The best way to learn a second language is through a proven structured program such as the ones offered by Berlitz. There are many things, however, you can also do to build on what you learn in class.
The most effective way to build on your formal learning is to find a partner and converse, converse and converse. That’s not always possible or convenient, however, but there is a lot you can do on your own to enhance your language learning.
Learn to “think” in the language you are learning
Let’s say you’re walking down a street on a beautiful Spring day. The sun is out, birds are singing and the grass is getting green. Describe the scene in your second language; paint a picture in words and be as specific as possible. Say the words out loud if you don’t feel awkward about people watching you talk to yourself. If so, practice the dialog in your head.
Thinking and talking about real-life situations, just as you would do in a foreign country, is a lot more fun and effective than spending hours conjugating verbs.
Don’t worry if you can’t find the exact words. Find another way to make the same point; that’s also a great exercise. You can even carry a small notebook and write out what you’re trying to express. Later, look up and write the correct phrases. That’s also great for your vocabulary.
Also, visualize different situations or experiences you’ve had during the day. Try explaining those; essentially “role playing” by yourself.
Do this frequently enough, and you’ll stop translating in your new language and start thinking in it.
Integrate your new language into your daily life
There are things we do and chores we repeat over and over. Link your new language into these daily activities. For example, if you’re the type of person who writes “to do” notes or shopping lists, write them in your new language. This integrates the language into your real-life activities.
Use your language to enhance your hobbies
Interested in art history? Read about it in Italian, French, German or any language you’re learning. The Internet provides lots of opportunities to access stories and content about almost any topic in virtually every language.
If you are interested in news, you can access newspapers in almost any language. In addition to helping in language learning, you will also learn about the culture and current events. Cultural learning goes hand-in-hand with language learning.
Listen and watch
Watching and listening to television can be a great way to help immerse yourself in your new language, learn its cadence, punctuation and comprehension.
The vast majority of cable systems provide programming from other countries, including live broadcasts from Mexico, France, Italy and a wide variety of other locations around the world. The Italian network Rai, for example, provides content on subjects ranging from news, history, cultural programming, even game shows.
Some people keep a notebook handy and write down an unfamiliar but commonly used word or phrase; a great way to build your vocabulary.
You also don’t have to devote your full attention to watching. Canadians “watch” about five hours of television per day, but some of it is background noise. Keep the foreign-language channel on while you do other things. Some knowledge will seep through.
Have some fun
Learn to tell jokes in your new language; everyone enjoys a good laugh. Try telling a story or even sing a song. You’ll probably have some fun and learn something about the culture.
Write it down; listen to yourself
Another great idea is to write about your experiences. It could be about your last trip, your day, what you enjoy, your weekend, anything. This will help you understand sentence structure and grammar, as well as improve your vocabulary. Then, record it on a voice recorder and play It back. Record it again if you hear some rough spots.
It also helps improve your pronunciation to read, record and listen to other types of content. All types of content are available online to use.