One of the hardest things to master about a new language is sentence structure and verb tenses. This is what native language speakers take for granted: years of exposure lets us sense immediately when a sentence ‘sounds wrong.’ But when we learn a language that’s very different from ours, we wonder: ‘How do I say this?’ or ‘how do the words fit together again?’ These tips can help.
Use an online translater
Feed an online translator with several sentences that use similar words. For example:
‘The banana is yellow.’ ‘I want a banana.’ ‘I gave her a banana.’ ‘How much is that banana?’ ‘Can you give me a banana?’ Deconstruct how the sentences arrange subjects and verbs, and how the conjugation is done. Pay attention to noun cases and irregular verbs, too.
Maximize your resources
You can get a lot of learning language programs and books, but since they’re expensive you may want to just buy one or two and then maximize your use. Try converting a sample paragraph into past tense, or with irregular verbs.
Try going to Livemocha, a social networking program that lets you interact and practice your skills with other language learners. You can also get free classes from the Internet Polyglot. Download podcasts in the language you want to learn. Or change the language options of a website.
Watch a soap opera
If you want to learn idioms, dialogue and have fun, then watch a soap opera in a language. The good news is that the plot lines are fairly predictable and the vocabulary simple, so you will be able to follow a story.
Keep a journal in that language
It’s a great way to build vocabulary and practice sentence structure. Describe what you did that day, or how you felt about what happened. You can talk about a movie you watched and try to summarize the plot.