Never has the cliché practice makes perfect been as accurate and rung so true as when it comes to learning languages. There is absolutely no substitute for practice and it does not matter how good you are and how quickly you pick up in class – if you do not practice you will never improve.
Think of how a child picks up its mother tongue. It is by constantly repeating words and phrases until they all start to make sense. In other words, practice, although we do not see it as such. The same is needed from people who are trying to learn a language when they are older. You must practice so that the sounds and words come more naturally to you. There are many things you can do to practice and different things to do for each of the four facets of language learning.
ReadingPracticing reading does not have to be difficult. If you are learning French, then next time you go to France, buy a lot of newspapers and books. Then read them – it is simple as that. If you read with a dictionary next to you, you should be able to look up words when you don’t know them and at least follow what is being said. If you still find it tricky then enrol on a penpal scheme and ask your penpal to write to you in their language. That way, if you do not understand something they have out in their letter, you can ask them what it means. The more you practise reading the more you will understand.
WritingPractising writing does not have to be too tricky. A good test to see if your writing is making sense is to ask for replies. You could write to tourist information offices asking for brochures about their town, or to hotels asking for details of prices. With email and the Internet, practising writing does not have to be difficult as you can type up a quick email and send it straight off. If a reply comes back to you containing the information you requested then feel heartened as your practice is paying off. If not, then practise more and harder.
SpeakingPractice of speaking skills is perhaps the most fun way to practise because you get the chance to interact with others. Of course, the best way to practise is to visit the country where the language is spoken, immersing yourself in it. If this is not possible, then speak to a friend or your teacher if they have time. If this route is closed too, do not panic. You can speak to yourself and make tapes of it to listen back to. Try to make it sound as natural as possible though and talk about things that would come to you in a conversation rather than as if you were reading aloud.
ListeningOf course, practice of listening skills tends to go hand in hand with speaking. If you are able to do any of the above, such as go on holiday or chat to a native speaker, then the listening practice will follow naturally. But if not, you can buy and rent tapes of people speaking, which will help your listening practice. Or listen to rented DVDs in your language with and without subtitles to help you along.
You must practise your language skills or there is no point learning. Practise as often as possible, even if it is talking to yourself in the shower or listening to tapes in the car. The more you practise the more the words will permeate your consciousness and it will all help you to become amore natural and fluent speaker of the language.