Top 10 Tips for Learning a Language

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Learning a new language opens a lot of new opportunities. We know we can get many benefits from knowing how to communicate in a different language. Who never had told themselves “I'm learning a new language this year” or “I wish I could speak Spanish or French.” Yet, if everyone knows how beneficial it is and wants to do it, many get discouraged after facing difficulties. It's easy to get discouraged. It is challenging and requires some work, but anyone can learn a new language. With the right tools, a good mindset, and dedicated time, anyone can become fluent.

Before we go over the best tips for learning a new language, we first must deconstruct some myths about language learning. You might have heard the following statements before, and they can only give you excuses for giving up.

You can only become fluent if you learn as a kid.

A relatively recent study from MIT scientists called A Critical Period for Second Language Acquisition shows that children remain skilled at learning the grammar of a new language up to the age of 18. So, in theory, if you start learning a language before you turn 18, you'll be more likely to master the language like a native than if you start later. However, the study doesn't consider a key criterion: exposure to the language. When you are under 18, you spend more time learning a new language in school. If your parents practice at home, you will also get exposed to the language. Adults have less time for learning, as they have to navigate other obligations, like work. The study also shows that adults are better at learning new elements of language under the same conditions (in a lab).

The time you spend learning a new language is critical. Many learners started as adults and are now fluent, and many people learned as kids and forgot everything afterward if they didn't practice.

There are some people naturally good at language learning.

Again, this has not been proven. We often talk about fast learners or naturally good speakers. But the truth is there is not only one specific skill that people would require to learn a language; there is plenty. There are many different ways to learn a language; the key is to understand how you learn and apply it to language learning. I was the worst student in my English and Spanish classes during my school years, so I always thought I was just not good at languages. I happened to be wrong. As soon as I started traveling and immersing myself in the cultures, I learned quickly.

You have to get rid of your accent.

There is no such thing as accent-free. We all have accents. Native people from the same country have different accents that sometimes make it hard to understand each other. In France, people from the northern and southern regions have different ways to pronounce words, and they make fun of one another. (They also need subtitles when watching a Quebecois movie, even though it's still French language.)

There are two main reasons we don't sound like native speakers: first, it's hard to tell the difference between two sounds that don't exist in our native language. Second, our mouth muscles are not trained to pronounce those sounds. It is possible to work on pronunciation to sound more like a native, but you have to accept that you'll likely keep an (even slight) foreign accent.

As soon as native speakers understand you, there is nothing wrong with an accent. It says where you come from, and you should be proud of it.

Learning a language is like learning anything else.

So you think, if I'm serious about it, I should be able to remember. I should be able to recognize the vocabulary I just learned; I should be able to understand how to conjugate the verbs; I should be able to have a basic conversation using what I have learned in class. But it doesn't work like that. Learning the theory and practicing is not enough. It takes time to get used to a new language. Think about it this way: to learn something, whatever the topic, you need language. If you learn something in History or Economics class, you will use your language to read about it, memorize facts, do presentations, and exchange ideas with your fellow students. And this is true for any theoretical topic you could learn about. But when you are learning a new language, you can't rely on your mother tongue to get the concepts because a different language is another way of thinking. Language is how we humans communicate and thus learn. Therefore, you have to learn a new way to communicate and learn. It is mind-blowing, and learning a new language for the first time will probably be one of the most uplifting experiences you'll have.

Language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly. - Kato Lomb.

There are different ways of learning a new language, and as everyone has a different learning approach, the most efficient way to learn won't be the same for one or another. That being said, there are general tips that work for most people. Here are the best tips I can give you for learning a new language.

top 10

1. Set goals and allow time for your learning.

This first tip might sound obvious, but many people who want to learn a new language don’t allow the necessary amount of time it requires. First, ask yourself: why did you choose this specific new language to learn? We know that speaking two languages or more has many benefits for our brains and behaviors. But what do you want to focus on?

Then, set goals for your learning. What do you want to achieve? And what is the time you are willing to dedicate to this journey? The time you need won’t be the same if your goal is to have a basic conversation with your family-in-law from time to time or if you want to get a job in a different language. Being honest with yourself and setting a realistic time you’ll spend on learning is a game-changer.

