A quick introduction: My name’s Jerome, and I’ve been a language trainer for a few years. A little over a year ago, I also became a language learner; it really changed my world. Language learning is fun, and it makes life so much more interesting.
There are many different types of learners, and I am one who responds best to high-quality sound. I love listening to new words and phrases — and so should you! What it boils down to is this: If you listen to quality audio samples and learn to mimic these well, then your brain will do the rest for you. If this sounds weird at first, remember that this is how kids learn a language. Everyone has gone through the process of listening and mimicking at least once in their lives before. There’s no reason why you can’t do it again.
Good sound on the way into your ears equals good sound on the way out of your mouth — easy-peasy! So how do you go about it?
1. The Portable Sound Studio
We use our smartphones for most things — including language learning. Having high-quality sound on your device, listening with headphones in a quiet corner and really concentrating on every little aspect of the sound will go a long way to improving your skills. We have to be able to hear every last nuance of a word or conversation to be able to mimic it properly ourselves, so make sure you can hear everything perfectly.
I use a mixture of language apps and individual sound files on my phone. Apps like Babbel challenge me with structured lessons and revision exercises, using great words, phrases and whole conversations spoken by native speakers.
I supplement this with my own playlists of extra material such as individual words, some short phrases or even whole conversations that I’ve picked up from books, magazines, emails and even billboards, including recordings of my friends and colleagues: Every time I discover a new phrase when I’m speaking to a friend, I ask them to repeat it into my phone, and — voilà! — I have some new material to listen to the next day. This keeps life very interesting and motivates me to learn even more.
2. Say All The Things
I have a very simple rule about sound: If I hear a sound, I repeat the sound. Easy.
Now this might appear to be a very obvious thing to do, but you’d be surprised how effective constant repetition of quality material can be. This is especially true if the piece of language is spoken clearly and in a natural way. Some learners simply read the material they are studying without pronouncing it or quietly whisper the sentences as they hear them. Don’t do that. Always use a nice, loud voice and try to exactly mimic the sound you can hear every single time. With gusto.
Armed with my apps and playlists, I often utilize a few minutes each day to practice my language skills. Every bus trip, wait in a queue or time before an appointment is a chance to get out the phone and practice.
Adhering to my rule of repeating every sound out loud when I hear it, I occasionally get a few funny looks from people as I ask about my hotel reservation, order alcoholic drinks and introduce myself at random intervals on a crowded train or in a waiting room — but hey, if it works, it works!
(The subway line U2 in Berlin is especially good for practicing your language skills, as the train is very loud anyway and people in the city are kind of used to weirdos like me talking to themselves. Besides, with my headphones on, I just look like I’m making a phone call).
3. Some Sonic Practicalities
So, which materials can you listen to in order to practice your pronunciation? All the sources can be a little overwhelming, but fear not — help is literally at hand.
A good place to start is with the professionals: Language courses. The advantage of using material that has been specifically designed for language learners is that you know which level you are working with and can be assured that the words and sentences presented are all perfect. In the best case, these courses are accompanied by great sound samples which will really make a difference to your comprehension skills. Other sources for material could include newspapers and magazines, which provide new words to explore in detail — and that includes finding out how each word sounds using an online dictionary. No matter where you get your inspiration to learn, the most important this is to have fun!
Great sound samples can easily be found in the internet. Your go-to sources could include online dictionaries, which usually have a play button for individual words. These sounds are usually very clear and the sites may also provide information about alternative accents or regional variations. Other online sources such as tutorials, music clips and short documentaries can also provide some great new material for advanced learners.
A language is made up of ideas, rules and sounds, and learning new stuff can sometimes be a bit tricky. If you always base your learning routine on great sound material, you’ll make your life a lot easier. Create your own portable sound center, and regularly treat your ears with good quality samples such as words and phrases, and your speaking voice will automatically sound much better. Good acoustics are really important. And remember: repeat everything you hear as best you can. There are many great sources for sound at your fingertips, so don’t be afraid to use them often.
Plunge into the wonderful world of sound and you’ll be speaking like a pro in no time!