Learning to speak a Foreign Language is as easy as cutting butter with a hot knife

Greetings are the simple initial steps to start learning a Foreign Language.

Learning a Foreign Language

In the previous years, one had to, either visit the country of interest or hire a tutor for the purpose. In this day and age, we say thanks to technology and the internet. The unattainable is just a click and connection away. Online Learning is here, Information and tutors are now available 24/7. The internet has simplified learning and made it accessible even in the middle of NOWHERES. Online Education has enabled everyone who has access to the internet to learn and develop skills which some never thought they possessed. With the help of remote lessons, online tutors and eBooks, learning foreign languages has been made easy as learning vowels, a,e, i,o,u.

Learning a Foreign Language has never been easy. Any language which is not native to anyone is new and sounds awkward, hence we all assume it’s difficult and cannot be mastered easily. What demonises a Foreign Language to learners is the conservativeness that natives attach to their language and culture, hence they develop a phobia of the other.

English, Spanish and Chinese have become the most sought Foreign Languages. Most tutoring sites have grown tremendously as many people seek to learn the languages. The expansion in industries and technology has been challenging factors. Even the Chinese and Japanese, the most conservatives of their languages and cultures, are found in the race for learning English as a second language.

According to sources, English is not a native language of any particular country. It is believed to have been originated from German and Netherlands and went through phases of evolution which saw a huge distinction in the Old, Middle and Modern English. English comprises of phrases and dialects from German, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Hindi, French and Old Norse. In essence, English can be basically referred to as a ‘mix masala’ language. Therefore, this implies that not even the English themselves are natives if the research is correct.

Basics of Learning ESL.

There are four basic ways of learning a language.

Listening is a dormant and important skill not just in learning but, also in all interactions of life. Listening either to a conversation, radio/television, music and stories help one understand instructions as well as build their vocabulary. As one listens they should take into conscience the use of words, phrases, idioms, slang, colloquialisms and their pronunciation. Accent, intonation and vocabulary masterly are acquired through listening as well.

Listening to music has made it easy and the fastest way of mastering a foreign language. Firstly one hums along and eventually sings the lyrics even if they do not understand the meaning initially. For lovers of television, I would recommend movies, comedies and/ or documentaries with no subtitles as this would force one to listen attentively. As the comprehension ability increases it boosts the confidence and zeal to act out and imitate.

The Three Skills of listening.

Passive listening.

This skill is the best for beginners as they aim to:

  1. Assimilate and acquaint themselves with the form of speech.
  2. Synthesise each word and the context it is used.
  3. Concentrate on interchangeably vocabulary usage in varied expressions.
  4. Observe pauses, intonations, emotions and rhythms in conversational speeches and music.
  5. If listening to live speakers/television they need to watch lip movement while pronouncing syllables, vowels and consonants.

Extensive listening

Passive listening enables one to listen to long textual narratives and bulk conversational speeches and deduce meaning and context. The skill eventually enables one consciously pick pronunciation and attempt to summarise meaning. It is the best skill for second language learners

Facts to note while extensive listening.

  1. Listen to varied mediums to extract variations in accents, speeches, alterations and genres of the language. Mediums such as audio books, recordings, videos, musicals and dialogues.
  2. Listen to a particular topic until the end. Do not hurtle in between topics/mediums in one session as this may result in confusion. (avoid listening to phone music whilst watching Tv)
  3. Jot down new words and phrases. If using a recorded media pause and repeat for missed elements.
  4. When listening to voluminous texts take note of different phonic tones and pronunciation.

Responsive Listening.

This is the immanent part of interpersonal communication as it is a two way process. One becomes an active speaker as well as a listener. This type of listening spontaneously helps one to grasp and build their vocabulary speedily. Responsive listening happens during conversations or group discussions. However responsive listeners need to be conscious of the following.

  1. Be very calm when listening rather than become anxious to give a response.
  2. Ask the speaker to repeat or clarify where context is not clear or missed rather than give irrelevant responses.
  3. Take time to conceive what one is listening to rather than jumping to answer.
  4. Avoid prejudiced listening by keeping a flexible and open mind while listening so as to understand the true context of a speech or conversation.

As one engages in learning, it is always advisable to have a dictionary at handy, or download one from your mobile phone applications. It serves as the ‘bible’ of this gospel and hold all the synopsis.

NB. Avoid literal translation from one’s native language or vice versa as this jeopardises meaning and context.


Reading is a substantially easier way of learning a foreign language than the other three methods. It enhances vocabulary expansion and fluency. Spellings, punctuation, grammar and pronunciation are conceived easily as one reads. Aspects such as spellings, grammar, and punctuation are not easily noticed in verbal conversations

There are some words and terms that may not be commonly used in regular conversations or dialogues but are found in books and long texts. Authors and speakers tend to use a lot of idioms, phrases and jargons to captivate their audience. Hence a rich language vocabulary must constitute these

Learners of a foreign language may find it bizarre upon encountering words of similar spelling and yet meaning and pronunciation is totally different, for example ‘Read’ and ‘Read’. The first ‘Read is pronounced as ‘reed’ and is a present tense. The other ‘Read’ is ‘red’ a past tense of ‘Read’. Similarly there is ‘Deed’ for action and ‘Deed’ for legal document. As one reads they need to take into cognisance of various language semantics, figures of speech and languages variables that makes the languages colourful.

