The stages of foreign language learning

The stages of foreign language learning

The acquisition of a foreign language is a process of self-transformation, of observation and discovery of a new culture, of growth and adaptation. in this wonderful journey of learning, there are various stages to go through. Whether you are learning a new language at home or going abroad to learn a new language, you will experience everything from feeling like you are on a new planet to feeling so deeply engaged in a foreign language that you dream about it!

Here are the main stages of language learning and some tips on how to live them in the most productive and enjoyable way possible.

Stage 1: You are an absolute beginner

It's the absolute beginning, when you don't know anything about the language or just a few words and you feel a bit lost. This is normal because it is an inevitable part of being exposed to a new language.

At this stage it is advisable to take a language learning course: it is important to have a solid foundation in a foreign language, and attending a course with a native speaker teacher will give you the basics to move on to the next stage of language learning. Use a textbook to learn grammar and do lots of exercises. Listen to native speakers a lot to get used to sounds and intonation, note down all the new words you learn and concentrate on formulating sentences, especially those necessary for everyday life.

Stage 2: You start talking

My best friend had been on a German course for two months when she proudly told me she had a full phone conversation in German to check the delivery of an Amazon package. The approximate translation of the conversation was something like this: "Hello, good morning. The package is not here. When does the package arrive? Saturday morning, please? Monday is fine, thank you."

This is what we can call the "I'm starting to express myself" phase of language learning. In this phase, you put together the words you know using the most basic grammatical structures and the locals start to understand you!

It is a very funny phase because you laugh at your mistakes and attempts to communicate something sensible, you are still free from the pressure to speak perfectly because nobody expects you to say the right things. Take advantage of this phase to stutter like a child and have fun learning!

There are basically two suggestions for moving through this phase of language learning: use what you know and keep a notebook. I started learning Indonesian by listening to native speakers, tracing my learning in a notebook in which every night I wrote down everything I had learned (words, idioms, particular pronunciations, colloquial expressions, slang words), what I set out to learn in the following days and the questions I would have to ask the natives to resolve doubts about the language.

Stage 3: You speak and understand

Congratulations, you've reached the point where you can have a meaningful conversation in this new language. You have mastered a variety of timing, grammatical structures and a vocabulary broad enough to understand most conversations in everyday life.

You can talk about how school is going, what your hometown is like and what you did last night. You can order food and hang out with locals, but still use English (universal language) when talking about more complex ideas.

Even though you can communicate on a variety of topics, you still make some mistakes and have an obvious accent. Locals may be tempted to return to speaking English with you if they feel that continuing a conversation is a struggle for you but persevere and let them know that you enjoy the practice. The important thing, in fact, is not to fall back into English too often.

In this third phase it may be helpful to find a language partner. Since you now know enough about the language, this is the perfect time to start a serious language partnership, which will give you the opportunity to practice regularly with a native speaker.

Watch TV and movies to broaden your knowledge of the language by spending a few hours relaxing. Make sure you spend some time each week watching your favorite program in Portuguese or Chinese. Bonus points for watching Spanish telenovelas and Korean dramas - you can learn a lot about culture and language by consuming the local media.

Read blogs, newspapers and books. As well as listening to native speakers in movies and shows, be sure to read in the language as well. On the internet you will find lots of blogs written by native speakers on topics that interest you, newspapers and daily news are conveniently available online so you have no excuse not to read them in the morning while having breakfast. In this way you keep up to date with world events and learn a lot of new words.

Take a proficiency test. There is nothing like sitting an exam that will motivate you to clean up your grammar and expand your vocabulary even more. In Chinese, you can sign up for the HSK exam, or there is the DELF/DALF for French students, the Goethe for German students, the Ielts for English students, etc.

Step 4: You are finally fluent

When do you become "fluent" in another language? When you feel confident speaking in a foreign language, when you go out and interact with someone in that language without panic but remain relaxed as if you were speaking your mother tongue, when the foreign language becomes part of your everyday life, when you love it and feel it belongs to you. If you have finally had a dream in that language, then you can consider it an important milestone.

Once you speak it fluently, people no longer feel compelled to switch back into English with you. This means that you have demonstrated your competence and earned their respect.

The best advice for learning any language, at any stage, is to pay the same attention to the four parts of the language: speaking, listening, reading and writing. If you spend time interacting with the language in each of these language domains on a regular basis, you will gradually build up your mastery.

What stage are you and your language exchange friends at? Do you feel confident when you speak the foreign language you are studying? Let us know in the comments!

Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer Language Exchange

Learning Languages