1. Always find someone to speak with who is worse than you at a language. It will give you all sorts of confidence, plus you can actually help the other person which increases your own learning and solidifies it.
2. Always, always talk to yourself in the language you are learning. If you understand what you are saying then at least that’s one person. You learn by attempting to correct yourself. Nobody else will have the guts to correct you the same way, or as harshly or as thoroughly.
And then there are the other two basic principles
3. Using one of the automatic translation programs, and trying to figure out what their translation really means, adds focus to words which are just not being translated correctly. In trying to figure it out, you look up all sorts of words and try different ways of stating it to make sense, which only increases your eventual understanding.
4. Never try to fully understand an article written in the other language. What is important is hearing the words and connecting them to the sounds (if you’re using Google translate or another facility). As you progress, you will automatically understand more and more, plus you will be able to understand the spoken language much faster.
And then there are the two most basic principles
5. Write down the words you want to remember with their correct translation. Why? Nobody ever goes back over what they have written down, so why do it? Because just the process of writing or typing radically increases the ability to write the language, and write it correctly. You will be amazed at how much you learn even though you still don’t know most of the words you have written.
6. And this is the most important. When you speak and no one understands you, they start to backtrack and say things in ways which they think will help you understand. This will only advance your learning because it forms the bridge to more complicated enunciations.
7. As a corollary of the above, those of us who are not speaking because we don’t want to feel foolish in front of others are only hurting ourselves. We are really being quite selfish in that nobody gets the great feeling that they have been of help to you. You are actually doing everyone a favor – the worse you are. Think of a child who is learning to speak. It’s one of the great joys of parenthood to be able to help him/her find the right word or expression. And the more the child speaks, the faster the learning process. I walk away from an English lesson feeling really great that I have been able to help someone. Give others this opportunity.