A Simple Technique to Improve Your Language Faster
Learning a language is a magnificent journey too many people stop before they even reach the highway entrance. It’s as if they got stuck in a traffic jam as soon as they left their home.
They start with dreams and hopes but, stuck in the traffic jam, they see a way out and go back home, only to wonder what could have been. It makes sense to get lost when you’re learning a language for the first time but the problem is that people think there is such a thing as “a path”.
They walk the path their textbook shows. They try to learn lists of the 1,000 most common words. They do boring exercises. They see other people who improved “faster” and think learning a language isn’t for them.
That’s such a shame because of how wrong that is.
Plant Seeds of Knowledge
Learning a language isn’t a one-way street. Nor is it a highway even. It’s a forest with some paths often taken and some overlooked. Each tree represents knowledge you could carry with you as seeds as you keep walking. If you only carry the seeds you find on your path, then you can never reach the level you were meant to reach.
You need to use those seeds. You need to plant them as you go forward. No seed should ever be carried for too long without being planted. Like any tree seed, knowledge seeds die if you don’t plant them.
Each time you find a word interesting or a grammar pattern you’d like to use, you need to use them right away. That’s planting a seed. If you discover the verb “to hike” in the language and want to remember it, use it now. By creating a new sentence on your own, you will be going from passive to active learning. Active learning helps remember more.
I’m currently watching the German series “Dark” on Netflix and learned the word “Zukunft” for “future”. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to remember it so I created the sentence “Ich möchte die Zukunft wissen.” (“I want to know the future.”). A simple sentence that forced me to use this new word.
This doesn’t just work for new words. You can try to create sentences with new grammar patterns. If you learn a new tense, you can create one too. If need be, ask natives if this new sentence is correct on HiNative. Most languages get a reply within a day.
Always do a bit more than what the basic task required. This extra step begins creating connections in your brain, therefore making it easier to remember the word, grammar, or conjugations.
Water the Seeds to Remember Better
Finding something you want to remember is like finding the seed. Creating a sentence is like planting the seed. But no seed grows on its own. It needs to be watered regularly. That’s why you should come back to each often.
To do this, there are two main ways.
First, you can add the sentence you create to a deck of cloze-deletion flashcards on Anki, a Spaced-Repetition Software (SRS), forcing yourself to see the sentence again and again until it sticks in your long-term memory. Using cloze-deletion cards helps you remember better because they force you to be active.
Another way to water the seeds is to do so whenever you plant another seed. Whenever you create a new sentence, try reusing words from previous seeds. The more you do this the easier it will be to create longer sentences. You also create a stronger connection with the seed you’re watering because you’ll be giving it a different context, a different connection in your brain.
After discovering “die Zukunft”, I learned the verb “to show” (“zeigen”). In order to plant this new seed while watering the previous one, I created a new sentence. “Ich möchte, dass du mir die Zukunft zeigst.” (“I want you to show me the future.”)
Too many people stop at seeing or hearing new words when it’s only the first step. You need to you anything you want to remember. Don’t wait until you see it again. Create your own new context for the seed.
If you feel stuck in a traffic jam, don’t. Start using the language and soon enough you’ll be out of it. Languages are alive. They don’t follow precise paths. Have fun with them and create your own sentences. You don’t need to wait until you’ve reached a “higher” level.
Start now and that “higher level” will come sooner than you think.
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