2. Be consistent.

It’s so easy to learn a lot about a language in a few weeks. But have you noticed that you barely remember anything if you stop for a few weeks (sometimes even days)? It’s because when it comes to language, consistency is key. Whether you spend one hour a day or one hour a week practicing your new language, you’ll make progress because you are doing it regularly. Now, if you spend one hour a day for seven days and do nothing the seven days after, it’s worse than allowing only one hour a week and sticking to it. Why? Because when we are doing something regularly, it creates a habit in our brain. And habits are what we need when learning something as complex as languages. When we skip a scheduled thing we know we were supposed to do, we become used to the idea of skipping it, and it gives us an excuse to keep ignoring it. After all, if nothing terrible happened when I skipped it the first time, why shouldn’t I do it again?

Sticking to a routine can be really hard for some people, while others need it to go through their day. Try to find a time that works for you and keep that time for your language learning (if it’s not every day, pick some days of the week). Try to force yourself never to skip it because it will be much harder to get back to your schedule after if you do it once.

3. Make use of free language apps.

Before even talking to native speakers, you want to know the basics of the language and a minimum of vocabulary words to build your sentences. If you are learning by yourself at home, apps are the best way to get the basics of a language and help you develop your vocabulary for free.

There are a lot of free apps available for learning a new language. Many have a free basic plan and a paid premium or pro version. It’s good to mix two or three apps maximum to give you different learning approaches. Some apps are dictionary apps; others teach you the language structures, and some of them integrate speaking and listening to native speakers. A good app teaches vocabulary in relevant contexts rather than isolated units, adapt to the level of individuals, and gives you corrective feedback.

Remember that apps can help beginners and intermediate learners build a foundation, but becoming fluent requires immersion and comprehension of the culture.

If you want to learn a language fast, and have fun doing it, download Lingidy for free from the App Store 📲



4. Talk to native speakers.

Having a conversation with native speakers should be your number one priority. You’ll start mimicking them and improving your language fluency by speaking with them. It’s not only about the pronunciation and getting new vocabulary and idioms but also trying to think in the target language. It is also related to forcing yourself to speak only in the language you want to master. If you pick people who don’t speak your mother tongue, that’s even better because you’ll have to rely only on what you have learned to have a conversation.

There was one moment in my English learning that was a revelation. I was having a meaningful conversation with a friend, and after a while, I realized that this conversation was in English, and I hadn’t felt a difference. When you get to this point, it is like an invisible wall falling down between the native speaker and you. These experiences give you motivation and the confidence you need to go further and get you to become fluent.

5. Associate different ways of learning.

You might enjoy grammar exercises or reading but feel uncomfortable when speaking. Or maybe you are good at chatting with people but find spelling words correctly very challenging. The thing is, language is a whole, and you can’t fully learn it by mastering only one part of it. Reading will improve your writing and listening to your speaking, that’s true, but your writing and your speaking are more connected than your think. You can’t just dissociate them.

Many people say that the best tip is to watch movies and TV shows in the target languages. Yes, it is helpful, but not enough because watching something is very passive. You can learn vocabulary, learn about pronunciation, and, more importantly, get used to the language. But it is not active learning, and you need to mix it with different ways of learning.

I find journaling to make a significant difference. It forces you to be consistent, you use the vocabulary related to your own life, and you don’t fear being judged. At some point, you’ll start thinking in the target language.

Read, read, and read again.

Many studies show that reading is a great way to improve vocabulary (in your mother tongue as well). First, reading helps you learn and reinforce words because you’ll likely be exposed to the same words multiple times, and studies show that we need to be exposed many times to a word to learn it, and how often that is still unclear. Secondly, reading gives you context. Every word has a “baggage,” and a single word has different meanings in different situations.

I like to read my favorite childhood books in the language I learn. If you don’t want to read books, find something you enjoy reading. If you are interested in the topic, you’ll make more progress. Many online resources are free. You could read blog posts about topics you are interested in. Reading social media posts is also an efficient way to incorporate the target language into your daily life.

