May 9, 2024

3 necessary skills to communicate in a foreign language

by Mateusz Wiącek

Think of mastering a foreign language like preparing for a marathon. Sure, crossing the finish line requires speed, but what really goes into achieving that burst of speed on the track? It’s about finely tuning every muscle group — from your core to your calves, your glutes to your quads, not to mention the critical pacing set by your arms. You’ll need a regimen that includes everything from strength training to flexibility exercises to condition each muscle for its best performance.

So, if breaking down language skills into traditional categories like speaking, reading, listening, and writing doesn’t quite capture what most learners need, what does it really take to effectively communicate in a new language?

Sentence formation

After all, language is made up of sentences, not individual words. Basically, it’s about us being able to express ourselves when we need to. It is the ability to transform thoughts into sentences. And it’s not about knowing grammatical rules, but about developing an instinct or intuition. When speaking, there is no time to think, nor is correctness so important. What is important is the speed of reaction, asking questions, denying, disagreeing, etc. We write about the details of these skills in this article – “The best way to learn a language is through sentences.”

Ability to communicate with people

Communicating goes beyond the mere ability to “just speak.” In order to acquire such a skill, you need the courage to speak a foreign language, to eliminate anxiety, to be able to handle situations when you don’t understand what is being said to you, and so on. Read the article on “Anxiety When Speaking a Foreign Language and How to Overcome It.”

Exercises you should do include preparing for conversation, creating your own materials, and mental preparation to have the courage to start talking despite feelings of shame and discomfort – anything to put yourself in a situation where you need to talk and start talking. Because we become good at what we do, so if we want to be able to talk to people, we need to practice conversations.

Ability to understand spoken language

Despite the fact that a lot of learners start to understand faster than they start speaking, the ability to understand is actually the most difficult. The fact that we understand means that we have listened a great deal. Foreign languages very often consist of sounds that are not present in our native language, different rhythm, accent, etc.

For people who don’t know words, a foreign language is just meaningless noise – we often don’t perceive it as a language at all. We don’t know where a word begins and where it ends, i.e. we can’t segment speech. And this is not about understanding every word and detail, but more about understanding the gist. Sometimes it is enough to understand very little, so that we can respond by asking a question.

Of course, you could write a whole book about each of the above points, but I hope you can see that cramming vocabulary and grammar rules won’t really help you if your goal is to start talking. For more information on the various techniques, read the article: “Rules for efficient language learning.

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