Tag archives for Language Learning

Stress Less, Speak More: 15 Tips for Learning a Foreign Language (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of Saturday’s post, where you can read Tips 1-7 for learning a language!

Swedish is not a language many people study just for the heck of it. Romance languages, German, Chinese or Japanese—not too out of the ordinary. But Swedish? Not so much.

Nonetheless, when in Rome…

For expats and all language learners, here are my top 15 tips for kick-starting your language learning, even when it’s rough going, even if you’re shy, even if you think you can’t.

8.   Be brave!

Learning a language is not for the faint of heart. It’s important to be kind to yourself during this process by taking breaks when you need them, allowing yourself to be imperfect, whining about how difficult it is (we’ve all been there!).

As soon as you’ve gotten that out of your system, though, you have to be brave! You have to get out there, you have to talk to people, you have to let yourself be vulnerable. Above all, do not allow yourself to be shy.

Shyness is the language killer. Don’t kid yourself that doing an endless number of grammar exercises is going to result in your waking up one day and suddenly being fluent! You have to talk.

I’ve gotten pretty good with my Swedish, but there are still times when I suddenly feel shy or nervous for some reason. When that happens, I try to trick myself into being brave. For example, I’m the oldest of three girls, and I am very protective of my two little sisters. (Not that they’re little, really, but I will think of them that way for the rest of my life.)

If I tell myself before I go into a shop that I’m going to do something for them, I am automatically 5 times more courageous and more determined than I would be on my own. It’s not me that wants the coffee, it’s my sister! For some reason, creating a scenario like that pushes me out of my own shell and gives me that extra edge that I need.

Every now and then, you’ve got to take a break and maybe even have a delicious fika to recharge your brain. Photo: Kate Wiseman

9.   Take breaks when you need them. Read more » >>

Stress Less, Speak More: 15 Tips to Help You Learn a Foreign Language (Part 1)

Swedish is not a language many people study just for the heck of it. Romance languages, German, Chinese or Japanese—not too out of the ordinary. But Swedish? Not so much.

Nonetheless, when in Rome…

Swedish has kind of a funny reputation as a language. Because it’s a tonal language, a lot of people say that it sounds like singing. That wasn’t the first thing that came to my mind—the first time I heard Simon talking on the phone, I thought it sounded like he was gargling a mouthful of marbles, Eliza Doolittle-style. Later on in our relationship, and after my time in Vienna, I thought Swedish sounded like German after a tranquilizer or two.

For their part, Swedish people don’t do much to encourage native English speakers to learn Swedish, either. For one thing, they speak English way too well and are way too nice in accommodating us foreigners. (Yeah, Swedes. Stop speaking English so well!) For another thing, they keep insisting that Swedish is an incredibly hard language to learn, and after a while, you start believing them.

Well, forget that. The truth of the matter is, no matter how easy it is to live in Sweden or anywhere else in the world as an English speaker, learning the language will benefit you socially, professionally, and—most importantly—bureaucratically. (If there’s one thing all expats are familiar with, it’s filling out forms… for visas, for doctors, for work, for everything.)

There’s another reason to learn the language that no one talks about: once you get over the hump of the hard work and constant embarrassment, it is so incredibly empowering to be able to express yourself and take care of yourself. It takes some time, though.

If you started yoga class or kickboxing or doing pottery or designing websites, you would expect a learning period in which you just aren’t any good. If you stick with it, though, and practice, you start getting better and better.

It’s the same with language, but people aren’t patient with themselves in the same way. I want to be fluent NOW! I hear you. Below are the first 7 of my top 15 tips to help you learn foreign language, designed not to trick you into believing in shortcuts, but rather to help you focus your energy where you’ll see the most results. Read more » >>

5 Lessons Expats Can Learn from Modern-Day Vikings

A little while ago, my stalwart companion in all potentially corny Swedish adventures (Steve) and I went to the Viking Reserve in Southern Sweden, and I keep thinking about the Vikings we met there.

When they spoke about living as the Vikings did, the passion they have for their lifestyle was clear in every word, and I found myself thinking about the lessons that expats could learn from the way they embrace the constant newness and discovery that comes with their lives as Vikings. Read more » >>

5 Simple Steps to Start Speaking a Foreign Language Now

I’ve lived in four different countries and studied four foreign languages, plus I work as an English teacher. Thanks to these experiences and, well, my personality, I have developed some strong opinions about languages and language learning.

Regardless of whether you’re planning on moving to Sweden or just visiting, I’ve decided to share my tricks for kick-starting the language learning process so you can be a Swedish whiz by the time you get here.

