It can be very rewarding to learn a new language. Language is a gateway to culture and expression. It can expand your experience at home and abroad, and it’s a fantastic method of keeping your brain active and healthy. Whether your are just trying to learn the basics (enough to travel comfortably into a foreign language environment) or you want to become fluent in your chosen dialect, there are many ways to learn a new language and many resources available to get you started.
Here are a few tips and tricks we use to make learning a new language a little easier.
Learn a New Language with these 10 Tips
1. Dedicate Yourself
Learning a new language is difficult and you’ll need to dedicate yourself to practicing your chosen dialect if you want to succeed. Like many skills, language is not learned overnight. It takes time, it takes effort, and before you even start you’ll have to mentally prepare yourself for the road ahead. Give yourself enough time for daily practice & review, be practical about how much you can get done in a day, and remember that its a journey in itself. If learning a new language was easy, we’d all speak a dozen or more. So don’t fret if you don’t pick it up right away. Stay on the path, stick to your goals, you’ll get there.
2. Approach it Like a Child
You learned your first language as a young child, so why not start the same way with all the other languages too. Approaching language like a child will not only make it easier, it will ensure you’re not overwhelmed by all the complexities and nuances most languages offer. Sure, this may mean you’ll spend a lot of your initial time with a language speaking very basically, but you will be understood and as your fluency grows, just as it did with your native tongue, you’ll be able to express yourself in clearer and more complex terms.
One of the resources we often use when immersing ourselves in a new language are toddler and pre-schooler books as well as watching child programming like Sesame Street, which is available in over 120 countries and in multiple dialects. Being familiar with the programs from our own childhood makes watching it in a foreign language a great tool for helping us learn the basics of a new language – from simple words to numbers and more. Plus it makes us feel like a kid again! Additionally, many versions of Sesame Street deal with cultural customs, so beyond learning the language it helps us recognize some social mannerisms, which are also important when communicating in your new language.
3. Daily Practice
If you want to learn a new skill you’ll have to practice it every day, and keep practicing it daily to help build up your ability to speak comfortably. This point can not be stressed enough! Without daily practice you’ll struggle to remember what you learned in your previous lesson. If you’re using a guide or resource, reviewing what you’ve already learned yesterday and the days before that will help you build a strong platform for your next lesson. Daily practice is a must – don’t skip it! Even if its just twenty or thirty minutes of review, this constant practice will make learning a new language far easier. We find the best time to practice is in the morning, so that you can carry the language with you into your day. Combining that with a meditation practice (completely optional) may help you shift your language more efficiently into long-term memory. However you choose to learn a new language, make sure you do it daily. You know what they say – if it’s important you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.
4. Practice with a Partner
Many hands make light work! Find a parter to help you learn a new language and you’ll find it far easier than if you go it alone. Even if your partner is not already fluent in the language you have chosen to learn, practicing with another learner can give language meaning, depth, and spontaneity. After all, the purpose of language is to communicate – half of which is listening and understanding. Practicing with a partner may be the missing piece that helps you bring purpose and practical experience to your new language. If your partner is already a native speaker that’s all the better, but even working with someone who shares the same passion to learn your language of choice can help you become more fluent far more quickly than if you go it alone.
5. Use Online Language Resources
The internet has brought the world together and in doing so has also put multiple languages at your finger tips. Get to know these online resources and use them to your advantage. There are many sites which offer both streaming and downloadable resources, which can make learning a new language a little easier. These can include things like structured lessons or more immersive resources like podcasts and audiobooks, movies, news services and sites, all in the foreign language you have dedicated yourself to learning. We find news broadcasts ourselves particularly helpful as they will repeat their top stories every hour, giving you a chance to hear the same information presented slightly differently each time and, much like Sesame Street, provides a cultural reference – particularly helpful if your intend to travel to the region or are already there. Other online resources like downloadable apps (despite its often negative reviews, we found Rosetta Stone for laptops and mobile devices quite useful) can help you keep these resources at your fingertips. While Google Translate can be useful at times you should try to use these resources as just that – resources. They should not become substitutes for learning the language yourself.