Points to consider when reading.

  1. For beginners reading books or texts of lower level is most advisable. Texts such as comics, children’s books, magazines and newspapers are more appropriate. Do not be tempted to read the ‘John Grishams’ or ‘Wilbur Smiths’ as this might disappoint and kill your zeal to read completely.
  2. Read a text or book several times until the contents of the book makes sense or create an understandable meaning. Repeated reading of the same text requires patience and concentration. Underline peculiar words and phrases and look them up in the language ‘bible’.
  3. To boost confidence and fluency, try reading aloud to yourself paying particular attention to punctuation and pronunciation.
  4. Make a handbook or a journal of new words and phrases, and try incorporate them in your daily conversations with friends, colleagues and family. Similarly always move around with a note book and jot down any words, phrases or thoughts that may cross your mind in the day. Look them up in the dictionary once you are free.
  5. Summarise what you have read by either writing down or retelling someone in your own words. If you are not yet confident enough, practice in front of the mirror first.

Once you have mastered the basics of reading and are confident enough of meanings and interpretations, and pronunciations you can graduate to novels and biographies. Reading must be done voluntary for enjoyment as well as acquiring new knowledge as the prize. Develop and nurture a culture of reading in oneself.

Engage in Conversation.

Conversations can either be with a friend or group discussions on topics of interest. If need be, there are various sites teaching Foreign Languages online. As you engage in them, take note of the following:

a) Be relaxed and calm as you engage in conversations. Do not look at yourself as a learner, but as a speaker of English. That way you will not be conscious of mistakes or hesitant to speak. Think in English always, and avoid thinking in native language as literal translation brings out a different meaning and context of the topic/ subject of discussion.

b) Surround yourself with native speakers of the English language, talk freely in English regardless of how awkward it may sound in your ears. Practice and repeat using the new words and phrases over and over again. Try associating news words with familiar or favourite scenes or things around you. Do not be shy and, be open to ask friends and colleagues to correct you.

 (Friends usually teach vulgar language first when teaching you a second language that was my initiation into learning Chewa) Not a very pleasant way though.

c) Practice speaking English daily. Do not revert to your native even with close friends and family members. Strive to speak English always, and if there is no one to talk to rather watch TV or read loudly.

d) Set goals for yourself to learn and master a new word/phrase daily or weekly depending your ability. Strive to use these regularly or daily in your dialogues/ interactions with others.

e) Master confidence: develop guts to speak even if it sounds gibberish and not perfect. Be accommodative of help offered and corrections from friends.

f) Incorporate the listening skills discussed earlier, as talking without listening becomes incoherent.

g) Learning new things can be frustrating and emotionally draining. However with set goals and a prize the determination becomes intense.

h) Network with other learners. That way you get share, compare and test one another. Group discussions have proven to be more fun and fruitful as they help members acquire missed content, than individual studying.

i) Hire a tutor. Online learning, has apparently become prevalent and useful in the learning of ESL. Learning new words is an important part of ESL, though the spelling and perfect pronunciation is paramount importance. Many a time, English words are not pronounced as they are they spelt. Online Education, therefore, features into the picture to simply the complexity as well as detailing on parts and figures of speech.

Most of all, remember to speak loudly and listen to yourself. Revise all the learnt words alone, paying special attention to idioms, colloquial terms, punctuations, grammar and pronunciations. Show off your new acquired knowledge to family and friends, that way it helps to boost your confidence fluency. Remember ‘Rome was not built in one day’, that little you may have acquired could be the foundation of greater things to come.


This is the fourth component that compliments the other three discussed earlier in the learning of a foreign/ second language. Ideas that a person writes down in their own English and thoughts are easily retained and can be recalled fast than those acquired through other components of learning. This Hcomplicated by wrong spellings and literal translations. Sentence construction and punctuation may hinder progress as well speed. Writing has never been easy as mistakes are easily noticeable than in other components of learning. Punctuation and grammatical errors may change the meaning of a written text to which it is intended.

E.g. Let’s go and eat, Fred lunch is ready!

      Let’s go and eat Fred, lunch is ready!

However determination and the prize should take precedence.

Regardless of everything, to expand your vocabulary it requires a lot of writing. Make a portfolio of your weekly writings on favourite topics learnt. Reflect on the skills acquired from other components as you write your piece, paying attention to the specifics of writing. Review the articles first before asking a friend or tutor to mark and edit.

As you practise writing avoid using the dictionary and/or other reference texts. Resort to free writing so that you can learn from your mistakes. Previous mistakes teaches you perfection and accuracy. Instead make use of your previous edited articles

Make it a point to use idioms, new phrases and colloquial terms in your articles. Reflect as much as possible to their usage and meanings as used in the previous components.  Pay special attention to punctuation as this may distort meaning or tone of content. Grammatical errors such as tenses may also impact negatively to the outcome of your article. These are some of the ‘minor’ and yet so small aspects of English, as they influence meaning and structure of sentences and context.

Learning a foreign/second language requires determination. Start now as there is never a designated time to do so. Procrastination is the thief of time and enemy of growth and progress. Start today as we do not know where we going to end tomorrow.


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