Christmas is a time when most of us joyfully leave our good intentions at the door (glass of bubbly and Ferrero Roche at 10.30am, anyone?)
For many, this means putting language learning on hold until January. However, there’s one sneaky technique you can use to practice your languages without lifting a finger (leaving your hands free to raise that glass of bubbly). There’s no need for computers, books or pens. You don’t even need to be alone. You can do it wherever you are and whoever you’re with.
The little voice in your head
Most of us are familiar with the internal dialogue in which we silently talk to ourselves, for example, when adding up numbers, remembering things people said earlier or imagining future conversations. That little voice in your head, or “inner speech” as psychologists call it, can be your best friend when it comes to language learning.
Thinking in a second language is often viewed as something reserved for very advanced levels, akin to dreaming in a second language. However, speaking silently in your head in another language is something you can choose to do at any level.
For example, if you’re just starting out on your language learning journey, take a look around the room and see which words you recognise: Do you know how to say tree? Chocolate? Cat? What about knife, fork and plate? Do you know how to describe family members? Can you use basic grammatical structures to make short sentences about the people and things around you?
For more advanced levels, try listening to your own inner dialogue and the conversations around you: can you say these things in your target language?
Making a habit of it
At first the process can feel a little slow and unnatural, but the more you practice it the more automatic it becomes. I’ve been using this trick for years and it always works a treat.
Of course, with new languages you might not always find the perfect words and sentence structures for each situation. However, by force of habit, you’ll be surprised how quickly your inner voice starts chatting away, making use of the words and structures you already know.
Learning new things
Now let’s imagine you see uncle Bob slumped in the corner after Christmas dinner and you suddenly realise you don’t know the words for “uncle” or “drunk”. Going through this thought process is valuable as it helps you to identify gaps in your knowledge. Then, if you get chance, you can quickly look the word up on your smartphone.
One advantage of this method is that new information is learned through familiar situations and emotional connections, which has been shown to make things easier to remember. Phrases relating to real-life situations, like “uncle Bob is drunk again” are far more likely to stick in your head compared to boring sentences found in textbooks.
However, let’s imagine you’re at the dinner table, or you don’t have a smartphone with you. Even when it’s just you and your noggin, you can still use inner speech to strengthen your language skills.
In this case, you can place the emphasis not on learning new information, but on learning to express your ideas by organising what you already know into utterable sentences. This is one of the biggest challenges people face when learning to speak a second language, so having a simple technique that allows you to practice this skill is invaluable.
So go ahead and pour yourself a second Glas Wein or grab another cioccolato. You can be safe in the knowledge that no matter what happens to your waistline come January, your language skills will be in tiptop shape.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Or should that be… Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noël, Frohe Weihnachten…