Language Learning

First Words in a Second Language

If you have to say “ø#ªö%^&*@$!”, say it in your own language. You shouldn’t be saying it in the language you are studying.

The first words to learn are the words you will need most often:

  1. Yes, no, please, excuse me, thank you.
  2. I’m sorry, I don’t understand. I understand.
  3. Please say that again.
  4. What does [this] mean?
  5. How do you say [that] in [English]?
  6. Could you help me, please? Can I help you?
  7. Thank you.

Take an hour or two to become comfortable using these few words. It is the first step toward speaking the language instead of just studying it.

  • You will have a foundation for communication, a foundation you can build on.
  • You will begin to lose your fear of speaking the language.
  • You will begin to think in the target language, at least for these words and phrases.
  • You will get more out of your classes and studies.
  • You will earn the respect of native speakers of the language.

First Rule of Language Learning: Make Lots of Mistakes!

First Rule of Language Learning: Make Lots of Mistakes!

Primera regla de aprendizaje de idiomas: hacer “un chorro” de errores!

La première règle de l’apprentissage des langues: faire beaucoup d’erreurs!

Primeira regra de aprendizagem de línguas: Fazer um monte de erros!

언어를 배우고, 당신은 많은 실수를해야합니다


You know how cute it is when little kids make language mistakes like “My foots are cold” or “I eated my ice cream”. You know what that is? That’s called the learning process. They are speaking, and you understand what they are saying even if they make mistakes. They learn by speaking, and so can you. You have the added advantage of being able to study the language as well, but the important part is speaking. The more you speak, the faster you learn.

I’ve been teaching English as a second language since 1997, which is the same year I started learning my third and fourth languages. What I have learned from experience, and have been teaching my students ever since, is that the first rule of learning any language is this:

Make mistakes, and make them every day, as often as possible.

Of course, I don’t mean try to make mistakes; I mean use the language, and don’t let the fear of mistakes hold you back. If you go to your language class once or twice a week and are shy to speak because you keep making the same mistake, it might take a very long time to fix. If you make that mistake several times a day for several consecutive days, you can fix it a lot faster.

If you don’t know you are making a mistake, then assume you are speaking correctly and keep conversing until your teacher or a native speaker of the language corrects you. And after they correct you, keep talking. If you notice you’re making the mistake, good! You want to notice; that’s how you fix it.

If you know you are saying something wrong but don’t know how to fix it, ask your teacher or look it up yourself. All the answers are right here on the World Wide Web.

When you go to class, or to a conversation practice session, don’t just sit there; say something! You shouldn’t feel pressure to speak; you should feel free to speak.

If you do not speak the target language fluently (yet), then don’t think about speaking “perfectly”, focus on understanding and being understood. Don’t try to understand every word that is spoken to you; try to comprehend general ideas, and gradually you will learn to understand more details.

Corollary to the First Rule of Language Learning: Perfection has no place in the early stages of learning a language. (Once you are able to converse in the target language with some degree of fluency, then you can attend to details of correctness.)



2 Responses to Language Learning

  1. Beth says:

    Can I be a ‘guest blogger’ on your site??

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