Start by “hello”

More than once, I’ve met people who feel frustrated about their incapacity to start a conversation, or inversely, to answer to a conversational starter, with someone talking in their target language. The trauma of being unable to do either just once can become an ever-growing wall that obstaculizes (and sometimes downright keeps) these people from going on to learn more.

Thing is, there truly is no point (and no trick) to trying to learn a language in a jiffy, because  you won’t find yourself speaking any new language in a week . You didn’t learn your native language in a day (in fact, you’re probably still learning it–you just happen to know the basics really well), so why would you expect to be able to speak a completely new one in just a few days or weeks?

When you’ve been learning languages for as long as I have, you sort of have an established method and order to start learning: in a nutshell, you have a repertoire of words and phrases that you prefer to learn before going on to anything else. They vary from people to people, but for me they’re the same as for almost anybody else: greetings and courtesy expressions.

Sometimes I think that in this era of high-speed internet and fast cars, humans have forgotten how to start anything because we’re used to hit the floor running. There’s no time to waste! Let’s go straight to the point!

That kind of approach doesn’t work with language learning.

When you start learning a new language, keep this advice in mind for the first few months: open your ears 80% of the time and your mouth only the remaining 20%. If you’re not a native speaker, then people will almost assuredly not expect you to speak their language well (at least not perfectly), but if you know what simple words will open these people to you, I warrantee that you’ll be on the fast track to mastering that language, and these words are usually the simplest of all.

Don’t hold yourself to unnatural standards and then become disappointed that you didn’t reach them; be humble and admit that learning takes time. After you do, don’t start a conversation by explaining how embarrassed you are for not talking their language well; start by hello and then open your ears.