Five Steps to Making Language Gains Quickly

Modern-Foreign-Languages
“Which direction are you headed in?”

Getting better at a foreign language or achieving an advanced level of proficiency in one is not an easy task. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Regardless of which language you’re focusing on, it can months or even years to get the hang of it. Depending upon how much hard work and effort you put in, you are going to likely improve quicker and remain committed to the process of becoming bilingual or multilingual. Certain people are going to pick up language(s) quicker because they may have a natural talent for it or because they truly enjoy learning the subject and find it easy to excel in.

However, even if you’re not naturally gifted or don’t pick it up quickly, you can still get ahead and make gains in the language through a number of ways. As someone who has studied foreign languages for over half of my life and has also taught English as a Second Language for a few years now, I have a pretty good idea at what separates those students who are going to succeed in their language studies and those students who are likely to fail.

Even though, you may want to be fluently writing in Japanese or speaking to friends in Spanish, you have to put the work in even if language learning happens to come easy to you. It won’t happen overnight but the process can be sped up if you want to boost your ability to learn with a few key steps that I will highlight in the rest of this post. Take these five steps that I will flesh out to heart because it could mean the difference between you being at an advanced level in a year rather than being stuck at the intermediate stage. You don’t have to do all of my five recommend steps to make language gains quickly but it’s definitely recommended to try our at least one or two of them for your own personal benefit as a student of foreign languages.

  1. Be Consistent

While not the most noteworthy recommendation, some language learners forget to put the work in on a consistent basis. If you happen to work five hours on one day specifically on learning a language, that sounds great on paper but if you happen to neglect the six other days of the week, then you’re not really going to make any progress. This is partly why if you study a foreign language in a school or at a university, you’re going to usually have classes four or five days a week so that it stays fresh in your mind. One or two hours per night five or six days a week will go a long way for you and your learning language goals.

Being consistent and responsible in your hours of study will pay off much greater dividends than cramming all of your language studies into one night for a bunch of hours. It’s likely that your brain and memory will be so overwhelmed by all of that information if you cram it into one night that you won’t be able to remember anything you learned by the next week or month. When it comes to any academic subject including foreign languages, you should listen to wise words of a popular phrase that I remember from my high school days: “It’s better to study smart, then it is to study hard.” Don’t overwhelm yourself, stay committed to a language study schedule, and remember to take one day off instead of five or six days off to retain the vocabulary, grammar, phrases, etc. that you have been learning.

  1. Use Both Online and Offline Resources

We live in an amazing time and I would argue that it’s easier than ever to learn a foreign language if you’re willing to do your research, both online and offline. When it comes to online resources, there is almost a limitless amount of information that you can discover dealing with the study of a foreign language. Whether it’s grammar, vocabulary, listening, writing activities, etc. you’re likely to find what you need in order to study and improve if you make the effort to research carefully. In addition to that, it’s easier now than ever to do a language exchange with a native speaker through the medium of an online platform such as Skype, Google Hangouts, etc. You can also use a website like Meetup.com to find a social group to meet up, hang out, and practice your target language with if you happen to live in a big city or large town.

Beyond just online resources, you can network in person by offering to have coffee for an hour with a native speaker of the language you’re learning and if you haven’t had success with Meetup, you can enroll in language classes for a fee at either a foreign language center, community college, or at a local university of note. It’s much easier to make language gains when you live in a big city and have a good amount of money to spare for some formal classes. However, not everybody in the world has that luxury, which leads me to my next step.

  1. Invest in a Private Tutor / Teacher

As mentioned before, not everybody can live in a big city or have the ability to pay for classes at a university or a language center. However, if you can make the more affordable investment of getting a private tutor, it will save you some money and you will be able to practice directly, one-on-one with a native speaker and teacher of the target language.

Usually, a private tutor or teacher who you meet with face to face in person is going to be a bit more expensive than an online tutor. If you prefer to be physically present with your tutor to make it easier for you to learn and clarify the content that you’re absorbing, you may prefer to shell out the extra money for them to meet you at a café or to make a house call to your home and apartment.

However, if you are on a budget, don’t have access to a native speaker of the language you’re learning in your current location because you’re in a small town, don’t live near a foreign language center, etc. you should consider getting an online tutor or teacher. Even though you won’t be physically in the same room as your tutor, you’ll still be able to learn new material, go through lessons together, speak in the target language, and be able to complete homework and classwork to improve your fluency. Online tutors also tend to be less expensive as an investment when compared to real life tutors or to enroll in group classes.

