What is the best way to study a 2nd language?
There are two things you can and must change about your methodology of study immediately.
1. Learn From Mistakes
While the fear of mistakes leads to extremely healthy study habits, the method of study one chooses can actually harm progress. For example, if you wanted to hire a piano teacher and you interviewed a prospect that suggested studying the history of piano construction, the biographies of great composers and to write musical sheets over and over again but would not let you actually play the piano because you would not be perfect (ahhh, those shameful mistakes), would you hire that teacher? Likewise, if you were looking for someone to coach your basketball team and all he did was test you on game theory, you would look elsewhere.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what is happening in Taiwan’s buxibans and schools. Cramming for tests will not lead to success. The only path to fluency available is experience. We call it Experiential Learning. It’s a very simple formula for success: Practice + Time. This cannot be stressed enough. Every day you experience some form of English, you improve. The only way to devolve your skills is to stop experiencing the target language. Learning a language is a never-ending journey. Simply keep putting one foot in front of the other and you will reach your goals.
This is the natural way people learn art-based subjects and language is most definitely an Art. Cramming is just not going to work and it hasn’t worked. Taiwan, for all its efforts, is sorely lacking in its English development. It’s a multi-million dollar business and yet………
It seems that cram schools are more concerned about their bottom line than with creating successful English users. We have tried to share our program with many buxibans and as soon as we tell them that their students can become confident language users in 1 year, they show us the door. As long as the student keeps blaming him/herself for failure, he/she will keep spending money on cram schools. So what’s the answer? Learn by doing. Make mistakes and learn from them. Everytime a basketball player misses a foul shot, he learns from what he did wrong and comes closer to success the next time. Or to quote the late great Theodore Roosevelt, “There are no such things as mistakes, just early attempts at success.”
Afraid of making mistakes? Make some and see how those can lead to small successes. Make more and your fear of them will disappear. It’s that simple. That is experiential learning.
Learn By Listening
There is one more key aspect to learning languages that cram schools are not paying attention to: Language is learned through listening. Look at the local language of Taiwanese as a perfect example of how we learn language with our ears. Millions of people speak Taiwanese and yet, there is no written form of it. Taiwanese is proof positive that we learn language with our ears. And yet, the most successful classes (by numbers, not proficiency) are those huge 100+ student classes taught by a Taiwanese teacher in which he/she lectures in Mandarin. Students take copious notes while listening to Mandarin. How on earth is this effective?
In fact, unless a Taiwanese person has lived overseas, it is highly unlikely that they’ve ever listened to naturally spoken English their entire lives. Aside from classes taught by local teachers, western teachers speak slowly and choose simplified vocabulary to make their points. Additionally, when watching TV or movies, the subtitles dominate the operating system that is the brain and no listening is done. If a teacher were to put a TED Talk on in the classroom and leave the students to simply listen to it, the emotional reactions would be all negative, from boredom, to frustration to even anger. Why? The students would be focusing on what they didn’t understand instead of having a positive emotional reaction to what they did. If you could teach yourself to relax emotionally and just keep listening, you would quickly discover that your listening abilities would improve.
Quick Tip: Make sure to include listening in your training regimen. You will be forever lost without it.