How to Learn a Romance Language
1. Don’t learn every verb tense.
There are lots of verb tenses in any language. However, you will eventually discover that you only need a strong grasp of a handful of them. Normally teachers will teach you about all the exceptions to the rules. My advice is to forget about this and pick out the verbs you need to know.
When it comes to tenses I have discovered that in the Romance languages you only need to know 7 maximum, and that is at a near native standard. I have learned that learning the Present and the Past are the first 2 most important tenses to learn. This is followed by the imperfect tense.
It may come of a surprise to some people that the future tense isn’t mentioned among the ‘sacred three’. This is because you can construct sentences in the future tense without actually using the future. In fact, from my experience of French, native speakers tend not to use the future tense to talk about the future. e.g.
French people will often tend to prefer".
“Je vais aller” instead of “J’irai”.
It’s like in English, more people will tend to say:
“I am going” rather than saying ‘I will go’.
My prioritisation List on Verb Tenses:
- Present and Past (Beginner).
- Imperfect and Future (Intermediate).
- Conditional and Subjunctive (Advanced).
- Imperative (Orders).
2. Become aware of what you talk about.
One of the most ineffective ways to learn any language is to randomly learn words and phrases. If you don’t have some sort of a coherent plan then naturally the way you communicate in your foreign language will not be very coherent either. If you learn the right words then you need to learn less words - 750 words constitute those that are used every single day by every person who speaks the language. (How to Learn Spanish).
In order to progress naturally and quickly in any foreign language the age old adage ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ is very true. I would advise that you get as creative as possible in the planning stage in order to accelerate your learning when you do start.
What worked for me, was a plan where I consciously became aware of what I talked about most often. I then broke these topics up into the most frequent words I used to construct these sentences.
Once I had identified the words to learn I then started watching Youtube videos in the target languages of topics that were of interest to me in my native language. Within a week of starting my Spanish learning I was watching interviews of Cristiano Ronaldo and understanding some key words.
e.g I learned the Spanish words for:
3. Watch the same thing more than once.
This is something I never do in my native language but something that I will often do in a foreign language. I will usually leave a gap of a few weeks or months in between viewings. I wouldn’t watch every video, just the one’s I enjoyed. This task showed me how I was progressing and kept me motivated. I find it very rewarding, often even amusing, to see what I can now comprehend that I couldn’t before.
When choosing something to watch I have found that the daily news is the best for beginners. movies are best for advanced learners.
The reason being that the daily news will not use a lot of technical jargon. This is because they have a mass target audience and they don’t wish to alienate any major sector of society.
Movies can be very specific and they also use slang. Movies are generally very inaccessible for beginners, even with subtitles.
4. Don’t over focus on perfect pronunciation.
I am no good at accents. Ask me to do any Irish accent and I will fail miserably. At this stage I probably wouldn’t even attempt it. It isn’t something that comes natural to me and it isn’t something that I desire to perfect, there is so much more I can be doing with my time. When I started to learn French I was put off by the fact that the pronunciation seemed so different and was seen as such an important skill to acquire. Thankfully I started to realise that I should just go with the flow and concentrate on what I was good at and the rest would fall into place with time. I speak 4 languages and I cannot roll the ‘r’s’ in Spanish. However, I don’t think that many people who can would swap my skillset for this.
I find it illogical to start learning a language by focusing on perfecting your pronunciation. Learn the words and verbs, start talking as soon as you can and make mistakes and learn from them. If you pronounce something really badly, learn to laugh at yourself. Learning a language is as much about being unique and relatable as it is about technical ability.
Languages are in essence social tools, used by human beings as a means of communication. You aren’t learning coding, you should therefore have as much fun from human interactions as you can. Learn to laugh at yourself while language learning and you will have acquired much more than just the capacity of speaking in a foreign tongue.
5. Be authentic and avoid the perfection myth.
Don’t try and be perfect. All that is required is that you be your authentic self. One of the most energy sapping things to do in this world is to try and please other people. “You can’t be all things to all people”. This isn’t to say that your personality won’t change and grow. One of the great things about language learning is that it improves people's lives for the better. You will become more open minded, have a wider circle of friends and you will be more confident in yourself.
The best piece of advice that I have obtained is that you have to keep in mind that not everyone is going to follow you. As Seth Godin would say, you need to build your own ‘tribe’. You need to attract the people you feel comfortable around because that is how you can progress and that is how you can be at your optimum level of happiness.
6. Learn to become a good conversationalist.
I think there is a misconception out there, among a lot of people, that you need to be an extremely outgoing extrovert to be a good conversationalist. I have discovered that in order to progress with languages it is more important to be a good listener than it is to be a flamboyant talker. By listening you will acquire new words and new insights.If you spend all your time talking and not actively listening then the progression timeline will become larger.
7. Be open minded.
Being open minded is one of the key hacks to building an extensive vocabulary. By being open minded you will attract more people to you. You will find yourself talking and listening to a lot of different people, from all walks of life.
If you speak to the same type of people all the time then your vocabulary will be limited to that subset. Speak to people from multiple subsets and you will be well on your way to becoming bilingual or multilingual.
8. Be creative and ‘unrealistic’.
Human beings tend to fill up the time allocated to them to do a task. If I gave you 5 years to do the same task you could do in 5 months then I have no doubt that basically the same progress will have been made.
With language learning the only limit is placed by yourself. If you can decide what it is you are setting out to achieve and what sort of a timeframe you expect to achieve it in, then you are more than half way there to achieving it. There is great power obtained from making a decision and there is even greater power from taking responsibility
9. Travel if you want.
In my opinion, one of the most wonderful things to learning a foreign language is having the opportunity of travelling to foreign lands. There is nothing more exciting than living in another country and making yourself adapt, nothing more challenging than making new friends in a new environment. Travelling is a way of seeing the world and also being an ‘ambassador’ for your own country.
Through travel you begin to see how diverse the landscape of the world is. You may also begin to realise that while the landscape and culture may be vastly different, the diversity of human personality is surprisingly constant. I have never been to a country where all its inhabitants were of the exact same mindset, and that mindset was the polar opposite to my mindset. There is a ‘John’ and a ‘Mary’ in every corner of this planet.
10. Be polite.
This is a simple concept but it is one of the most effective. Human beings are creatures who usually tend to reciprocate emotion. When learning a foreign language, and making lots of mistakes, you begin to see more clearly the merits of trying to become a polite and courteous person. Being polite and making an effort will be appreciated by the people you are trying to communicate with and their tendency will be to try and help you rather than ridicule you.