Recently, I was in a conference and some students asked me: Matteo, are there any steps we should follow to learn a foreign language properly? I think about it. My conclusion is: there are no official steps to reach, for example, an intermediate level in a language. But, surely, there are some steps we cannot avoid as beginner and other ones we should do later. Without skipping some of them. Being hurried is the worst enemy for each of us.
Here are my steps for beginner students:
- Learn the alphabet as soon as possible, starting from the vowels, which are usually the most difficult to pronounce in every language. You can listen some audio recordings of each letter and try to repeat all the possible combinations with the syllables.
- Practice reading simple and concise sentences (e.g. what is this? or My name is…). They can be easy to read and you can even record your voice and compare with a native one.
- Find a good book where the grammar is explained in a simple way and stick to it.
- Find a pocket-size grammar book, where there are table of verbs so you can look at them quickly and frequently.
5.Learn the nouns first. They will give you a good base for learning other parts of a sentence. Learn the rule to recognize their gender: masculine, feminine and, in some languages, neutral.
- Try to identify where the accent is on a word, because this could change its pronunciation and, often, the meaning. Listen to audio recordings accompanied by a transcript.
- Learn the adjectives to describe the nouns. Learn common and real life expressions embedded in simple dialogues to understand how the language works.
- Start learning infinitive verbs and then choose two or three verbs as examples and learn the other tenses.
- Learn cases for nouns and adjectives. In some languages there are several ways in which a word can be written and pronounced. No all languages have these 6 cases. Among modern languages, cases still feature prominently in most of the Balto-Slavic languages (except Macedonian and Bulgarian), as well as Icelandic, German and Greek. Nonetheless, I advise you to become familiar with that. Try to memorize the rules to change the words in various cases. Or you might want to learn them inside dialogues. This might confuse you at first, but it reflects the way you learned your mother tongue, intuitively recognizing the rules and applying them. To make their learning easier, you can use the following order:
- Nominative: It answers the questions who? or what? It is an initial form. All dictionaries give nouns in the nominative case. (g. Matteo is a teacher);
- Accusative: It designates the object of an action. (g. Matteo has many dogs);
- Dative: It comes from the Russian Dat or the Italian Dare, which both means to give. It designates that something is given or addressed to the person (object). (g. Matteo gives the gift to his friend);
- Genitive: It is used to show that something/somebody belongs or refers to something/somebody. It can be translated by of or ‘s in English. (e.g. Matteo’s hat/the hat of Matteo);
- Prepositional: It is used to designate a place, or a person (object) that is an object of speech and thought. This case is always used with a preposition. (e.g. Matteo is on the roof…why?? No idea);
- Instrumental: It is s used to denote an instrument that helps to make/do something.(e.g. Matteo writes with a pen).
By the way, the language which has the most cases is Tsez, a language spoken in the southern highlands of Dagestan, in Russia.
- Learn the present tenses. The first, second and third person. Singular and plural.
- Learn the simple past. Do not start to learn other types of past. Ask yourself: Compared to my language, is this a simple past or a more complex one?
- Practice matching verbs with nouns and adjectives.
- Learn adverbs. What is an adverb? A word (or a phrase) that modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb, or other adverb, expressing manner, place, time, or degree. It comes from the Latin word Ad Verbum (to the word).
- Keep learning the lexicon. Afterwards, you should start to build your own vocabulary. Everybody is different.
- Learn the future tenses. Present, Past …and Future.
- Practice with simple phrases and dialogues with friends or in a shop run by native people. Personally, this advice helps me a lot when I was studying Mandarin. I went to bother all Chinese shops in Milan.
- Keep practicing speaking and study the more tough grammar. There are rules that follow a logical thread and they can be learned with little effort.
- Keep studying all other syntax components.
- Find a good teacher. You need her/him to make progress. And LiveLingua is the right place to look for a good one.
- Try to make friends with native speakers who may want to learn your language. They can also give some cultural tips. You can help each other!