6. Immerse yourself.

diver

After you get the basics, go deeper and learn about the culture and the language subtleties. Learning a new language is not only about translating words (even if it’s a good start and a necessary part of it) but understanding the context these words are used in, what they truly mean, and who uses them.

If you can travel, do it. It is the best way to get immersed in a different culture. Living abroad is even better, but not everyone has this opportunity. If you can’t travel, there are other ways to get a glimpse of the culture.

Consume media in the target language.

Movies, TV shows, Documentaries, Music, Podcasts, and the list goes on. There are so much media available online, and you can really improve your language skills by watching or listening to native speakers. It will give you context, and it’s also fun, so you’ll learn faster.

The Guardian made a list of the 10 best podcasts to help you learn a language.

Find foreign communities in your own country.

If you are learning one of the most spoken languages, like English, Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi, or French, you’ll likely find native people to talk to in your own country. You could do a learning exchange (in exchange you teach them your mother tongue or another skill), or make friends and learn about their culture.

Don’t rely on your mother tongue.

This is the hardest one to do, but becoming fluent requires shifting your mind and thinking in a different language. So, you must force yourself not to use your native language when exposed to a foreign culture. If you hang out with native speakers, make sure they don’t understand or don’t want to talk in your mother tongue. If you watch movies, use only subtitles in the target language. When alone at home (or in the forest, even better), talk to yourself in the language you are learning.

7. Keep your motivation up.

It’s sometimes hard to stay motivated, especially when you don’t see the results of your work in the beginning.

Find a language buddy.

If you have someone to tell about your objectives, progress, and struggles, it will help you stay consistent. That person could be a language tutor, a learning buddy, a native speaker (the best!), or even a friend who doesn’t speak the target language but who you gave a mission to keep you motivated. You can find learning buddies by joining online meetups.

A language buddy will give you the social interaction you need to learn better and support you through challenging times. But more, they will give you accountability: once you tell them about your goal, it will be easier to keep to it because you won’t want to disappoint them.

Break down your goal into mini-challenges.

To stay motivated along the way, you’ll need to feel like you’ve made progress. Succeeding a mini-challenge will give you the strength you need to keep going.

These could be having a conversation with a native speaker about something you care about, watching an entire movie without subtitles, finding a pen buddy and writing to them regularly or writing a story for kids.

And don’t forget to celebrate the small victories!

8. Don’t fear making a fool of yourself.

clown

So many people give up because they are afraid to be judged, to be ridiculous when they speak. It’s only when you forget about the fear that you can learn efficiently. We are often harder on ourselves than other people are on us, especially regarding language learning. Most native speakers will be thrilled to have a conversation with you even if you are not saying everything perfectly.

Making mistakes is crucial because it’s the only way to get better. Try to step out of your comfort zone (which you are already doing by learning a new language!) and try to say or write new things, even if you are not sure they are spoken or spelled correctly. You will be corrected or correct yourself at some point, but the most important is that you try so that you can have feedback.

9. Have fun.

Language learning should stay a fun process because if you learn as an adult, there are good chances no one forced you to do it. Spending days studying grammar in dusty books might not be the best way to keep it enjoyable. Get the basics of grammar, learn vocabulary and then find something you enjoy doing. Be gentle with yourself; this is a long (and extremely rewarding) journey.

10. Picture yourself succeeding.

You could do all these tips above and still fail. Many people allow time and dedication to their learning and give up. Why that? It might be because they have never done it before, and they don’t honestly think it is achievable. I like to think of learning your first language as summiting a mountain for the first time. You don’t think you can do it until you do. Then, you’ll be able to imagine yourself climbing other peaks. The hardest is the first one.

By repeating yourself, you can achieve that target and build a mindset that can make the difference between giving up and achieving your goal. As I said before, I don’t believe in naturally good language speakers. Yes, some people might find it easier than others, but they usually put a lot of work into it, and they are confident in their success.

These are the tips that work for me and many language learners I know. You might find some best suited for you, so play around with them, see what you enjoy the most, and keep going. The journey in itself is worth it.

If you want to learn a language quickly, download Lingidy for free from the App Store 📲 and get started on the fastest path to becoming conversational in a language!



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Barbara Chauvet
Vancouver Canada
Linguist @ Lingidy


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