Earlier this year, I decided to polish my Turkish language skill after I came across some random Turkish series on Facebook. Apart from Turkish, I also registered for an online course to start learning Serbian.
A couple of years ago, I came across Serbian Language and Culture Workshop site, and I was already planning to join their program ever since. Initially, I was planning to go there this year, but then the pandemic hit, so I had to postpone.
As a result, I'm taking the online course for both languages simultaneously. That's why I decided to start writing about some tips for the best ways to learn a foreign language. I'm not saying I'm a multitalented person slash polyglot, but I guess I get by when it comes to learning a language that is not my mother tongue.
So, what are the best ways to learn a foreign language?!
Why Learning a Foreign Language is Important
Looking back, I don't think I had the opportunity to get me there if it wasn't because I knew how to communicate in several foreign languages. Believe it or not, English was never my favorite subject at school.
When I was in the 7th grade, my English teacher ruined my dream when I told her that I wanted to be an astronaut. She said my Physics score should have been outstanding if I wanted to become one. I knew myself too well that if that's the case, there's no chance for me to reach my dreams as I simply loathe Physics.
During my high school years, my English teacher was a narcissistic jerk who thought he was the best in the subject when he clearly wasn't. The only reason why I was motivated to learn to speak English was the fact that I was a football fangirl.
My goal was quite simple. I needed to know how to speak English because I wanted to know how to communicate with Michael Owen, the football player I had a crush on during his prime. A few years later, I might never be able to meet Owen, and he turned into some asshole pundit, but he replied to my tweet once. And the Mr. Arsenal, Tony Adams, always responded to my DM on his birthday… Every year!
As silly as it sounds, you see that silly motivation also took me to the event when I got a chance to meet and chat a bit with Dietmar Hamann. And you know how happy Andy Cole looked like when he saw me? At that point, my motivation might be ridiculous, but the opportunities that it brought me aren't.
Before I pivoted into being a freelancer, I used to work for a few companies… All were international, with English as the main language we used at work.
I never got any trouble in English interviews. Even if there is, nothing major because my English speaking practice in the shower kinda prepared me for that. At this point, I think I have more trouble getting on interviews in Indonesian than in English. But anyways…
In case you didn't know, most people in Indonesia suffer from an inferiority complex whenever they have to face a foreigner. I might have something to do with our dark history when it comes to colonialization and all that. Still, I genuinely believe that this situation can be solved if exposed more to a foreign language.
This month, I found out that the Indonesian government removed English from a syllabus in elementary school. Kinda ironic, given the idea that these days globalization is more accurate than ever.
But I figure, a motivation to learn a foreign language is enough to start learning it yourself. It could be something personal like me, English, and Michael Owen. But you can also find a reason to learn a language for your future wellbeing.
Trust me, you'll thank yourself later if one day you nail at least one foreign language in your hand.
How to Learn a Foreign Language Effectively
When it comes to learning a foreign language, practice makes perfect. And I guess we're lucky that we live in the era where almost everything is so easy to get on your fingertip. Just google it, and you can find many resources to get started. Both free and paid!
During my time in Izmir, I had to bring my pocket dictionary everywhere to make sure that I can find a vocabulary there when needed. These days, you only need a smartphone with Google Translate or some online dictionary installed to communicate.
Even better, they usually come with a voice feature where they will let you know how to pronounce some certain words. I mean, how cool is that?!
1. Find what motivates you to learn the language.
I decided to start learning Serbian for a few reasons. In case you didn't know, I'm obsessed with anything Balkan. My ex-boyfriend was from Kosovo, but I never took the time to learn the language because we met in Turkey and we both speak English and Turkish. Well, even though my Turkish sucks more than his. LOL.
At the same time, I'm also obsessed with the Croatian national football team. And as much as I want to go to Croatia and learn the language, the paperwork to stay there might be more complicated than if I go to Serbia instead.
So, Serbia sounds like a good choice for me, because:
- When we get back to travel, it tends to be relatively easy for me when it comes to bureaucracy as an Indonesian citizen traveling to Serbia.
- The Serbo-Croatian language sounds like an appropriate choice since they basically understand each other. Even better, I will also get a chance to start learning to write and read in Cyrillics while learning the language.
Once you have your own motivation to start, trust me… Everything is easy when you can just enjoy the learning process!
2. Find the most enjoyable way to learn that works for you.
You see, I took some English course programs a few times, but it never really worked for me. You know, the kind of program conducted by sitting in the class, playing some games, etc.
It was when I started watching movies on DVD (I know, right? I'm ancient!) that I could watch Hollywood movies with English subtitles. That way, I can understand some phrases and even know the meaning of some subtle jokes to embody the English language in my brain.
In addition to that, I also love reading, so I use books as a channel to enrich my vocabulary. When I was in the 8th grade or something, I read Sweet Valley Jr. High's series while also preparing a big fat dictionary to help me understand the words that I never knew. It worked.
I also remember when I listened to M2M's album and translated “Pretty Boy” word by word in my notebook. I mean, dude… Someone should appreciate my willingness to actually learn!
3. Find someone to converse with.
You see, unlike some of my friends from school and college who went to some fancy English course with native teachers, the only English course program that I participated in was a TOEFL course in the last few semesters before I graduated.
However, I know that I occasionally scheduled a video call using Skype or MSN Messenger (RIP) with some of my online friends during that time. And that's probably the only way I practiced my English speaking skills. It also helped that I spent three months in Turkey, so I spoke English almost full-time over there.
Moving forward to today when I decided to start polishing my Turkish and learning Serbian, I use Italki to find a reliable native speaker to converse with. You can find either a community teacher or professional to start with your program.
Since I never learned Serbian before, I chose a professional teacher called Dusan through the platform. For Turkish, I opted for a community teacher who also works full-time as an English-Turkish translator called Tufan. So far, I've had fun with both teachers!
Apart from Italki, I also used some free Serbian course materials from Serbonika. It's quite helpful, although I'm hesitant to upgrade the course plan since I'm still hoping to attend the in-class program at Serbian Language and Culture Workshop soon.
4. Find a penpal to work on your writing skill.
During my college years, I was an active member of Interpals. I had some penpals with whom I exchanged snail mails a few times, while I've made a long-time friend with a Croatian guy called Zlatko who helped me during my thesis semester in the university.
Writing a letter helps me communicate in English non-verbally, and it helps me enrich my vocabulary. I wouldn't say my English is perfect, but I'm confident that my English writing skill is above average for an Indonesian.
Recently, I also reactivated my Postcrossing account to start sending random postcards around the world. No particular reason, I just think that I could really use my beautiful penmanship to write a postcard or two. 😉
5. Fake it til you make it.
Yes, honestly… Sometimes the phrase “fake it til you make it” can apply well when it comes to learning a language. If you love traveling, you can start by learning how to say hello in various languages. And maybe by doing so, you'll find a specific language that interests you to learn further.
It's also how I did with my Turkish the first time I went to Turkey. This effort pays off, because that's how I got some discounts when I tried to purchase some stuff at Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Some stranger also randomly gave me a keychain as a gift when I casually talked to him on the public bus. I tell you what, it even saved me a few TL when I ran out of money in Marmaris to go back to Izmir.
So yeah… I faked it til I made it. After all, language is really about how you understand each other. As long as they understand you, you're good to go!
Well, are you ready to learn a foreign language then? Or do you have any tips for others who want to know your language? Share in the comment below, and cheerio!
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