-English-speaking country and you may want to improve your English because it has become such a universal language. For others, you may actually want to learn other non-oral languages, such as computer programming (see Using Computers), playing a musical instrument, or improving your speaking skills. Each of these tasks generally require similar steps to be taken to further your fluency in that particular area.

Fine tune your spelling. Any language must also have its own spelling. For example, computer languages have certain syntaxes to adhere to. Besides improving vocabulary, it would also be a good idea to perfect the spelling of a certain language. This is because perfecting spelling gives you a sense of mastery for that language since you have at least made an attempt to spell each and every word correctly. For languages such as English, it is relatively simple to spell correctly since you can use pronunciation to guide you.

For languages such as Chinese it would be a bit more difficult to use pronunciation to write out the Chinese characters. (Of course, some would argue that English spelling is not so easy since it is such an amalgam of different languages and vowels or consonants sounding the same are often spelled differently in different words.) Therefore, for languages such as Chinese, it is imperative to devote more time to learning the characters of the words since it is so much more difficult to remember.

Refine your vocabulary. Any language must have its own vocabulary. Improving vocabulary is thus one of the basic aspects of mastering a language well. Whenever you write, or speak, though, you should only use those words that come natural do you. You do not need to use difficult words. But rather, use words that flow naturally out of your mouth. However, the purpose to improve your vocabulary is to know the meaning of that particular word when others use it. The more you hear it, the more it will be retained in your memory and one day you may even want to use it because it just seems so natural to fit into a sentence that you want to make.

To improve vocabulary, one simple way is just to use cue cards, and on those cards write one word, the meaning of the word, as well as perhaps a sample sentence of that word. Carry that cue card around with you. Look at it at odd moments. Try to use it in your mind during the day some time. Hopefully, by the end of the day, you'll be quite familiar with that word. You may forget the meaning of it 10 days later, though, so perhaps roughly every two weeks, you should spend some time consolidating all those words that you had learned during the past two weeks.

If this is not a language like English you are learning, but something quite different such as a programming language or musical notes, it too, has its own vocabulary. You can just adapt the type of vocabulary from that particular type of language and learn it using cue cards as well. For example, with musical notes, you may want to carry around with you the note "G in the treble clef" all the time with you and look at it during odd moments in the day.

Master your grammar. Next up the level is the grammar of the language. To improve your grammar, you simply have to study the people who use the language fluently. The more you read, listen, and study, the more you will be able to assimilate. Grammar definitely takes time to learn. Sometimes, perhaps even years to learn. So, be patient, and note the structure of particular sentences and phrases that especially strike you. In English, I have especially admired the use of parallel structure, where you repeat similar words at each phrase to emphasize and harmonize the sentence. For example, you could say, "This beautiful night is quiet for no one walks, no one sings, and no one speaks."

Practice frequently. Practicing, as in many other pursuits but especially in learning languages, also makes a great difference to the speed of your learning. If you have other people with whom you can practice your language, or if you just regularly use your language, then you will improve much more quickly than if you just passively read about a new language. So, do not be afraid to practice often, for practicing often is really the key to succeeding to learn or master a language. You should sometimes be reflective about what words you have used, or if there are ways to streamline what you wrote and enhance its quality. However, only when you practice and first try to use those words do you get an opportunity to subsequently experience how you can improve it. 

Stick with the basics of learning. Perhaps it may seem simplistic, some of the advice in this article. However, it is important to stick with simplicity when learning a new language because it really is a new way of stringing together ideas that you are not familiar with. Only with sticking to the basic concepts of applying the points mentioned here will you truly improve. So, stick with the basic strategies of learning again and again when you take up a language.

For example, one of the most effective strategies to learn is to review material. When you are learning a language, or anything else for that matter, one way to remember what you have learned is to review material from the day or days before. If you learned Lesson 1 yesterday, review Lesson 1 before proceeding to Lesson 2 today. Then on Day 3, review both Lessons 1 and 2 before proceeding with Lesson 3, and so forth. This type of overlapping helps solidify any new sentence structure or vocabulary that you may not be accustomed to.

One of the beauties of languages is that you can not only read, listen to, or watch them - all passive activities. You can also engage yourself and immerse yourself in them. Using your own creativity, you can use them as an expression of yourself. For example, you can write stories, not just read them; you can write computer programs, not just study them or work with them; you can give speeches, not just listen to them. Languages give you a unique opportunity to truly synthesize all you have learned and manipulate each and every word in your own way, and share your knowledge or ideas with others. This type of synthesis is not possible in many other areas of pursuit. In this sense, languages really allow you to be creative, a characteristic which may even flow over into other areas of your life. 

In summary, to learn and master a language you should:

A. Refine your vocabulary.
B. Fine tune your spelling.
C. Master your grammar.
D. Practice frequently.
E. Stick with the basics of learning.

Life Skills > Communication Skills > Learning and Mastering a Language


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Last Checked 2015