6. Talk to Yourself
Talking to yourself regularly in the language you chose to learn is helpful. Sure, it may make you look a little strange to those around you (so may be best saved for those times when you are alone) but talking aloud instead of repeating the language in your head will help you become comfortable in the pronunciation and vocal inflection. The words we repeat in our head are often of perfect pitch and intonation but it is important that we learn to twist our tongue in just the right way if we seriously desire to speak the new language we are learning. Vocal inflection and pronunciation can make a huge difference in many languages (like in Mandarin for example – the word “ma” can mean tree, horse, mother, or question mark, depending on the tone you use). This can be as simple as identifying objects you see or actions you are taking. For instance, ‘I’m walking to the kitchen’, ‘apple’, ‘dates’, ‘I’m eating a sandwich’. All of these simple phrases will help you become comfortable in hearing yourself speak the foreign dialect aloud, and that will help you build confidence – essential when speaking with others. Whenever possible, try to use your new language – immersion is key.
7. Let Others Help You Learn a New Language
Language is constantly evolving, not just with the introduction of new words but also with the shifting meaning of already established words. This is often the biggest hurdle, particularly when making the leap from basic understanding to conversational ability. Letting native speakers of the language help you refine your phrasing and skills will help the language sound (and eventually become) more natural to you. This is particularly helpful when your conversational language reaches the stages of similes and metaphors which are not often addressed in language resources (though movies and music often help here). Seek out a native speaker that can help you learn some “slang” and always be open to criticism and critique from others who are more immersed in the language than yourself. These helpful people will help you bridge the gap from stiff, stunted, rehearsed phrases to a more naturally sounding dialogue and can also help you understand colloquial phrases that are not often covered in official language materials.
8. Learn to Read in Your New Language
This can be an often overlooked step, particularly for those that are learning a new language based on a different character set or alphabet; however, learning to read your new language is just as important as learning to speak a new language. Without reading, words become their own unique sound, but add letters into the mix and you can begin to understand and see the various sounds that make up a single word. This will measurably help you with proper pronunciation and immersion – giving you a host of resources (the aforementioned books, for instance) and will also help you while traveling – try reading a train schedule in Greek without knowing how to spell the name of your destination – it’s not easy! Understanding menus, streets signs, product descriptions, storefront advertisements, subway posters, etc. is often just as important as conversing with locals.
9. Keep a Pocket Dictionary or Grammar Guide with You
Proper phrasing aside, a language is made up of hundreds of thousands of words, and learning all of them is going to take quite a bit of time. Keeping a pocket dictionary or grammar guide with you will ensure that you don’t get hung up on a single unknown word. Thankfully, in an age of mobile devices not only are pocket dictionaries electronic, seeking out your word is often far quicker and easier. This is where resources like Google Translate really shine. While we are hesitant to use it for whole phrases, looking up a single word is quick and easy and can even be done through speech-to-text (for those times when you’re reverse translating the new word to your native tongue). Remember, you’re not likely to learn every single word of a language, and you probably don’t understand every single word of your first language either, so don’t feel ashamed consulting these pocket guides when the need arises. Once you’ve identified the word and used it a few times it will become part of your lexicon, and you’ll be one step closer to fluency and mastery. It’s okay to learn a new language one word at a time, everyone does!
10. Relax, Have Fun
Out of all the tricks to learn a new language we have covered, this one is the most important. Relax and have fun. It is going to be a difficult journey so there is no need to cause unneeded stress that will only get in our way, cluttering our brain, and making the whole experience less enjoyable, perhaps even demoralizing. Relax! Let your new language wash over you, and laugh at your mistakes as you figure everything out. You’ll have time to correct yourself – language is a life-long skill and a life-long practice. It would be a shame if the experience was a drag when it should be fun. Make little games with your language, or try cooking a meal with your practice partner and only conversing in your new language while doing it. It causes some confusion and laughter at times, but will keep you open to the whole experience. Much of speaking a language comes with confidence, so don’t undermine yourself with worry. Watch some Sesame Street in your new language, complete a toddlers colouring book in your new language – find ways to make learning a new language fun! Even if you don’t reach the fluency you were aiming for it will be easier to dedicate yourself to the enjoyable journey of learning. At the very least, you’ll be able to order a beer and find your train on your next trip abroad.
Our Ten Tips and Tricks to Learn a New Language. Let us know what language you’re learning, or the words you got most confused by or had the most fun discovering. We’d love to hear about your experiences with learning a new language. Share with us in the comments below.