There are so many ways and materials out there to learn a new language nowadays, which is great, but as a language learner, it is very hard to choose which book to read, an app to use, a course to take, a school to go to and so on. There’s no perfect way to learn a new language that applies for everyone but I think I figured out how I learned English naturally.
How a baby learns a language
Before I tell you about my journey of learning English, let me tell you how a baby learns a language naturally.
1. Listening and Observing: From birth, babies are exposed to the sounds and rhythms of their native language(s). They listen to the speech of their parents and the people around them. They also observe facial expressions, gestures, and body language. Even in the womb, babies can hear sounds from the external world, including their mother’s voice.
2. Crying and Babbling: In the early months of life, babies communicate through crying, cooing, and babbling. These vocalizations are often their way of experimenting with the sounds and rhythms of language. Parents respond to these vocalizations, reinforcing the idea that making sounds leads to interaction.
3. Imitating and Responding: As babies continue to listen and observe, they start to imitate the sounds they hear. Parents often engage in “baby talk,” which involves using a higher pitch, exaggerated intonation, and simplified language. Babies respond to this and start to mimic these patterns.
4. Word Recognition: Around 6 to 12 months, babies start to recognize and respond to specific words, like their own name or common objects. They associate these words with the objects or actions they represent.
5. Understanding Grammar and Syntax: During the second year of life, babies begin to understand the basic grammar and syntax of their language. They start to distinguish between nouns and verbs, understand word order, and comprehend simple sentence structures.
6. Vocabulary Expansion: As children grow, they acquire an expanding vocabulary. They learn new words by hearing them repeatedly in context. Parents and their environment play a significant role in this by providing a rich linguistic environment.
7. Combining Words: Around the age of 18 to 24 months, children start combining words to form simple phrases and sentences. This marks the beginning of productive language use.
8. Error Correction and Feedback: Parents often correct children’s language errors gently and provide feedback. This helps children refine their language skills.
9. Reading and Writing: As children grow, they are introduced to reading and writing, which are extensions of their oral language skills. They start to associate written symbols with spoken language.
10. Social Interaction and Play: Language development is closely tied to social interaction and play. Interacting with peers, parents, and other family members provides opportunities for practicing language in various contexts.
How I learned English
Now that we know how a baby learns a language naturally, let’s apply those steps to my case of learning English.
1. Listening and Observing: I stayed in Canada for 3 years to go to high school there. Like babies are exposed to the sound and rhythms of their native languages, I was exposed to English when I was in Canada. I listened to the speech of people around me like my host family, friends and teachers. I also observed facial expressions gestures and body language from them.
2. Crying and Babbling: Like babies communicate through crying and babbling, In the early months of my study abroad I communicated through a few words in English that I knew.
3. Imitating and Responding: as I continue to listen and observe, I tried to imitate the sound that I heard. My host family, friends and teachers talked to me very slowly with easy vocabulary. I responded to them and began to mimic the sounds.
4. Word Recognition: just around 6 to 12 months, I started to understand and respond to everyday sentences that people around me used like can I, can you, do you, and so on. By the end of first year of study abroad, I would say, I could understand 80% of what my friends and my house family and people around me are saying. However, I cannot speak fluently and with confidence.
5. Understanding Grammar and Syntax: during the second year of my study abroad, I started to understand the basic grammar that is used in daily conversations. Also I started to recognize and understand the word order when making complex sentences.
6. Vocabulary Expansion: as I kept studying, I acquired an expanding vocabulary. I learned so many new words by just hearing them over and over again, especially when having conversations with my host family, friends, and teachers. In those conversations, I found some patterns that they usually used. I noticed that they said the same thing in the same situation. For example, when a class started, a teacher would say please be quiet or open your textbook to page something, or I want you to do page number and so on. I heard those sentences repeatedly every day and that’s how I understood what the sentences meant.
7. Combining Words: maybe around 18 to 24 months so that’s two years of study abroad, I would say I could understand 95% of what people around me were saying to me and my speaking skill improved, but compared to my listening skill, my speaking was around 60% I would say, so I could have conversations with people around me with almost no problem but sometimes I still hear some words or phrases that I didn’t know. However I could somehow guess what those words and sentences meant from the context of the conversation and facial expressions and body language. This is the time I gradually gained confidence when speaking English.
8. Error Correction and Feedback: usually my friends in my host family would often correct my language errors kindly. When I say some words in the wrong order they would ask me if that’s what I meant by repeating the sentence for me. I mean people do that when they’re not sure what they were asked they ask the other person to make sure that if they understood what they were asked. Also if the other person didn’t understand what I asked, they would say what? or say that again! and that’s how I knew that I was using the wrong grammar or words or phrases. So basically I was making many mistakes when I was talking to people around me but that’s how I corrected my own English.
9. Reading and Writing: as I went to high school in Canada, I had to write and read in many of my classes. Especially in English classes, I had to write many essays after reading books. I’m sure writing and reading a lot helped my English improve.
