4 tips to improving your foreign language – anywhere

I was 10 years old when I was first struck by the beauty of the Japanese language. For the next 13 years, I was on a journey to master the Japanese with a passion I had never felt before in my life. In March 2011, we experienced the greatest earthquake in Japan’s modern history. All foreign contracts were terminated and I was sent back to Australia. Then, I moved to Germany.

I came to Germany without a word of German. Really none. I am still undecided if that was a good idea or not. So, my Japanese was on hold while I mastered this new language.

Here are 4 things I did to improve my German while maintaining my Japanese:

Tip 1: Incorporate your language into your life as often as humanly possible.

The success of this tip is wholly in incorporation. I could tell you write a new list of words each day, sign up for a class, subscribe to a daily newsletter etc. I won’t because it won’t work. You have to take your existing life & implement your new language into your routine in every possible way. Things that work for me are to:

  • Create a playlist/podast on your phone in the new language & listen to it while you’re on the go.
  • Organise ‘that‘ dinner this week at a (e.g. Japanese) restaurant and ask for the (e.g. Japanese) menu. Nothing like the motivation of hunger to push you through the menu.
  • Write your notes in the next meeting in your new language. In Germany, I often write my notes in Japanese. It often serves a secret code & only in very rare occasions do I abuse this power. I promise.

Tip 2: Quality inner dialogue, quality results.

While, Germany has been my home for the last 2 years, I can honestly tell you, I’ve only been learning German for half of that time. During my first year in Germany, my inner dialogue was so poor that I learnt nothing. “Why is this so impossible? Why is no-one helping me?” Is it no wonder that I wasn’t experiencing any riches from my investment?

I took the finite words out of my inner dialogue & added quality questions to add a positive spin. “Why is this so impossible?” became “Learning German is hard, that’s for sure. So, what is one thing I can do today that will make following a conversation easier?” “Why is no-one helping me?” became “I wonder if a German friend of mine is having trouble with their English language? Wouldn’t it be great if we could support each other?”

Improving the quality of your dialogue, instantly improve the quality of your answer.

Tip 3: Own your language.

‘I’m learning German’ vs ‘I’m working on my German’
I am not giving you a grammar lesson. I couldn’t. We don’t even teach grammar in the Australian K-12 system. I’m just highlighting that you don’t have to move to Germany to learn German. You just have to take ownership of the process. Slight changes in your already existing routine are the key to sustainable changes. When you repeatedly say, ‘I’m working on my German’ out loud, a flame of accountability starts to burn brighter. It’s an immediate change with sustainability potential. It’s your new language. No-one else’s. Say it. “My ….”

Tip 4: My best possible tip for improving, keeping up or even learning a new language is friendship.

Nothing, absolutely nothing can motivate your language skills like friendship.  Language is not a textbook. Language is the bridge to tell someone you love them, to travel to a new land, order soulful food, to argue and then to say sorry. Get a friend. I am officially putting myself out there as an English/Japanese/German friend if you don’t personally know someone.

Language is the path to exploring a part of yourself you’ve never known. Don’t let it sit inside of you dormant. It’s a part of you. Connect with it. Use it. Share it. Make friends in the process.