You have to consider how much time you have to devote to the foreign language you’re learning and what your budget is. The cheapest and least expensive option is to have a free exchange of languages if you have a friend or colleague who wants to improve at your language in exchange for them teaching you their language. If you are particularly interested in learning a foreign language online, you should check out platforms like Verbling or Italki.

  1. Immerse Yourself (Books, Music, Movies, TV)

Another great way to boost your foreign language abilities is by seeking out opportunities outside of the classroom or textbook to brush up on your knowledge. Through a variety of media that is available both online and offline, you can spend an hour or two each day going through books, music (songs), movies, TV shows, etc. to listen and absorb the language you’re learning. For example, when you’re reading a book in a foreign language, you can highlight the words that you do not know and find out the meaning with a dictionary. You can also look up news articles online and take the time to translate the sentences and paragraphs from the foreign language into your own language.

You can immerse yourself more deeply into the culture behind the language you’re learning by being exposed to the songs and dances whose lyrics you’ll be able to study and analyze. In addition, you can pick up a lot of a language when you watch a popular TV Show, Movie, or other program. You can not only pick up a lot of a foreign language by spending some time listening to the language and interacting with it but also by observing the host culture(s), and finding out more about the individual expressions and phrases that also make this language you’re studying unique in its’ own ways.

  1. Move Overseas

To save the best and most important step for last, if you want to immerse yourself fully and take your foreign language studies to the next level, you’re going to want to move overseas for a period of time for some intense study of the language. You can watch a lot of movies, you can take a lot of classes, and you can study five or six nights out of the week, but moving to a country where they speak the language you’re learning as a fact of life will challenge your language skills and abilities as never before and put you to the test. Out of the five steps that I mentioned, this one will be the most beneficial to your language studies and also make the biggest impact on your life. I cannot recommend it enough for you as the student to go overseas for as long as you need to improve your language skills and improve as much as you can.

Even if you can only make it overseas for a cultural / language study exchange program for a month or two, you should take advantage of an opportunity like that. Also, if you happen to be in university and have the chance to study abroad for a semester or even a year, you should really do it especially if you’re committed to mastering the foreign language you’ve chosen. Foreign language learning doesn’t have to end even after you have earned your diploma.

You can continue to make trips to those countries where the language is the official one into the future. Other options include taking a gap year off from work or school to devote yourself to language study while you’re traveling around the world. If you are TEFL certified and want to learn a foreign language at the same time, you can move overseas to teach your language to students while receiving lessons from a teacher in that country as well as being immersed in the culture at the same time. There are tons of options out there so if you want to boost your language skills as much as possible, moving overseas for a long period of time could be a great chance for you.

There is no ‘magic bullet’ that will guarantee you perfect, almost native-like fluency in a foreign language. It’s a goal that takes a lifetime to master and even then you’ll still make mistakes and may retain your accent while speaking the language. Learning a foreign language is a lifetime project and is a skill that has to be consistently studied and improved upon.

It’s a common fact that the younger a person is when they start a foreign language, the better off they’ll be. If you start learning Chinese at five years old, you’ll be at a clear advantage when compared to somebody who is first starting a language at twenty years old. The younger a learner is when it comes to a foreign language, the more vocabulary and grammar they’ll be able to retain.

However, it’s important to not be discouraged about this fact even if you’re starting a foreign language in your 20’s and 30’s. With hard work and determination, you can still make a lot of progress especially if you follow these five steps. You can boost your level quicker than usual if you consider implementing these useful steps in your weekly or daily routine.

It’s also a positive that after you learn your first foreign language well, it’s likely to be easier for you when it comes to getting a high proficiency for your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th foreign language. Anything worth doing in life does not come easy so you have to decide how much the study of languages means to you personally. However, with the five steps that I have outlined in detail for you as the reader, you will be able to learn the language well, improve quickly, and reach your goals as a student to develop this crucial skill for the 21st century.

If you liked this article of mine and you are looking to improve your English language skills, please consider the option of having me as your private tutor. You can find out more information about this opportunity at https://benjweinberg.com/learn-english-with-me/. Whether it’s a lesson through Verbling, Italki, or another platform, I’d be happy to work with any English language student from around the world in their quest to achieve an advanced proficiency in my mother tongue. Good luck!

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Cultural Spotlight – Vallenato

For my last blog post regarding Colombian culture for a while, I’d like to focus on a form of dance that is very popular there, especially on the Caribbean coast. Similar to cumbia, vallenato is a form of Colombian folk music that is both traditional and innovative in its’ instrumentation, interpretation. If we were to translate vallenato to English, it would roughly mean, “born in the valley,” which refers to vallenato’s roots coming from the Caribbean region of Colombia.

