Some people, including me, are never satisfied with their achievement in language learning. This article is addressed to this kind of people, in the effort to answer the following question : How would I describe the ideal path from the beginner stage to native-like fluency?
Taking French as an example, I will suggest a series of steps you can take to achieve native-like fluency. The principles, however, can be applied to any language.
#1 Having the Right Mindset
Mindset is everything. All of the following is useless if you do not perceive the problem the right way.
Most people would think "I'm not good with languages, therefore I can't learn X language". Not succeeding now doesn't mean you never will. The secret to letting go of these limiting beliefs is to adopt a child-like attitude with regards to the learning process. A good book on the subject is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck.
A similar problem that I have observed personally is the rapport with the culture behind the language. If you don't like French culture (or that of another French-speaking country), you're not likely to learn anything in French. Your brain will likely filter out anything you're trying to learn as it regards it as useless. In other words, open-mindedness is necessary when it comes to language learning.
Humility and perseverence are critical in the learning process and should be considered before giving up.
#2 Pick the Right Method
Once you have the right mindset, the next important thing is the method. Think of a learning method as a vehicle and the learning process as the road. You can be the most optimistic, ambitious and determined person in the world, you won't go far if your vehicle is defectuous.
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all method. Every individual learns differently and you'll have to experiment to see which one works best.
To keep this article short, I will not cover this in detail. However, if you're interesting in finding out which method is best for you, I've written an article about three language learning strategies you can apply to cut the learning curve.
#3 Let There Be Fun
The method you'll choose to learn French should be determined based on how much fun you have applying it. Naturally, if you enjoy reading (or read what you enjoy!), you should use that to your advantage in language learning.
In this Speechling article, I've developed the idea that drive was a determining factor in language learning. One way one can be driven is through the use of meaningful content.
Meaningful content is learning material that means something to you. Learning through movies in French is meaningful if you enjoy the movie. Reading books in French is another way. Please note that the language of the material does not have to be in French. Whether it is translated or not, enjoying the content is what matters.
#4 Beyond Practice - Life Integration
In the early stages, language learning comes down to the "learn-and-practice" loop. This cycle becomes blurred in the advanced stages - you learn when you practice and you practice when you learn. That's when you know you're reaching the top of the mountain.
The formula to becoming a native-like speaker of French is to create an automatic learning environment - for instance living in a French-speaking country, interacting with native French speaker on a daily basis, listening to French podcasts while driving, etc. In other words, you must immerse yourself in the language and create a daily routine which will allow your skills to blossom.
Having integrated the learning process into your daily life implies that you can't tell when you're actually learning. If you can't tell the difference, then you're headed in the right path.
#5 Sharpen the Saw
It's easy to get trapped in the comfort of getting by in a language. After all, the greatest obstacle to greatness is being good enough not to pursue it in the first place. It's totally fine not be to be willing to master a language fully. As a matter of fact, I do not set the bar as high for every language I learn. However some of us wish they could speak this one language like a native speaker.
This last step is for the more advanced learners. In this stage, the secret to success is to constantly challenge yourself by always going further.
Most adult learners suffer from a phenomenon called fosillization - that is, the hard-wiring of your own way of speaking the language. If French is not your native language, you may get stuck with certain sounds or grammatical structures.
This phenomenon occurs most often with pronunciation when the learner is not aware of certain sounds or stress patterns. Here is a checklist for pronunciation :
- Make sure you pronounce all the sounds right individually
- Make sure you pronounce all the sounds right within sentences
- Make sure your intonation is right, starting on the word level then on the sentence level
Intonation is what differentiate native speakers from learners. Feedback is the most important asset when working on pronunciation and/or intonation. Hopefully, Speechling provides just that! Our professional French coaches deliver feedback based on recordings of yor sentences.
There are other components of French pronunciation that are more colloquial. For more specific advice, please visit this previous article.
Grammar and Vocabulary
Other recurring problems in language learning are grammar and vocabulary. In the advanced stage, my experience is that this type of learning occurs automatically.
Unless you suffer from fossilization, you should be able to fix your shortcomings with exposure. However, if fossilization is a problem when it comes to grammar, I invite you to get feedback on Speechling.
Exposure is the key to learning new vocabulary items in the advanced stages. Since you already have a solid understanding of the language, you should detect unknown words quite easily. The best options for exposure are traveling and surrounding yourself with the French language daily by reading or listening.