I have a trilingual grandmother who can speak Fukien, Mandarin, English, Tagalog and Bisaya. She can easily switch languages and dialects.
Having grown up in a Chinese-speaking family, studied in a Filipino school, had a daughter who started a family in America, and lived in a country of Filipino-speaking people, one would think that her language skills are not surprising.
Meanwhile, despite having such an amazing grandmother, I can only speak two languages, English and Filipino, the latter of which I’m working hard on improving through school.
Some months ago, I decided to self-study and learn Japanese, because I find it such a fascinating language and I love Japan itself. Progress has been smooth but slow, and I was fully prepared for any obstacles in my journey of language learning.
Based on my own experience, I can give you tips on what you should keep in mind when you’re just starting to learn a new language. Hopefully these will be of help to you.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that there are no shortcuts. Whether your goal is to learn basic conversation or be able to speak at
graduate-level fluency, there isn’t an easy road to get to the end. You should expect to be constantly corrected or laughed at by a native speaker. Rules of the language, like conjugation and tenses, could get tangled in your mind. Key here is your determination to continue despite those obstacles.
Self-studying does not revolve entirely on the studying itself, and by studying, I mean immersing yourself in the textbooks, taking down colorful notes and memorizing the rules.
Focusing on the studying process itself is not enough to achieve fluency. You need to be able to practice the language bit by bit every day.
Practicing on your own is not enough—having conversations is key. Simply being able to practice with a native speaker will play a big role in your journey to fluency. No matter how many textbooks you immerse yourself in, how many rules you have memorized and how many notes you have taken, the process will not be complete without practicing through conversation.
There are many apps out there that can hook you up with native language speakers, such as HelloTalk, Bilingua.
It is crucial to set realistic goals for yourself. What level of fluency do you want to achieve? How long should you expect yourself to reach that level?
The amount of time you take to learn a language is not a race, regardless if you’re self-studying or attending a language school or taking classes. Everybody has their own pace and capabilities. By setting realistic goals, it would also set your priorities straight, especially if you are a busy person.
When you are learning a foreign language, there is a difference between learning it and wanting to learn it. I have been attending a school which teaches Mandarin, and since I was never interested in learning the language, I’ve not learned anything by heart even if I had taken regular classes with an excellent teacher.
In contrast, I have a great passion for wanting to learn Japanese. Even if I didn’t take any language classes, I was able to learn it by heart because of my love for it. It’s essential to develop a passion and interest for the language you wish to learn.
Remember that with each minute you study comes progress, and with progress comes movement toward your goals.
Ganbatte kudasai, jiāyóu. Kaya mo ’yan. You can do it!
Audrei Gaye Lui is an eighth-grade student from Cagayan de Oro City.