The valley that is being referenced as having started this popular music is located between Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Serrania de Perija. Vallenato is also partly named after the Colombian city of Valledupar where this genre of music originated. Vallenato has become so popular not just in Colombia but also in rest of Latin America making it apart of mainstream Latin music that is apart of the cultural heritage of that country and that region of the world.

Vallenato originated from the tradition of farmers who would travel from Colombian village to village on long journeys in their quest to sell cattle in local fairs or look for greener pastures for them. During these trips, the farmers would sing together, play guitars and other instruments like gaita flutes (kuisis), which were indigenous to the local culture. Since these farmers would travel often, they would often bring news and information to the different towns that they visited. Sometimes, these messages to the village folk would be delivered in the song form so that the towns would know what’s going on nearby in the valley.

Vallenato is an eclectic mix of different kinds of world music such as Spanish, African, and Amerindian. Vallenato songs started to become common during the early 1900’s from the Caribbean region of Colombia. The early forms of vallenato would come with instruments such as gaita flutes, guacharaca (percussion), caja, bass guitar, and acoustic guitar. Additionally, you could make the sounds more European by adding instruments like the accordion or the piano.

Since the early days of vallenato, the accordion has become an increasingly large part of the sound of the songs of this particular genre of music. While vallenato was originally a genre of music for lower class folk and farmers in particular, it has since become popular across all spectrums and social classes within Colombian society. Many subgenres have come out of traditional vallenato such as romantic vallenato, commercial vallenato, and new wave vallenato.

Since the heart of the vallenato genre deals with telling stories, it is a very social form of music. You can drink liquor, enjoy a nice meal, and even dance with a partner to this genre. Listening to vallenato can go well with having a family party, attending a festival, or checking out a carnival. Vallenato has become so popular that there are two main festivals devoted to it: the Vallenato Legend Festival and the Cradle of Accordions festival. Valledupar has also become one of Colombia’s most famous cities given the fact that it was the birthplace of one of its most popular music genres, Vallenato.

When it comes to vallenato, you cannot have a song without the caja, the guacharaca, and the accordion to flesh out the sound and rhythm. The caja, is a small drum, that you can place between your knees and play with your bare hands. This drum was originally brought over by the Europeans during colonization and was mainly used by African slaves for entertainment.

The guacharaca, a wooden, ribbed stick that most looks like sugar cane can be rubbed together with a small fork in order to create a scraping sound. This instrument is meant to imitate the sound of the guacharaco bird from the Cesar region of Colombia, who is known to hunt for food and dance to perform the mating ritual. Lastly, you can’t forget to use the accordion of German origin in order to get the different tones needed to fill out the vallenato sound. By using the right buttons and hitting the right reeds, you should be able to get the rhythm down.

Speaking of the rhythms of vallenato, there are four different beats that create a rhythmic structure and a melody chord structure to form the basis for a song. The four rhythms are known as son, paseo, merengue, and puya. The son and paseo are played in a 2/4 time while the merengue and puya are played in a 6/8 time or ¾ time structure. ‘Son’ is known as being the slowest and most somber movement of vallenato and also has a heavy cadence. ‘Paseo’ is probably the most widely recorded rhythm of vallenato is known as being the most consistent of the four rhythms.

When it comes to ‘puya’, it’s the easiest rhythm of vallenato for each musician to have a solo with one of the three main instruments. It also has a faster up-tempo and is the oldest of the four rhythms. ‘Merengue’, which is not the same type of music as the original genre, but is the fourth and last vallenato rhythm, and was brought to Colombia by some African tribal groups. It’s a more narrative style of vallenato and is played in decimas, which is a 10-line format with Spanish internal rhythms the came over to Colombia originally during the 16th century.

There have been many composers, singers, and groups of Vallenato bands that have emerged over the past century who have helped to contribute to this genre of music. Perhaps the most famous Colombian composer of Vallenato was Rafael Escalona, who composed a number of famous songs and was one of the co-founders of the Vallenato Legend Festival along with Consuelo Araujo and Alfonso Lopez Michelsen.

Many Vallenato groups have also become orchestras in both their large size and instrumentation. The most popular of these orchestras are Binomio de Oro de America, Carlos Vives y la provincia, and Los Diablitos del Vallenato. You also can’t talk about Vallenato without mentioning Silvestre Dangond, who has become maybe the most famous modern day singer and composer of songs in this genre.

