The internet is full of potential for use in endless unexpected ways. Today, we're going to talk about two uses which are really not terribly amazing, but which are incredibly useful to the language learner.
After you've filled your head with endless vocabulary, grammar, and other useful phrases — as I have this week — there is still a barrier between the academic knowledge you've acquired and the fluency you desire. There are two necessary skills which can't simply can not be acquired from any book or web page: communicating your thoughts to others, and comprehending their communication to you.
Slow at first
When you're not yet fluent, you need things to go at a relatively slow pace so you can understand. For this purpose, nothing is better than the written language, because it can go as slow or fast as you want it to. (Or need it to.) Fotunately, there are endless options for communicating at your own pace.
For the purpose of writing your own thoughts, blogs are great, though they don't make it easy for you to get help and corrections. Which is why I simply love the community at Lang-8. Here, you can write blog entries at your own pace and post them, and in additions to comments from your readers, you can also get inline corrections from speakers of the language.
Also, on a smaller scale, you can read and write — again, at your own pace — with endless other speakers of your new language by using Twitter! While I learn Italian this year, I have followed several active Italian people on Twitter. And already during this crazy week of Esperanto, I've found several Esperantists on Twitter too!
In addition to forming your own thoughts, you need to see other people using the language, both for your own comprehension and also for the sake of seeing how common ideas and phrases are correctly formed. Twitter is good for this, but blogs are even better, simply because they are longer. Find one or two blogs in your new language covering topics that are interesting to you. (To this day, I still read several Russian blogs, less for the practice, and more because they are genuinely interesting to me!)
Faster as you get better
Eventually, as your brain gets more accustomed to the idea of thinking and understanding in this new language, you will need practice at a faster pace.
When you're not quite ready for face-to-face communication, the keyboard can be just the thing you need, in order to slow things down to a pace you can manage. For this reason, there is nothing better than online chat to get you over the hump from intermediate to fluent.
I have already been using chat since my third day in Esperanto. Granted, everything can happen much faster in this language, so don't expect the same kind of results in the language you are studying. (Unless it also happens to be Esperanto!) But if you look at my goal of one week, the third day happens before the half-way mark, and that's the important detail — start chatting early, and do it often.
Soon enough, you will reach a point where your fingers can't keep up with what you want to say, and where you can get the meaning of a sentence in a glance rather than a word-by-word parsing. At that point, you are definitely ready for fluent speach.
There's just one thing... keyboards don't have accents, or bad pronunciation. This is why you also need to be hearing the language as soon as possible, and often. You need to train your ears to hear and understand in a new language. And there is really no better tool for this than YouTube.
Often, it's as easy as just typing a couple of words into the search box in a foreign language, but on occaston you might have to try a little harder with the search. But it's worth it, because all you need is one hit. Once you discover one video, the related videos on the side of the page will suggest plenty of additional videos for you to watch and listen to.
Personally, I prefer two kinds of YouTube videos for this purpose: video blogs (or vlogs) and interviews. Mostly they tend to be a little boring, but they usually feature a real person, speaking without a script, with all the mannerisms of a real conversation, rather than a recital. Also, while there may be some ambient noise, the audio tends to be pretty good. To me, this is the best practice — much better than movie clips or other scripted and rehearsed types of video found on YouTube.
However, occasionally one finds the most heart-warming things when they least expect them.
And one last thing the internet provides, when you think you're ready for a real conversation — which I think I am — there's Skype. If any Esperantists out there wouldn't mind spending a few minutes talking to me on Skype, please feel free to call me. My Skype name is "yearlyglot".
Want to see my favorite language resources and courses?
I listed them here.