When I was a child, my father was stationed in Italy for three years. I was lucky to have the chance to learn Italian through immersion, which is commonly regarded as the most effective way to master a language. I was also eight years old when we moved, which is an ideal age for linguistic enrichment. Children are able to learn a new tongue much more quickly than adults, because their brains are at a stage of development when linguistics come more naturally to them. However, as an adult who has spoken nothing but English for the past ten years, I have found that my capacity for foreign languages has faded. Not only am I not as proficient in Italian as I used to be, but I also find it more difficult to learn new languages. Thankfully, there are a few tricks that I have found to be effective in picking up a new dialect:
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Read a book in your new language.
I find this practice enormously helpful in bringing back my Italian. It should be a book that you are very familiar with, to the extent that you know it almost by heart. For example, I own Matilda and the first Harry Potter book in Italian. These work well because I read them over and over again (in English) as a child, and also because they are written at about a third grade level. It’s important to choose a book that is written at an appropriate reading level for your linguistic ability. One that is too easy will not help to build your vocabulary, while one that is too difficult will only frustrate and confuse you.
Learn to a melody.
Learning songs in your new language can be fun and effective. Learning new words to music is easier on your brain and less tedious that repetitive writing and speaking exercises. This is why most of us use the ABC song to teach our children the alphabet – and why some of us still sing it silently when we need to alphabetize something. Putting new words to music helps them to stick in our memory more quickly, and to stay there forever. Learning a country’s songs can teach you about their culture, traditions, and values, as well.
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Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Of course repetition and memorization go hand in hand. However, science has shown that not all repetition methods are created equal. There is a process called spaced repetition which has proven to be very linguistically effective. This is the practice of repeating a new word or phrase at certain intervals, increasing the spacing between them as time passes. For example, you may review your vocabulary words daily at first, and then weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, and so on.
Put a pen to paper.
Writing information down is more effective in memorization than hearing, speaking, reading, or even typing. Taking notes may seem tedious and give you flashbacks to your college lecture hall, but this just might be the price you have to pay for linguistic fluency. If you find the idea of writing down vocabulary words and verb conjugations to be truly unbearable, try writing a story, or even a love letter.
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Develop a nightly routine.
Whichever of the above methods you choose to utilize, do so with regularity, and preferably at bedtime. Sleep serves to recharge our active operating memory, which increases learning capacity. Therefore, falling asleep right after you study will help the information to be more easily stored in your long-term memory.
Learning a new language can be beneficial not only to your academic career, but also to your cultural understanding and overall worldview. Follow these tips and travel often. You may find your mind, soul, and life story enriched beyond your wildest dreams.