ONE ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENT: You must be brave. You can memorize verbs, build your vocabulary, and study grammar until the day you die, but unless you start speaking, it won’t do you any good when you actually want to use it. (NB: It’s not cheating to strengthen your resolve with alcohol.)

My trusty Swedish pocket dictionary has been a real lifesaver from time to time. Photo: Kate Wiseman

Step 1: Focus on the present tense first.

This is one of the best pieces of advice I got when I first moved to Italy. I was stressing about my lack of language skills when one of our study abroad student advisors overheard me and decided to nip my stress in the bud. “Don’t worry about all the different verb tenses you use in English,” he said. “Focus on the present tense first. It was like a light bulb going off.

In everyday situations, people will understand you perfectly well if you use the present tense correctly. It’s a focused, simple, concrete goal to get you started. If you’ve studied a foreign language in school, you probably learned it the same way I did: step-by-step, one verb tense and vocabulary set at a time. Then I realized that I had taken Spanish lessons for about ten years, and I didn’t have that kind of time.

If your goal is communication and your time is limited, focus on the present tense first.

Step 2: Learn the past and future forms of to be, to want, to need, to have, to like, and to go.

Having these six verbs at your disposal will take you far in your everyday life. This trick I got from one of my high school Spanish teachers, who always drilled us on the DISHES verbs in Spanish: Decir (to say), Ir (to go), Ser (to be), Hacer (to have), Estar (to be #2), and Saber (to know). A few years and a little re-configuration later, and I’ve found that to be, to want, to need, to have, to like, and to go are the essential, must-know verbs.

The bad news is that due to a strange twist of fate, these verbs are usually irregular, and therefore it’s going to take a little effort. Your hard work will pay off, though. I promise!

Step 3: Build your vocabulary.

A few verbs and some basic knowledge will take you a long way, but eventually you’ll need, you know, words to make the rest of the sentence. Building your vocabulary can be an ongoing, casual affair or an intense, I’m-not-moving-until-I’ve-figured-out-every-word in this Swedish Elle article. Do both. Mix it up!

My best tips: Carry a pocket dictionary with you, or if you have a smart phone, download a dictionary app. Norstedts Dictionary is really good for Swedish-English translations. Make notes on index cards, notepads, newspapers, whatever and wherever. Review your notes a couple of times a week. Refresh your memory. Say the words out loud.

Just a few of the piles of index cards of words that I made... great for pulling out and flipping through when you're waiting in line or sitting on the bus. Photo: Kate Wiseman

Some people say the best way to learn vocabulary quickly is to watch tv. That’s never really worked for me, but try it and see if it helps you. Read the free newspapers you get on the trains. Try to figure out signs. Go to the grocery store and read all the labels for foods and home items.

Some phrases you won’t pick up at the grocery store but are useful to have are connector words or phrases of time: at the beginning, at the end, usually, sometimes, always, never, etc. Pay attention to the words you use when telling a story and you’ll collect more.

Step 4: Speak… all the time.

I’m serious about this “all the time” thing.

Being shy is an obstacle. Being nervous is an obstacle. Being worried that people are going to laugh at you or make fun of you or just not understand you is an obstacle. These are all obstacles you can conquer, though, so it’s time to muster up your gumption and speak!

You can ease your way into this by telling stories in your head. Describe things to yourself internally as you walk through the city. Read a newspaper article out loud in the safety of your own home. Talk to children. Find the tiny fruit and vegetable store run by an old woman/an under-stimulated employee—somehow, there always seems to be one just down the street from me no matter where I am in Europe—and talk to the people there. Chances are, they’ll be kind and patient with you as you stumble along.

A few of my Swedish books. They're great, but most important... start speaking! Photo: Kate Wiseman

Step 5: Stay positive.

So much of expat life is like one long test of your character, and sometimes it helps to think about it that way. There are highs and lows, ebbs and flows, and especially when you’re trying to learn a new language, there will come a time when you feel like you’re not improving anymore or—more depressingly—that you’re getting worse.

When this happens, know when to take a break and when to keep pushing through. Some people advocate never speaking English from the moment you enter a foreign country to the second you leave, but frankly, learning a new language is hard. You get unbelievably tired, and at the end of a long day, sometimes the best thing is to retreat into silence or call home and speak in your own language.

That said, enjoy small victories when they come. Put yourself in situations that challenge you, that take you out of your comfort zone, and then feel a well-deserved sense of pride when you’re able to order a coffee, ask for directions, or make a doctor’s appointment.

More tips? More ideas? Questions? Comments? Let me know what you think in the comments.