He has become popular not only in his native Colombia but also in Latin America and worldwide. While originally a genre of music from Colombia, Vallenato has expanded its’ popularity to Latin America and the rest of the world to share with its’ listeners both the joys, sadness, and romance of life itself.

Choosing the Right Travel Backpack for You

You have the money, you have the time, and you have some destinations in mind: you’re ready to live the nomadic lifestyle for a while and travel the world. This may be your dream life but the question is: are you prepared to make the jump? and do you have everything you need to make the journey? Having the right backpack with you could make the difference between having the time of your life or booking an early flight home.

Where’s Your Backpack?

Despite having the money, the time, and the destinations finalized in your mind, do you have the gear that you’ll need in order to complete the journey? Unless you plan on lugging a suitcase through the Andes or the Himalayas, you’re going to need a sturdy and reliable travel backpack. However, thankfully for you, there are more options now than ever when it comes to travel backpacks and they’re not as expensive as they used to be.

There are dozens of backpacks that I could write about but then this article would be ten thousand words total. Instead, I’m going to focus on three great options that you should seriously consider, one of them which that I have personally used during my travels throughout South America and can highly recommend to my readers.

You can check out a number of options if you visit the website titled, ‘Live Once Live Wild’ and see their ‘What is the Best Travel Backpack’? article which you can access here: http://liveoncelivewild.com/best-travel-backpack/. Regardless of which backpack you choose, you’ll have plenty of good options to choose from.

JanSport Katahdin 40L – Best Bargain

If you’re not looking to spend a lot of money but still want to get some good value out of a travel backpack, you may want to consider buying the JanSport Katahdin 40L. This backpack is made out of Polyester material so it can withstand the elements pretty well and it can store a good amount of camping gear as well as a laptop if you’re going to need to do some work when you’re on the road.

There’s a top loading main compartment, a padded hipbelt for comfort, and dual water bottle pockets on the sides in case you get thirsty. The price may vary depending upon which store you buy the JanSport Katahdin but if you go to (goo.gl/MuNVtX) you can get it on sale now for about $55, which is a pretty good discount considering the original price is about $80. While not as flashy as some other options on the market, this travel backpack has a good amount of features that make it worth a look when you’re shopping for a bargain option that still gets the job done.

Mountaintop 50L

If you can’t spend all that much money, the cheapest option you may want to divulge in would be the Mountaintop 50L. The best thing about this travel backpack is the amount of storage for your items and clothes that you can fit in there. You can do a lot with 50L of storage and there are a lot of deep pockets, expendable collars, a big front pocket, and even a hydration system that make up this backpack. It’s also a comfortable fit for your body and back.

There’s a good amount of cushion and comfort for you so that you won’t feel too uncomfortable during your journeys when you are carrying this backpack around. Even though this Mountaintop 50L is one of the cheapest options out there, it’s still a top rated travel backpack that has become increasingly popular over the past couple of years. If you’re looking to buy one of these bad boys, you can go to (goo.gl/dTCNXI) where you can buy one for only $45, which is extremely affordable compared to other options. As if that wasn’t enough, you can buy the Mountaintop 50L in different colors including red, blue, green, gold, etc.

Osprey Farpoint 55

A personal favorite of mine that I have used during my recent travels in South America is the Osprey Farpoint 55. Depending upon how big you want your backpack to be, Osprey has you covered by offering the average traveler the Farpoint 40, 55, and 70. The bigger your Osprey is, the more expensive it’s going to be to buy. Osprey’s are top-notch quality but they are among the costliest backpacks on the market. However, in return, your Osprey backpack will last for years because of its’ high quality. It’s made entirely of polyester, is resistant to most weather elements, and comes with a lot of storage and space including an extra daypack bag that’s attached to the front of your Osprey backpack.

You can choose from three different colors and you can find the price for the Farpoint 55 at (goo.gl/z3EvQc). As noted, the price of this backpack can range from $160 – $190 so it’s important you make sure to save some money up before you go ahead and click the ‘buy’ button.

If you want to check out some more backpack options for travel, go to your local camping store and it’s likely that you’ll find what you’re looking for. I hope you choose the backpack that you believe is right for you and I’ll see you out there on the road.

 

Why You Should Learn to Cook in Your 20’s

You’ve got the good job. You live in a nice apartment. You are able to move out of your parents’ house. You’re lucky enough to consider yourself to be pretty independent and self-sufficient in your 20’s, which isn’t so easy to come by these days. However, have you learned how to cook? Can you feed yourself without needing to go to a restaurant or to order from Domino’s?

