Many years ago, I went to live in Japan. I had a job, but I didn't speak a word of Japanese. I bought a "Learn Japanese" book before I left, but it seemed too complicated.
But, within 6 months, I could speak enough Japanese for everyday life in Japan and to have a good conversation with a Japanese person.
I'll share with you the things I did and how you can do the same:
1. I made a friend who already spoke some Japanese. At the beginning, this was great as she taught me some basic words and explained some of the really crazy things I saw around me.
2. At that time, I played capoeira. The best thing I did for my Japanese was to join a capoeira group in Tokyo. There was only one other foreigner there, so I had to learn really quickly. I made a Japanese friend in capoeira who spoke English and wanted to practise her English, who helped me a lot. And I just tried to speak. I spoke terrible Japanese. Half the time people couldn't understand me (often they were too polite to say so!) but I carried on. I made a fool of myself but I didn't care.
3. Every week there were things I wanted to say in capoeira class that I didn't know how to say. So I went home and looked in my learn Japanese book about how to say it. Then the next week I practised it.
4. I bought some little revision cards and wrote down new words - Japanese on one side and English on the other. Then when I was on the train, I tested myself.
5. I joined a Japanese class to learn the basics of grammar and to have some structure.
6. Japanese is not easy to read as there are 2 different 'alphabets' and thousands of Chinese characters. I taught myself the 2 alphabets and then tried to read everything I could around me.
So how does this relate to you as an English learner?
If you are living in an English-speaking country, you have a huge advantage, And the best thing you can do is to join a group - a sport, a class, an organisation - doing something that you enjoy. You will be forced to interact with other people.
If you are not living in an English-speaking country, never mind. English-speakers are everywhere! Find an English-speaking group. Advertise for a language exchange. Go to the pubs where English-speakers hang out and force yourself to talk to people. Join an English class (if you're in France, ask your employer for formation continue. Independents also have the right to this.) Start an English book club for native and non-native speakers. Be friendly to tourists.
And then follow up your practice: think about what you really wished you could say last time you were speaking English, and find out how to say it. Write down the new words you heard and test yourself so you don't forget.
If you can afford it, a trip to an English-speaking country, especially a study trip, is invaluable.
Above all, do not be afraid to speak! Yes, you might say some ridiculous things (see my blog post about best mistakes) but really, who cares? Just laugh, keep calm and carry on.
My blog has changed! If you're looking for my English-practice exercises, they're all still here, just look in the archives.
Catherine: blogging about learning, language, culture, France and more...