10. Social Interaction and Play: as I made many friends in high school, I hung out with my friends after school and on weekends. I remember going to a mall near school and I would have dinner with my friends at the food court where they sold good Chinese food.
So this is how I learned English like a baby. Some people might say it’s easy for you to say because you went to Canada for three years. That’s true and I was very fortunate to have the experience however after I came back to Japan I started learning Spanish at university. I did go to Spain for one month and Argentine for almost 2 months. But just with those short stays, I can say that I can have easy conversations in Spanish. What I’m saying is you can make the same environment that I was in to learn English even if you are living in Japan. How did I do that? Let me explain.
How I’m learning Spanish
Let’s apply those steps again to my case of learning Spanish.
1. Listening and Observing: I started learning Spanish when I entered University. As soon as I started learning Spanish I started learning vocabulary and listening to Spanish songs. I focussed on listening first more than speaking.
2. Crying and Babbling: as I learned more vocabulary, I could just say a few words to just have a very very very easy conversations.
3. Imitating and Responding: as I continue to listen and observe, I tried to imitate the sound that I heard. However there weren’t many people who spoke Spanish around me but there was a speaking club where one native Spanish teacher comes and students could talk with him for maybe an hour. That speaking club was held once a week. That was the only time that I could actually listen and speak Spanish outside of my class. I only had Spanish class maybe twice a week. I know that’s not a lot but I tried to use that time very efficiently. I mimic the sound the native teachers made.
4. Word Recognition: just around 6 to 12 months, I started to understand and respond to certain words like how are you in Spanish just like very basic expressions in Spanish. I was definitely not confident with both listening and speaking at the time. Compared to my English my Spanish speaking and listening skills were way way low.
5. Understanding Grammar and Syntax: during the second year of studying Spanish, I started to understand the basic grammar that is used in daily conversations.
6. Vocabulary Expansion: as I kept studying, I acquired an expanding vocabulary. I learned so many new words by just hearing them over and over again. Especially the conversations with the native teacher. I found some patterns that he usually used. He say the same thing in the same situation I noticed. For example, when a class starts a teacher would say please be quiet or open your textbook to Paige something, or I want you to do page number and so on. I heard those sentences repeatedly every day and that’s how I understood what the sentences mean.
7. Combining Words: maybe around 18 to 24 months so that’s two years of study abroad, I would say I could 60% understand what the teacher was saying and my speaking skill improved to maybe 30% I would say, so I could have conversations with the teacher but it was not smooth at all. It would take me about 15 seconds to 30 seconds to respond. If you are a language learner you know that the paws after someone asks a question and you can’t answer it right away, it’s very awkward.
8. Error Correction and Feedback: as I went to Argentine for about two months, I was able to have some peers to correct my Spanish. Also I continued to take online Spanish courses, so I had some time to have Spanish in my life.
9. Reading and Writing: and I took classes while studying in Argentine, I had to write paper and take exams in Spanish in order to do that I had to write and read a lot. It would take me days to finish one paper or one exam.
10. Social Interaction and Play: when I was in Argentine, I stayed at student dormitory so I made Friends who are native Spanish speakers. I’ve got to hang out with them a lot.
And this is how I learned Spanish compared to how I learned English, it wasn’t intense. I mean there are some differences between English in Spanish of course especially conjugations verbs in Spanish are very complicated compared to English but it wasn’t too hard for me to learn that. Maybe because I learned English first, it became easier for me to learn Spanish as my third language. And in 2018 I took a Spanish international test called DELE which is like TOEFL in Spanish. I took a B1 test which is targeted for intermediate learner and I failed by the six points at the time. I listened to the listening part of the test a few weeks ago, and I was able to understand almost all of it. So definitely my listening skills has improved since then.
So to conclude this video from my experience learning a language is very hard it takes such a long time, but try to immerse yourself into the language you’re learning right now. And try to use it as much as you can. I know that living in Japan makes it hard to surround yourself with English or the language learning so I prepared a language community where people can immerse themselves into the language they’re learning with peers.
If you were interested, I put my newsletter link down in the description so please check it out.
There are so many companies and YouTubers or people who help people learn English say that you can learn English within three months six months or year. But to be fully confident with English or a language you’re learning right now I think it takes much more time than that.
For example I have been learning English for almost 20 years now and I do feel confident but but I still find words that I don’t know but native people use them daily. And for Spanish I have been studying Spanish for five or six years now but I still haven’t been able to speak speak it confidently.
It is a long process to learn languages. There is no goal when it comes to language learning, so you need to set a goal for yourself and try to enjoy the process. I know it is hard, but if I can do this, you can do it too!!
I love language learning and I decided to learn 3 more languages, Korean, Chinese and Arabic. At the moment, I want to be able to have easy conversations in those languages by the time I’m 27. That’s in two years. Wish me luck! I will update on my studying on my channel!
Thank you so much for watching. I hope this video was helpful and it made you feel motivated.