My First Steps for Learning a Foreign Language, Ordered for Effectiveness Total read time: 4 minutes

Here we go, below is my approach for reaching conversation fluency in most languages. I believe studying in this order is most effective.

Learn a Language

in this order:

  1. Pronunciation
  2. Vocabulary
  3. Writing System *if it’s phonetic
  4. Sentence Structure
  5. Listening
  6. Writing, Typing, Reading
  7. Grammar
    side note: I never “mastered” one step before moving onto the next. Just get a good understanding of it

Now, I believe many other lists are shorter, and most put grammar closer to the top (we’ll discuss why that’s a no-no in my mind another day) but in my own experience in studying languages, and coaching others, I found this to be the most effective. Let’s break each one down.

1. Pronunciation

Properly pronouncing the language is CRUCIAL to further growth and success in your target language. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been misunderstood when speaking a foreign language to natives OR I myself didn’t understand what a foreigner speaking English said with just a small slight variation in pronunciation.

Why #1
Trust me, most native English speakers would be able to understand and cope with bad grammar. For example, could you guess my meaning if I said:
“I buy cup I.”?
More than likely, the meaning would be: “I bought this cup for myself.” or “I want to buy…”
You get the picture right?
In contrast, if I was to say the same sentence with incorrect pronunciation:
*”I bee cupe I”
or even if it was just 1 word “I bought a cupe for myself.” I probably wouldn’t understand the meaning unless the speaker was directly in front of me pointing at a cup.

Why #2
Being able to pronounce correctly will greatly enhance your listening. If you can’t say the word correctly then you definitely can’t hear the word correctly.

2. Vocabulary

Words, words, words, and more words! Once you can properly pronounce “strange” sounds i.e. nihao, konnichiwa, hola, saluton, etc. you can easily start learning vocabulary, imitating babies and pointing to a table and proudly proclaiming LA MESA! with a big grin on your face.
🙂
For me, the single most factor preventing me from properly express myself in a foreign language, or preventing me from understanding what’s being said to me, 9 times out of 10 boils down to
vocabulary
So I always encourage the studying of vocabulary. My go-to resource is Memrise.com as well as having private tutoring lessons on Italki.com (to make sure I’m pronouncing/using the word correctly).

3. Writing System

if it’s phonetic

I must admit, learning a word without having any idea on how to spell it is pretty tough. I believe as adults we need some type of phonetic writing system to refer to in our minds when we learn a new word. For the first 20 years of my life I thought the game Hide and Seek was called Hide and Sink and I never once thought about it until I read something with Hide and Seek on it. I was amazed and wonder how dumb could I be! Duh! Sink doesn’t make any sense!

Anyways, the point is, having some “letters” to refer to really does help. Even languages like Mandarin Chinese and Japanese have official phonetic writing systems, pinyin and roumaji respectively. And, although it may seem daunting up front, learning the writing system of non-latin alphabet systems is just as easier than it seems. I learned Korean, Hiragana, and Katakana in less than a week for each one. And It took about a month for Thai (a bit more complex but totally doable). So don’t delay, get on that studying!

3. Sentence Structure

Alright! With some good pronunciation down, a few words under your belt, then you’re reading to say your first sentence! Ah to be 2 years old again.

Learning basic sentence structure has always taken me very far in conversation fluency for my target language.
I’m referring to things like:
* Subject-Verb-Object (SVO): “I eat apples.”
* Subject-Object-Verb (SOV): “私はリンゴを食べる” watashi wa ringo o taberu (I Apple Eat)

Then moving on to knowing where Adjectives are typically placed:
* English – I like red cars.
* Spanish – Me gustan los autos rojos. (I like cars red)

Finally, time, where is time typically placed.
* English is quite flexible here with: Today, I swim. & I swim today. Both being acceptable
* Mandarin Chinese: 今天我要游泳 JinTian Wo Yao YouYong (Today I [will] swim.) & 我今天要游泳 are both acceptable but 今天 couldn’t be placed at the end to be “proper” or “correct” 😛

The next three:

4. Listening

5. Writing, Typing, Reading

6. Grammar

Will be discussed tomorrow

🙂
-Phillip

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