3. Train your ear
One of the most frustrating things about language learning is that when you have practiced and practiced your dialogues and get to test them on a real live native, you don’t understand a bloody word they say to you. In the past this was one of the hardest areas to resolve because if you didn’t live in a country where your chosen language was spoken it was almost impossible to have any contact with it. Consequently a student could come to understand their teacher but nobody else.
Fortunately digital content and delivery has removed this problem with a plethora of podcasts, dvd’s, online videos etc. But you still have to train your ear. A typical person studying Spanish decides to watch, say, an Almodóvar movie. After 5 minutes they are completely lost and frustrated and have decided they will never learn the language. It is incredibly difficult to begin to understand a film in a different tongue – invariably there will be accents you’ve never heard, slang you’ve never learned, twists & turns and lots of wordplay and cultural references that mean nothing to you.
I always recommend my students to begin by listening to something everyday, and not necessarily concentrating on it either. What is important is to accustom the ear to different sounds and accents. Think about how you pick up a song – by repetition, hearing it over and over again in your car or on the radio. Before you know it you are humming the tune or singing along – but unless you are a musician it is unlikely that you sit down and actually learn it. Podcasts and other digital content give you the ability to do exactly the same thing. Just start by listening while doing the dishes or walking the dog or whatever. Your journey to & from work can be a perfect time to work on your listening skills. If you persevere you’ll begin to pick out words, then phrases and little by little to start really understanding.