When people say that somebody KNOWS French/Italian/Russian/ Chinese, they usually mean that he or she can communicate with native speakers of that language. Let’s look at a foreign language from practical, pragmatic point of view. What do we usually learn languages for? TO UNDERSTAND other people and TO BE UNDERSTOOD. We USE foreign languages to achieve our goals. Any language is a TOOL – the more you use it, the more skilled you become.
“A foreign language is the only thing worth knowing even badly”, – once wrote Kató Lomb (1909-2003), a famous Hungarian interpreter and translator. She was a polyglot who learned 16 languages all by herself.
And she was quite right. If you’re learning a foreign language, start USING it from the very beginning. Don’t wait until you reach a certain level – just begin speaking and reading as soon as you can. I don’t mean that you can translate, say, documentation for your company, or serve as an interpreter at important negotiations. Leave this to professionals. But all the same –
Even if you are a beginner, there are lots of things you already can do. Find something interesting to read in the language you are learning, so you’ll get more than just new words. With the Internet, you’ll find remarkable people to communicate with – in the language you’re going to master. Not only will you have practice, but also discover lots of new things. You’ll make friends with people all over the globe. You’ll never see them in person – but does it matter?
Textbooks and exercises are very helpful – but only USING a foreign language will show how well you “know” it. Let’s say, a learner’s ability to use a language goes through certain “stages”.
- Native speakers seem to understand what you’re trying to tell them.
- You’re able express your thought at least in general.
- You understand what the person you’re talking with is talking about (at least you think so).
- Every now and then you don’t understand some phrase and suspect that it must be an idiom or a joke. Unfortunately, jokes are beyond your reach yet.
- Native speakers understand what you’re telling them.
- The thought you manage to express is pretty close to what you really wanted to say.
- You understand what the person you’re talking with is talking about. You can get the simplest jokes and even puns.
- Native speakers easily understand everything you’re telling them.
- You’re able express your thought in detail. You can talk about a pretty wide range of subjects. In fact, you worry more about WHAT to say than about HOW to put it – just as if you were speaking your native language.
- Not only can you understand humor, you can crack jokes yourself – and native speakers laugh at them not only out of mere politeness. Your jokes become funny.
Use the language – and you’ll by all means reach stage 3 sooner. Good luck!!