Arrived in Brisbane, Australia, at the age of 15 (from Saigon), I was absolutely excited, until I asked someone for directions to get to a destination – at the time, due to my foreign accent, turned out to be “Could you show me the way to the b*tch?”. They looked at me all puzzled, unsure of what I was trying to say! A picture of the Gold Coast was helpful in this instance as they now realized that I tried to find my way to one of the most beautiful beaches in Australia. Boom, that was the moment when I thought to myself, “How can I improve my English, change my accent and speak like a local?”. I had to quickly find a way to learn the Aussie lingo. It was tough as I could only comprehend approximately 10% of what was said in any conversation. I was also shy to speak in a public situation, just in case I’d be laughed at.
Traveling to a new place and speaking the local language will give you an advantage. Firstly, it will break the ice and people will warm up to you as you’re obviously making an effort to communicate. I’ve learnt to never say “Can you speak English?” in a non-English speaking country as that, in my opinion, is kinda disrespectful. For example, if I’m in China, where the most common dialect is Mandarin, then why would I expect a local to speak English? Instead, saying “Ni hao!” will definitely make them smile and open up to a conversation. Secondly, speaking the local language will make you feel like you actually belong to the place, instead of feeling like a stranger.
Over the years, I have accumulated some valuable experience on how to effectively learn a language and I’d like to share these tips with you.
The acronym DISCOVER will help you remember these tips. It stands for Dive into it, Interests, Search, Copy, Observe, Venture out, Explore and Rehearse.
Dive into it: The best way to learn a language is to start speaking it whenever and wherever you can. Most of us are afraid of making mistakes. Keep in mind that it’s perfect to be perfectly imperfect. Making mistakes is the best way to learn. I got into trouble a few times for saying “Let’s go to the b*tch!” instead of “Let’s go to the beach!” because I couldn’t tell the difference between the vowel sounds. Luckily, my best friend in High School used to help me out. At least we had a good laugh about it.
Interests: What are your interests? Soccer, tennis, reading, art, dance…whatever it is, find an interest group where you can spend your time with like-minded people. My English improved “dramatically” after joining a drama class in High School.
Search: Not sure what a word or a common phrase mean? Nowadays, it is a privilege to have a smart phone or a tablet as you can search for any word you want in a dictionary. It’s a good way to look things up instantly when you need to. Back in the 90’s, I used to carry a small dictionary with me everywhere I went. Technology has changed the way we learn languages. Why not use it for your advantage?
Copy: Have you ever observed a child learn a language? He/she will constantly repeat what is said by other people. They imitate the pronunciation and the words in a given situation. Later on, they learn to generalize and use them in other situations. I used to ask my Aussie friends to repeat their words so I could copy them. It might be difficult at first, and the more you do this, the more confident you’ll be at speaking.
Observe: Practice paying attention to detail with your eyes and ears. How does a local pronounce a word, a phrase, a sentence, and in what intonation and situation? Keep on observing. The more you watch, the more you will absorb the information and learn. You don’t always have to speak. Just listen, and observe.
Venture out: As humans, we’re attracted to people that come from the same place as we do because they share the same culture and language. We like spending time with them, talking about similar things, and speaking the same language. This is good for personal relationships, but not good for your language learning. Break out of that comfort zone. Spend time with people who can speak the language that you’re learning. You will learn faster this way.
Explore: One of the best ways to learn a language is to go where it is spoken. Immerse yourself in an environment where you have no other choice but speaking the language, from ordering food to asking for directions. Australia has been a fantastic place where I can practice my English daily!
Rehearse: Keep on listening, repeating and writing a word, a phrase, a sentence until you feel confidence in knowing how to use them in the right context. Remember, practice makes progress!
All the best with your language learning. Thank you for reading and please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions. I’m more than happy to answer them.
Until next time, keep on learning!
For more information on Binh and his passion with helping people with their communication, reading and confidence, go to http://www.speakable.com.au