Looking for tips for learning a foreign language? You’ve come to the right place. I know that it’s not easy to learn a new language, especially if you are trying to study one that is completely different to your native tongue. Sure, it may not be difficult to pick up the basics (hello, goodbye, thank you, etc) in the places that we visit, but progressing to any level of fluency can feel like an impossibility. Learning a language requires persistence and daily practice, but there are some things that you can do that can make the process easier for you.
Having Italian roots and relatives, I’ve always daydreamed about being able to hold actual conversations with people that go further than “Hello, how are you?”. I took Italian classes at University, and made something of an effort to practice Italian whenever I was in the country, however I admit it was always a bit half-arsed. Thanks to a combination of the below, I’ve come along in leaps and bounds. Don’t get me wrong, my Italian definitely isn’t perfect, and I would compare the breadth of my vocabulary to that of an eight year old, but I’m incredibly proud to be able to hold conversations with locals that have substance, and it feels like you’ve unlocked some kind of super power when you are finally able to understand what people are saying around you. (Yeah, learning a language is a super power for sure. I don’t care how dorky that sounds).
Tips For Learning a Foreign Language
Join a Language Exchange
Language exchanges are a great way to practice talking with native speakers and other learners. You will find language exchanges in large cities all over the world – you probably have one in your nearest city. These exchanges usually consist of people from a range of different cultural backgrounds who want to improve their English, and in return will assist you in learning their language. Usually they are free to attend and they are far more social than just sitting in a room alone trying to learn a language from a book.
Check websites such as meetup and couchsurfing for language groups in your area. Of course, the additional bonus of this is that you make new friends while studying, and you are able to learn more about the culture and history of the country whose language you are studying.
Use Language Apps
There are many apps which are free to download and use that can really help you. Duolingo is one example and the app allows you to take a placement test to establish your current level in the language, then you can work through a number of different subject modules. You can test your progress using this app, and practice your written, listening and spoken skills. At the end of the day though, you still have to remember that you are practising speaking with a Bot and the best way to practice your language is to practice speaking with other people, particularly native speakers so by all means use this method, just do so in conjunction with other ways of practising.
You have to be committed if you want to learn a language and that means practising it for a couple of hours each day. Go over the same modules and vocabulary lists multiple times until they are affixed in your memory before you progress to the next course of material. If you have an extremely busy schedule, you can find ways to incorporate languages into your routine – for example, leaving little post it notes scattered around the house with vocabulary or sentence structures that you are struggling with learning so that you are constantly exposed to the language, or when you are going about your day, keep trying to think of the foreign word or phrase for the activity that you are completing, or item you are interacting with.
Force Yourself into Situations Where You Have to Speak the Language
It sounds unpleasant, and it can be nerve wracking, but when is anyone ever “ready” to start trying to hold conversations in different languages? You don’t need to be advanced or even intermediate in the language you are studying to try this.
When you are in the country, simply try ordering the food or asking directions in their language. You may struggle, and not know certain words, but this is a fast way to learn them. I personally find that words learnt in real practice are remembered much more easily than when simply read from a book. It is much easier to learn a language when you are thrown in at the deep end in the country and constantly surrounded by it. This has certainly helped me learn while running in Italy.
Get a Study Partner
Similar to the language exchange, consider finding a person who wants to learn your language and you theirs. This can be a face to face meeting or online via Skype. For example, if you want to learn Spanish, head along to a Spanish language club or exchange in your area. Once you get to know a mother tongue speaker, you can meet together and have conversations in each other’s languages. Alternatively, try free study partner apps like italki which enable you to meet study partners online and converse for free.
Watch/Read Foreign Media
Reading the foreign news sites, listening to radio shows or watching their television is a good way to build your vocabulary. As a beginner, you can start very basic with children’s books and short YouTube clips in the language to get you used to their accents and pronunciation with simple structures. As you become more advanced, you can move on to trying to translate newspapers, and listening along to the radio or television. This is a great way to improve your vocabulary, as newspapers in particular will cover a broad range of topics, not to mention include idioms and the more “authentic” version of the language than that which many language books will teach you.
Take Language Classes
You can join a course with multiple participants or hire a private tutor. Although this option costs you money, if you are serious about learning the language it is worth the investment. If you opt for a tutor, they can tailor the classes and topics to specific areas that you want to work on and since you are paying them, they will want to help you to improve the language in every way they can. Not to mention, have you ever noticed that when you actually pay money for something, it makes you more committed to it?
There isn’t simply one “best option” for learning a language. Of course, different people will have different preferences and learning styles but a combination of the above is sure to lead to a successful result. Maybe it goes without saying, but of equal importance is to choose a language that you are genuinely interested in and motivated to learn. For example, if you have a passion for all things French and you’ve always wanted to learn the language – perfect! However if you’re currently living in Japan for work, feel like you maybe should learn a bit of Japanese but you don’t see how it will really benefit you or whether you will use it again in the future then perhaps you aren’t committed enough to the cause.
Never underestimate your language ability and always get out there and try to speak it, even if you wind up making a few mistakes. People are typically thrilled when others try to learn their language, they will appreciate that you tried, and they will help to correct you so that you know better for next time. Happy studying!
Do you have any additional tried and tested tips for learning a foreign language? Feel free to share them in the comments below!
Disclaimer: As always, High Heels & a Backpack believes in full transparency when writing articles. She is in no way affiliated with any of the companies or sites referenced within this article, however she personally uses and believes in each of them.