It's a shame how quickly you forget languages if you don't practice them. For example, I had French lessons for four years during my school days and could hold simple conversations then. This year, on my vacation in France, 20 years after my school days, nothing more remained besides an abstract familiarity with the language: I understood nothing and could not say much more than my name.
English is much easier because there is some basic practice through the Internet. But even here, I realised in my professional years that this does not mean that you can then give fluent business presentations. However, it is imperative for my career that I'm able to give presentations in English in a way that is just as relaxed and well-formulated as in my native German to be able to effectively do my job as an Innovation Manager. Because: the key to innovation are convincing sponsors, implementation teams and customers.
Since I don't have too many opportunities in my daily life to practice my English in dialogue with customers and colleagues, I had to develop something else to sharpen my language sword. I guess the same would be valid for, let's say, an English native speaker trying to learn Spanish or Mandarin.
I want to share my practices with you, as I've learned that learning a language doesn't require any extra effort by combining training with your daily routines.
- Writing your journal/diary: I have a morning and evening routine in which I plan to reflect on what has happened and prepare for what lies ahead in the form of a diary entry. I write this in the language I want to learn.
- Taking notes: I take comprehensive notes in my business meetings anyway. I have learned to take them in the language I want to learn. Advantage: you practice real-time translation and can't be too perfectionistic (which is vital to relax using a language). Disadvantage: the mental real-time translating and writing down takes some exertion.
- Reading books: When I want to read a book, I always try to read the one in the language I want to learn. However, I have found that reading alone doesn't help me speak English better. It expands your vocabulary and gives you a feel for standard grammar and phrasing.
- Watching movies/tv shows; Listening to Podcasts: The same reasoning as with books, but here you still have the advantage of having to deal with the dialects and also understand speech when the other person mumbles or other disturbing noises are present. You can increase the difficulty by setting the playback speed to 1.5 times or even twice for podcasts and audiobooks.
- Engage in international project teams: This option depends on whether you can make it work in your job. I work in an internationally operating company. However, the standard would be that the colleagues of the respective languages prefer to stay among themselves, and cross-language teams are avoided, as this is uncomfortable or people feel linguistically insecure. I now do the opposite: I deliberately seek out projects and tasks where I force myself to work with colleagues who speak the language I want to learn. There is no better exercise.
- Write a blog or book: This is an intensified form of foreign language journaling. Deliberate Diligence is an excellent example since I could have started the blog in German but did it in English to learn to use clean grammar and crisp phrasing. Knowing that an audience is reading the texts, you have to be extra careful, increasing the practice effect. At the same time, of course, this gives me the advantage of being able to reach people all over the world with my thoughts.
- Discuss in forums: Another variant to conduct dialogues in the language you want to learn is simply in online forums. I recommend Reddit, where there are communities from every imaginable language area.
An additional pro tip is to use tools that help you learn good grammar practice and provide you with synonyms. For people trying to learn English, I strongly recommend Grammarly, which is quite expensive with a monthly subscription fee but worth it. Grammarly gives me detailed phrasing recommendations in real time while writing these blog articles, for instance, and helps improve the language quality so that readers won't even notice that it's not your native language. It's like having your teacher looking over your shoulder. I assume there will be similar tools for other languages, too (Spanish, German, French, Mandarin, etc.).
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