I arrived to NYC when I was 12 years old and didn't speak a word of English. I was bullied for my accent and decided that enough was enough. So, I immersed myself into the American culture, to the point of almost forgetting where I came from! Sid Efromovich, a language expert who speaks 5 languages, talks about a formula to learn any language which I happened to have applied in my own life without even knowing. Here it is:
1. Be prepared to make mistakes, or at least feel like you're making mistakes. In our minds, whenever we have to communicate something, we look for something in our mind's database to say. If we speak a foreign language, we'll automatically feel like we're doing something wrong, because we'll be saying something outside our natural language database. If we say "Puerta" in Spanish, and we only speak English, then saying "puerta" right will make us feel like we're doing something wrong, because the "r" sound in "puerta" doesn't exist in English. So, make mistakes, or feel like you are.
2. Scrap the knowledge you have of the alphabet. Looking at words in foreign languages, your English alphabet knowledge won't help you one bit. In Spanish, if you see "real," your English alphabet knowledge will mislead you in how to pronounce it. Start from scratch and don't use any of your English alphabet knowledge in dealing with foreign words.
3. Find someone who speaks the target language, who's a stickler, and won't let you get away with the mistakes.
4. Have shower conversations. Or conversations anywhere you're alone. This makes you practice both sides. Like you ask for directions, and then give them. Visualizing the path will help you achieve it. Michael Phelps visualizes his whole course before he goes on it, for instance. So now, find a practice buddy.
5. Formula for finding the best practice buddy: Target language = the best language you two have in common. If you're grasping for a word when communicating with someone, you'll mentally grasp for your best language to find the right word to communicate. If you and your friend's best common language is the one you're trying to learn, your brain will get in the habit of grasping for a word in that language. It also allows you to have a secret language where you can talk about anything you want with your buddy, while in public, and no one will know what you're talking about.
Another step that Sid didn't cover is to watch shows and movies in the desired target language. I watched lots of Friends episodes and all the movies I could watch. I started reading books in English too. Immerse yourself in anything you do and you'll be great at it in no time. I still have an accent but I can definitely communicate in English and I am comfortable with that. Share your tips in the comments section.
With Love, Dania