Projects and practice
When you learn a language because it’s useful, interesting, fun and/or necessary (all of which are good reasons to do so), the language itself tends to be the main focus, and acquiring the ability to understand, speak, read and/or write it is perhaps the main goal. An alternative approach is to see a language as a means to do others things – to make friends from different countries; to read foreign literature and other material; to understand foreign radio, TV and films; to spend time in other countries, and so on. This kind of project or task-based language learning is almost certainly not a new idea, but I think it’s worth trying.
I find languages themselves fascinating and can spend a lot of time learning about them, and also tend to focus on listening to and reading them. In order to become proficient using them in speech and writing though, I find it helps to set myself specific tasks or projects which give me opportunities to actually use the languages.
For example, when I was gathering material for my MA dissertation, which focused on the Manx Gaelic language, I tried to communicate with Manx speakers in Manx. It took me quite a while to compose emails in Manx, as I had to look up many of the words and check the grammar, but the process of doing this really helped to improve my written Manx. My spoken Manx also improved as I read everything I wrote aloud quite a few times, and did my best to chat in Manx with my informants.
I’ve also found that writing on my multilingual blog in languages I’m learning is very helpful. When I do write things there, which I haven’t done much recently, I tend to write in Welsh, Irish and/or Manx, and sometimes in other languages. I tend to write about my life, though in some ways the process of writing is more important than the content.
Another example: if you’re learning French you might want to learn to make some French dishes. This could be a project you do in French – finding recipes online, learning the relevant words and phrases, then making the dishes. Perhaps you could also invite French-speaking or learning friends to help you to eat what you’ve made, which would be a good opportunity to discuss what you made and how, thus reinforcing what you’ve learnt, both in terms of language and cooking skills. If French cuisine really appeals to you, you could even do a cookery course in France or another French-speaking country.
Do you set yourself tasks and projects to do using foreign languages?