I speak three languages. One is my mother tongue. One is part of the school curriculum since I was young. One was self-picked-up due to mere personal interest.
Learning languages is difficult, not to mention languages that are not in the same “system” as your mother tongue. Take Chinese and English as examples: the basic writings are nothing alike, and due to cultural difference, meaning of expressions are half a world apart.
However, if you yourself have that thirst and determination, being fluent in another language is not that tough a task. It is hard, of course, but it will be enjoyable if you love the language enough.
I have to say this upfront, as for me, learning language is not just learning how to listen, speak, write or read. Language is the firmest and trickiest boundary between cultures, it is an inevitable part of any culture. If you plan to get over the fence, be ready to learn how to deal with the thorns attached. This post, however, will not show you how to absorb the culture, because that would be up to individual’s interest and ability. Here, I would only show the general steps that I took to be able to “make Chinese sounds,” because it takes a lot more than this to “speak Chinese.”
I am a Chinese-drama addict. In other words, I could not possibly live without watching at least 1 episode of Chinese drama per week. During breaks it’s per day. After a while, I realized that I could understand what the people are saying without looking at the subtitles, sometimes. And then I learned the words, the sound, and the way some common phrases are used. That was my first layer of foundation.
For Asian languages like Chinese, once you get a hold of how grammar works, it is actually a simpler job to understand the language. I bought several textbooks on this and started from scratch, annotating all grammar points from the simplest greetings to more complicated structures. This set of notes never left my side. Whenever I have time, I would take them out and read them thoughtfully, but would not force them into my memory. Until this point, I had had some grammar foundation.
And then, I went back to carefully watch even more drama and TV shows while minding every sentence being said and paying closer attention to structures that were familiar with me. I would recite the sentence occasionally, until it naturally became part of my knowledge. A little bit of history of the country would also help a lot in learning vocabulary
Learning vocabulary is an essential part, but this comes after the grammar. After I had a decent amount of grammar in my head, I turned to cover my surroundings with vocabulary. Every piece of furniture in the room would have its Chinese name on it, and after I was familiar with these words, I changed to other things like colors, shapes, etc., until I had known how to describe my surroundings, myself, the people around me.
After combining both the vocabulary and the grammar, I visited Chinese websites that were about things I like and created a few accounts on Chinese social networking sites. Here, I made Chinese friends and talked to them about our mutual interest through typing to improve my writing. The conversation could last forever, or only in a few surfaced greetings. It doesn’t matter — just take every chance to have. A lot of people that have the same interest are really friendly and enthusiastic. You will eventually find someone that can talk to you verbally. And this is when you practice your speaking.
To conclude, my advice is to take your foundation study seriously and build on it with things in the culture that interest you. I also try to speak Chinese to all the Chinese people I’ve met, in other words, speak Chinese whenever and wherever I’ve got the chance. Because constantly speaking the language will make it yours.