With our China move growing ever closer, Angel has immersed himself in studying the basics of Mandarin Chinese. I balance explaining the wondrous mystery that is the pronunciation of pinyin to Angel with some serious work on expanding my vocabulary in hopes of not being too stumped when I'm surrounded by native speakers.
Here is a list of tried and true ways to learn a language:
1. Be born into a family that speaks the language at home.
This is by far the easiest method. That's how I learned English, and how Angel learned Spanish.
2. Marry A native speaker.
Not to stereotype or anything, but a LOT of Spanish majors at my college were dating native Spanish speakers. No, I did not marry Angel for his language.
3. Live in a country where the language is spoken.
And once you get there, don't make friends with any ex-pats. You'll be forced to learn the language or starve to death trying.
4. Rosetta Stone/Other Computer Games
I find Rosetta Stone and other language-teaching computer games fun when I already have education in the language being taught. I'm not sure from experience how great they are when used on their own and with no other grammar resources. I like to use them for a little for practice.
5. Watch movies in the language.
I have friends who swear they learned Cantonese from watching Cantonese films. I have to believe there were a couple other factors at play, but seriously, watching films in the language you're trying to learn is a great opportunity to get "real life" listening experience. Your teacher and the educational tapes you listen to probably speak fairly slow--listening to fast-paced dialogue in movies can help.
6. Take college classes.
I learn well in a classroom setting. I recommend college-level classes because they are demanding, and therefore can teach you quite a bit in a relatively short amount of time. I studied Mandarin, Japanese, and Spanish at my college--and while I don't think that classes alone are enough, they offer a solid foundation for grammar and vocabulary that you can go out and practice in the real world.
7. Read a book.
It might not be the most relaxing book you've ever read. You may need to read it with a dictionary in one hand and a book in the other, but seeing the grammar patterns that you've seen used in textbooks used in real life is amazing. I have Spanish, Mandarin, and Bahasa Bibles (it's a little easier to play guessing games when you have a handle on what the text says in your own language).
8. Check out your local library
If you don't have money to devote to your language-learning cause, try searching your library catalog for language learning resources! We've found that sometimes the language resource books at the library are so little used that you can keep renewing and renewing them for as long as you'd like!
One language learning program that's new to me is Living Language. Angel borrowed a copy of the complete edition from our library. While the explanations might not be sufficiently thorough if you were starting out on a language with no experience and no one who spoke the language to explain subtleties, I like that the program includes audio cds, online flashcards and games using vocab from each lesson, and a special book explaining each stroke used in Chinese characters, along with workbooks. It's been very helpful to Angel and I've even been browsing the "advanced" workbook and picking up some new vocabulary and working through some of the language exercises in spots where I'm rusty.
What are your best strategies when it comes to studying languages?