I consider that being able to learn how to cook is one of the most important skills any young adult should have a good proficiency in by the time they turn 30. You don’t need to be on the level of Anthony Bourdain or Emeril Lagasse but you should be able to know a decent amount of recipes and be able to cook yourself a couple of homemade meals each week. There are a number of good reasons as to why it’s important to learn how to cook in your 20’s and I’ll cover a few of them in this post.

1.) You’ll save money.

Regardless of where you’re living in the world, it’s often the case that buying groceries from the local market or supermarket and cooking meals for yourself will be less expensive than going out to eat for lunch or dinner or even both meals. The costs really add up after a while from eating out all of the time or from ordering a lot of meals to be delivered to your door. In your 20’s, many people are trying to save up money for graduate school, or to buy a car or to lease an apartment so if you’re able to buy food for yourself and then cook it, you’re way ahead of the game and you’ll probably save a good amount of money each month. Any kind of savings that you can create in your 20’s will make a sizable impact down the road and cooking your own meals is one of the best ways to have a positive impact on your personal budget each month.

2.) It’s healthier for you.

Let’s be honest: ordering out or eating out at a restaurant are not the healthiest options to do repeatedly. While there are healthy options out there, they are usually the exception and not the rule. Eating a takeout pizza with extra cheese from Domino’s is simply not as preparing a fresh salad from scratch for your dinner. Unless you go to a higher-end restaurant, a lot of restaurants these days use a lot of sugar, salt, or other preservatives that can lead you to put on some extra weight if you’re not careful. Knowing how to cook forces you to create your own daily diet without having any outside influence. You’ll be more responsible for your intake of different foods and learning how to properly balance your diet with fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, meats, etc. This is a skill that is better to be learned in your 20’s so that it can be a healthy habit that can stay with you for the rest of your life. You’re making a conscious choice every time you prepare and cook your own food and that’s a great skill to have.

3.) You’ll become more independent and self-reliant.

Being comfortable with your cooking skills and knowing that you’ll never go hungry or rely on others to cook your food is a great thing for your self-esteem. The confidence that you’ll gain as you get better at cooking is something that can transfer over to your parts of your life. It’s a skill that you can share with other people whether it’s your friends, your parents or other members of your family. A lot of your 20’s is learning how to function as an individual who is independent from other people and one of the best ways to do that is to learn how to cook a good meal. It may take time and a lot of effort but the rewards will be ever present throughout your life. You can make other people in your life happier and healthier by cooking for them and they’ll appreciate the fact that you can take care of yourself in the kitchen.

4.) It’s easier now than ever.

With modern technology like the stove, the gas oven, and the many utensils and kitchenware you can buy for pretty cheap, learning how to cook is easier now than ever. In addition, any aspiring cook has the entirety of the Internet at their disposal. Whether it’s learning the basics for the first time or trying out a new recipe, there is a limitless amount of information out there that can help you achieve your cooking goals. There are hundreds of videos on YouTube that can walk you through a recipe step by step and there are thousands of unique recipes that you can look up on a moment’s notice through Google that can make cooking more fun and creative.

Centuries ago, cooking food was much more of a daily ordeal with the average meal taking a full day to prepare but due to the advent of modern technology, it really is easier now than ever. For example, I learned of a website recently called Blue Apron, which actually delivers all of the fresh ingredients for the different recipes you want to make without you leaving your apartment or house to scavenge for the ingredients at the local market. There are also a number of companies out there such as Whole Foods that can deliver all of your groceries to your door making it even easier and more cost effective to cook your own meals.

5.) It makes you more creative.

With thousands of recipes to choose from and with different ingredients to mix and match with your favorite foods, cooking is really an art just like painting or music. You can experiment as much as you want and really tailor your meal to your own preferences. When you order food at a restaurant, it’s really up to the chef’s own taste on how he puts your meal together. When you cook for yourself, you’re giving back control to yourself. You can work with your hands and you can slice and dice as you please.

While you may struggle at first with getting the recipes down to a science, you’ll keep getting better and better the more you practice and that’s what makes it so fun. Even if you burn the chicken or undercook the spaghetti, you can learn from your mistakes and know what to do better the next time. Cooking is a skill that really utilizes both your mind and your body. While it takes a lot of effort and time to master, the results are often delicious.

Put away the Chinese takeout menu, and put that apron on. It’s time to take these reasons into consideration as you begin your cooking career. Even if you’re a single guy or gal living in the heart of the city with restaurants abound, you should still give yourself the joy of cooking. You’ll thank yourself later when you have a wife or children to cook for at home and you can put together a meal that’s more than just scrambled eggs or spaghetti. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to make myself dinner.