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Getting Better at Speaking a Language

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Written by   42
3 months ago
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Learning a language is like learning how to ride a bike.

You’ll feel awful and embarrassed in the beginning because you’re not used to doing it. But with enough practice and persistence, you’ll definitely get better at it.

I used to be an oral communication instructor at an English training center and those were the lines I would start each batch of classes with. This reassures my students that it’s never too late to get better at something.

If you’re having a hard time expressing yourself in English (or in any new language), here are a few things I have observed from personal experience that helped me get a better grasp of learning this language.

Start Young

I know, I said at the beginning of this article that it’s never too late to learn so this tip might sound contradictory haha. IT IS NEVER TOO LATE, however, it is ideal that you start early. Children absorb information quicker than adults because their brains are still rapidly forming new neural connections and pathways, hence making it easier for them to learn new things. Start speaking to them in whatever language you want them to learn early, just so they would realize at an early age that this could be their norm and adapt accordingly.

I could also say the same about learning how to express love and affection. I love giving my daughter hugs and kisses. When she was very little, I'd kiss her cheeks every time I pick her up. I would kiss her on her forehead and encase her in my arms whenever I breastfeed her (which was all the time). I don't know, but there's just something about babies' smell and cuteness that makes me want to just give them affection. My daughter is now a toddler. She would sometimes just grab my face with both hands and give me a kiss. There would also be times when she would just run to us and hug our legs tightly, for no reason, as if we haven't seen each other in days. It surprised me the first few times. But not so much anymore because I realized that even if I don't force her to reciprocate those gestures to me (or to other members of our family) her young mind learned the language of physical affection just through observation.

So, if you have children, make sure that whatever you show or teach them is something you’d want to be retained in their brain for the rest of their life. 

Also, if you're an adult trying to learn or get better at using a new language, start as soon as you can. And keep practicing!

Surround Yourself with the Language

For some reason, there are people here in the Philippines who correlate good English communication skills with being in the upper class. That was never true in my case. I grew up in a family that's considered in the lower-middle class status, but my sisters and I managed to be good at expressing ourselves in English. I believe that the reason for this is we've had plenty of exposure and practice. We watch a lot of English shows, listened to a lot of English songs, read a lot of English books. We didn't always speak English at home, but my father would joke with us in English (sometimes carabao English), and this made us more comfortable speaking the language.

Imitate

Most of the words I learned how to pronounce I imitated from songs, movies, and TV shows. If I can't get the sound right, I would look at the actor's or the singer's lips and mimic how they open their mouths. That would almost always do the trick.

However, I didn't know back then that English has numerous dialects. So sometimes I would get confused which pronunciations I should use. Should it be EITHER with a long e, or either with the long i? Is ROUTE really pronounced as "root" or is it "rawt"? Which one's the right one? It took me quite a while to recognize that the pronunciations that I get confused about are all correct. So, now, I don't burden burden myself as much with pronunciation worries anymore. As long as the dictionary says it's right, then it's right.

Speaking of the dictionary...

It's so easy to check the dictionary now compared to the pre-internet and smart phone days. Merriam-Webster has a website that is constantly being updated and is free to download on smartphones. If you get confused with definitions, pronunciation, or grammar, this is one of the best tools that you can use to help you.

Another thing that I imitate from other people is their use of words. If I'm watching a show, listening to podcasts, or just talking to someone, and I hear certain words that I know I've never used before, I'd take a mental note to look for that word in the dictionary. Check the definition and usage, and then try to use it in my own sentence just to check if it would sound okay when I use it in certain situations.

Imitation for learning purposes is okay of course. Just make sure that the material/person you're mimicking from is correct.

Practice

Malcolm Gladwell, a journalist and author, wrote in his book "Outliers" that, based on a 1993 study, mastery of a certain skill comes after practicing for a total of 10,000 hours. Although this statement has already been debunked, the psychologist who replicated the 1993 study and debunked it states that deliberate practice would still almost undoubtedly improve a skill.

We had to take foreign language classes in College and German is what I chose. I passed the subject but after the classes have finished my German language knowledge just disappeared. I wasn't able to speak German that much because there weren't any chance to. German movies and other media weren't very accessible back then (except for the occasional Ramstein Du Hast Mich on NU Rock 107) so I also did not have a lot of exposure. I still know how to count and pronounce certain words in German but, because I didn't/don't practice, I can't converse in German anymore. Unlike with my English skills, which I have practiced almost my whole life. I'm trying to get my German back with the help of Duolingo. I need help managing my time first haha.

So, go on and practice, practice, practice! Speak the language you want to learn with anybody you know who's willing to practice with you. The more you practice, the more a skill becomes muscle memory. The less effort you have to exert in the future. If practice doesn't make the skill perfect, at least it makes it better.

Don't Stop Learning

I consider English as one of the fastest evolving languages in the world. A number of words get added in the dictionary every year. From words borrowed from other languages to literally made up words like "selfie" (added in 2013). A number of definitions also get added to already existing words (did you know that the word "terrific" originally meant "terrifying"). Sentence structures that were considered ungrammatical can suddenly become grammatical just because people keep on deliberately making these mistakes.

So, try to keep yourself updated. You won't have any excuse now because the internet has made everything easy to look up. Plus, it's fun to go down the internet rabbit hole and find out how a lot of languages are similar in certain ways.

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Yes, English might be considered as the Philippines’ second language but a lot of Filipinos still feel insecure whenever they try to express themselves in English. Mostly because they're afraid of being judged. I’m no language expert myself, and I know my English isn’t always perfect, but for me the purpose of learning a language is being able to be understood. So, I hope the tips I listed above could help you get better at whatever language you're trying to learn. Worked for me so far! lol

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This is my first ever entry for @JonicaBradley 's writing prompt. Tagging @TengoLoTodo as well for this article about LANGUAGE.

Writing took me longer this time because of the impostor syndrome hanging at the back of my head saying that what I'm writing isn't relevant enough. Maybe I'll start heeding my advice in the article above and practice writing more so my impostor syndrome won't have time to catch up on me.

Thank you again to @bmjc98 and @Bloghound for being my sponsors! Please check out their profiles and their awesome content.

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