I may not have become fluent in any language, yet, however I do know the general phrases in about seven different languages.
This is partly from learning Spanish for more than 10 years and using the French version of Rosetta Stone, but more so teaching myself through language books and having conversations with someone fluent in the language.
Using Language Books or Apps
My first awkward language mispronunciation happened on a solo trip to Italy. I landed in Milan and needed to find my luggage so I went up to airport personnel and said, “Mi scusi, para inglese?” Excuse me, do you speak English was one of the few phrases I knew in Italian. Thank goodness he spoke more English than I spoke Italian. He helped me find my luggage and I told him thank you in Italian, but definitely pronounced thank you more like “Yahtzee” with a “g” rather than GRAHT-see-eh, which would be the more accurate pronunciation.
Of course, I didn’t realize my pronunciation was wrong until later. Completely embarrassed I was not going to let that happen again so I began referring to my language book when I was unsure. Language books show the phonetic spelling so if you are in mid-conversation and forget how to pronounce a word or phrase you can quickly reference your pocketsize lifesaver.
If this has happened to you before then you understand where I am coming from, but if it has not and you would rather this not happen there are language apps like Duolingo that can help you pronounce foreign words correctly. At the time I had only read books and had decided on my own pronunciation of words and phrases, which in result led to more than one mispronunciation.
Speak to People from Other Countries
If you are not able to travel to another country the best opportunity to speak to someone fluent in that language is in college. You do not have to travel far to gain this type of experience. There were many times that I had a conversation with a foreign exchange student, which led to many language discoveries.
For instance, my sophomore year of college I met Daniel from Switzerland, whom primarily spoke a dialect of German, known as Swiss German. Swiss people also speak French, Italian, and Romansh depending on the area of Switzerland. He thought it would be hilarious to try and teach me how to say the most difficult word in Swiss German, “chuchichäschtli”, which means kitchen drawer. He would repeat the word over and over until he thought I mastered the word. It was difficult because of the sound you have to make with your throat at each “ch”, which we are not used to when speaking English.
Then, there was a time in Oklahoma City that I approached someone from the Czech Republic. I told him my family was Czech and that I knew a few words and general phrases. He smiled and touched his belly button when I said pupík, which is the Czech term for belly button. He barely knew English as I barely knew Czech and for the first time someone outside of my family understood me.
When I was on my cruise I met a bartender named Gabrielle who was also from the Czech Republic. She fluently spoke English so we were able to talk for a while. I asked her if she knew the nursery rhyme that was similar to “This Little Piggy” but was translated into a Czech version, which used your fingers instead of your toes. She was a little confused so I pointed to my hand and started reciting what I remembered of the rhyme. When I didn’t know anymore she continued singing it to me refreshing my memory. Throughout the years instead of asking my grandma to sing it to me over and over again I searched for this translation on the Internet, but did not have any luck. Until this rare occasion I never found someone other than my family that knew this unique Czech nursery rhyme.
As I learned never be afraid to approach someone and converse with him or her in his or her language because you never know what you will learn.
Other Ways to Learn
Additional learning opportunities can be reading books in that language or watching movies with subtitles. Both will help you form sentences and understand the way to change the form of the word depending on singular or plural and masculine or feminine.
Learning a foreign language can be difficult, but is not impossible. You can take language courses, use a language program like Rosetta Stone, and/or teach yourself with language books and applications. However, in my opinion the most successful way to learn another language is to visit the country that speaks that language and completely emerge into the culture. Do not wait around to become fluent before traveling, because over the course of your trip you will learn far more than teaching yourself.
As I would say in Italian remember “un passo alla volta” it takes one step at a time with learning a foreign language.