By Christine Konstantinidis
When I was in school, I was very bad at languages, not only at English but also at French and Latin. At the same time however, I began writing letters to people all over the world (yes, at that time writing letters among people was very popular!). Perhaps some of you did the same – there was an organisation called IYS (International Youth Service) and pupils from all over the world had the possibility to “order” pen pal addresses from other countries for a small fee. It was a great system and it worked really well – as well as my English outside the classroom. I had penfriends in Australia, Norway, Ghana, Scotland, Canada, India, Bangladesh, Japan, France, Italy and many other countries and I spent hours sitting in my room writing letters. The language of communication was mostly English and although my marks in English at school were rather bad, I managed to write to all those people and – surprisingly – to have fun doing it!
At that time I had one very special talent: I could make a distinction between “the two Englishes” easily and effectively: the one I needed for school and the other one I needed for my private life. I suppose it was because I didn’t like the learning techniques and methods the school system was using. Mostly, learning a language was stupid learning by heart – creativity and fun were two words that had no business to be in a classroom.
Later, after I had passed my final exams at school, I decided to work on my languages. At that time – it was in the 80s – I went to private language courses in my leisure time (I was working full-time in an office of a multinational company) and managed to pass all the Cambridge exams, the CPE (Cambridge Proficiency Exam) included.
During the last decades, I have learnt some other languages: French, Italian, Spanish, and Latin. I also have basic knowledge of Portuguese and Dutch. I have a great passion for languages and they have become a big part of my life.
Because of my passion for languages I even quitted my job in that office (I hated it!!!) and my dream job is what I have been working for almost 20 years now: being a freelance language teacher mostly for Italian and a freelance translator. I run a language blog and work for different companies – always from at home and taking my own decisions. I know that I’ve hit the jackpot (not financially, but that’s another story)!
Language learning needn’t and mustn’t be taxing or boring. There are so many possibilities how to learn – I’m sure you can find the perfect method!
Take me as an example: As I already have many professional appointments every day (weekends included sometimes), I don’t attend a classical language course. I like learning on my own and at my own pace. Furthermore, I’m quite a well-organised and disciplined person and I like using computer tools. What would you consider then the best method for me? Learning on my own and computer tools of course!
Here is a list of smartphone apps and computer programmes I like and use on a regular basis.
Memrise is great for learning and revising vocabulary. My current streak is almost 300 days without any interruption, so I can say it’s really motivational. You can search for prefabricated courses or you can insert your own vocabulary lists.
MosaLingua is an app that works well for learning and revising “on the go”. Have you got 5 minutes of spare time? Do you have to wait somewhere? Then try MosaLingua – it’s effective, varied and fun.
HelloTalk is an app for speaking or writing messages to people. It works a bit like Whatsapp but you use it for your language learning. There are many additional features. Of course, it is not the right choice if you want to write long letters, but it’s a good language training. If you want to write longer messages to your language partner, you can then switch to other communication channels.
Babbel works in a very similar way as Memrise but offers also special language courses. I use Babbel for single words, Memrise more for idiomatic expressions. That’s what I mean: Take the best out of everything.
As I like to communicate with people, I take lessons on a regular basis. My first choice is Italki because it’s affordable and flexible – and it offers great tutors. You can choose between paid lessons and language partners free of charge – as I mentioned above, I have already found friends in Spain, Switzerland, France and some other countries.
Besides, I listen to podcasts, I watch films and YouTube videos, I read blogs, magazines and books. I love writing, so I have many friends abroad and write e-mails to them (and they to me!). Quite often there are Skype calls and visits. As languages are my passion, they accompany me all day long, seven days a week, twelve months per year!
Motivation is the key! What can you do to be or stay motivated? Here are some suggestions:
Set a goal
Define your goal – again if necessary – or make some fine-tuning – and proceed on the right way.
Don’t learn too much but on a regular basis
Do you have a stressful job? Are you in a difficult familiar situation? Learn in a relaxed and easy-going way. Small steps also lead to success – it only takes a bit longer. However, be honest. Don’t use this point as an excuse for everything. Learning is also a question of priority.
Speak positively with yourself.
Praise yourself for what you do. Many learners are very unfriendly and strict to themselves. Are you your enemy or your friend?
Find language partners and language tutors
It’s always easier to learn a language if you have “real persons” to have conversations with. They can help you in case of problems, they can motivate you, and they make you keep in touch with the country and the language. If you don’t want to speak, you can also look for somebody to have written conversations with.
Learn with all your senses.
Learning needn’t and mustn’t be boring. Vary a lot: go to cookery courses, make trips to your favourite city or country. Watch films, listen to the radio, speak to the people, book guided tours (this is even possible in your home town!). Try to integrate the language into your daily life! Learning time is not over when you close your books and leave your desk!
Complaining is easy. The most important point is that you don’t complain because it won’t help you in any way. Do something. You have your learning process in your hand. You are responsible for it!
Have fun during your learning process. What’s the secret? Whenever you do something you like, you want to do it more often. Remember: Even a small step forward is a step forward. Learn on a regular basis and keep to it – and you will be successful and enjoy every single minute of the process!
Enjoy your learning
Who wrote this article?
I’m Christine Konstantinidis, I’m German and a language teacher for several languages (mostly Italian). Besides, I run the blog “Erfolgreiches Sprachenlernen”, work as a freelancer for some companies and have a real passion for everything related to languages, learning techniques and time management. I speak German, English, French, Italian and Spanish, and I can translate Latin texts. Last year in April, I published my first book “Sprachen lernen – Tolle Tipps und Tricks”. It is available in German (e-book and paperback) and I am currently working on an English and Italian translation.
You can find me here:
I would love to hear from you!