What are the secrets of successful language learners? ESL Online Magazine interviewed one successful learner in last week’s post. Here’s more of what Evelyn has to say:
Successful language learning starts with mimicry
Go where your heart leads you, cars, sports, science, economics… It really doesn’t matter, but what matters is that you need to memorize what you read and hear. And here’s what I found most helpful: Mimic the reader: pronunciation, intonation, and rhythm. Be aware of the accent that the reader used. You can mimic all of them if you want, but it’s nice to note the differences. Now unless you are a genius, which I am certainly not, mimicking the reader is not going to make you sound like a native speaker completely, but it will definitely give you an edge.
The importance of a good translation
When you first begin, always get texts that have high-quality Chinese translations next to them and here is why. The grammar and sentence structure used in a piece written by a native speaker is usually more complicated than what you are learning at school. Getting ahead of the rest of your class is great, until the moment you realize that you looked up every single word in a sentence but still don’t understand it. And this is not even the worst. The worst comes when you misunderstand a sentence and are completely unaware of your mistake.
Use your detective skills
When things get confusing, things get boring. And when things get boring, you will be less interested in learning about them. When you hear other people or their parents bragging that they can read English articles without any Chinese translations to assist them, again ignore them. What they are doing is not productive. Instead, if there’s a sentence you do not understand, get the Chinese translation to know what the sentence is trying to say and reverse engineer. Use your detective skills to find out the structure of that sentence in English and congratulations, you might have taught yourself a new sentence structure that you can apply to many other situations.
Memorize everything. You might end up forgetting, but memorize it no matter what. It may take weeks to get through a long speech, a scene, or a news article, but you would have learned so much more than the other guy who breezes through everything but ends up knowing not much.
Next steps to successful language learning
After studying on my own for a while, I wanted to talk about what I learned. Not just about English, but conversations about poets, history, and movie plots. So, it was just naturally the right time for me to look for a native English-speaking teacher. In the 2000s, the resource was half of what we have today and a warm body who was a native English speaker would do for me. But now with Skype, Facetime, and WeChat videos, you have so many more options. Look for a teacher who is 1) a native speaker, 2) a professional, and 3) (if you are very lucky) a person with some knowledge of Chinese and the culture.
When you’re studying an article or a speech and there is a video of the reader/speaker, make good use of it. Observe how the speaker’s facial muscles move; observe how their mouth moves. I did all of my listening work by cassette tapes, but observing their faces is important when you want to have a better accent.
Go with your interest: science, art, literature. Whatever the topic, if you think it’s fun, it’s worth it. That and do get Chinese translations/subtitles, when you first start. I used cassette tapes and books, like the Crazy English series. But I would so like to be an English-learner in today’s world. The creation of audiobooks is such a blessing. For example: get an original copy, get a Chinese copy, and get the audiobook (usually read by actors with great elocution) and dig in. If you end up talking like Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, or Scarlett Johansson one day, good for you!
Another resource is the Ted Talk. Mimic the speakers and memorize the speeches. You will not only gain new vocabulary, learn about the world today, and improve your spoken English, but also gain the skills of public speaking.