Congratulations! You have officially decided to study a new language. That decision in itself is a big win. Now, you may be asking yourself, how do I actually get started? If you are new to language learning and are looking for some helpful tips and recommendations, then this article is for you.
I may not be a linguist, but I do know a thing or two about learning a new language. I began my language learning journey as a child by simply immersing myself in my mother’s language, Kapampangan; this experience really opened my eyes to the sheer joy of learning a new language and illustrated to me just what I was capable of achieving once I had set my mind on something.
In high school, I completed community college courses in French and then began working as our campus French tutor. French gave me a sense of purpose and identity. I enjoyed helping others and facilitating their growth and appreciation for the language. Learning French had been a lifelong dream for me and I was pleasantly surprised by my progress in the classes I was taking. Everything just felt right.
Originally, I intended on pursuing more French study in university, but things did not go quite as I had planned. Attending university in a new state, with unfamiliar surroundings, and without anyone I knew, was a great paradigm shift for me. During this time, I felt increasingly uncertain about myself, my academic goals, and my ability. After a rocky start to my college career, I promptly switched my major and dedicated all of my time to those courses alone.
Unfortunately, in doing so, I also stopped studying French. In the back of my mind I knew that one day I would return to the language and that when I did, I would do so more seriously than ever before. I was determined to master the language and prove to myself that learning French was possible.
When I returned to language learning, my main concern was that I would never be able to regain the knowledge I had lost during that period of inactivity and that I would thus be unable to progress in the language. It became apparent to me that while I could recall several of the grammar rules and vocabulary terms I had learned in class, listening and understanding French was a completely different story. The words seemed to flow together undifferentiated. Every day I would challenge myself to watch a show or film in the language using only French subtitles for guidance. In the beginning, I relied on reading the subtitles in order to comprehend the material.
Yet slowly but surely, I began to see and recognize progress. These little victories gave me hope and only fueled my determination. Following six months of daily contact with the language, I graduated from a beginner’s level to an intermediate/upper-intermediate level. It was as if a veil had been lifted. Being able to listen to French conversations without the use of subtitles and translations made me feel so accomplished and proud.
Learning French has also given me a profound appreciation for learning languages, which is why I began teaching myself basic German in addition to continuing with my intermediate French studying independently. Several TED talks on the topic of language learning agree on one thing. That there is no secret to learning a new language. It is not about having a superpower or a secret learning tool.
Too often this idea that only a subset of exceptionally gifted individuals can learn a language is endorsed without question, when in fact, anyone can learn a language. All it takes is the motivation and willingness to learn. Learning anything new and for the first time can feel incredibly daunting, but there are a vast amount of resources out there just waiting to be discovered.
Ask…Why do I want to study this language?
This may seem totally unnecessary, but it is in fact a question worth asking. Knowing the why behind your decision and keeping this reason in the front of your mind can actually increase your motivation for continuing. When you find yourself becoming frustrated or losing determination, just bring yourself back to this central question, “Why do I want to learn this language?”
Remembering your why can be a great source of assurance. Additionally, you want to make sure your reasons align. If for example, the only reason you want to learn the language is that you feel it would increase your hiring desirability, you may find yourself feeling less engaged and enthused to study. However, if your reasons for learning are more central to what matters to you and are personal, you may very well be motivated and excited at the prospect of learning.
In my first article about learning a new language, I mentioned the importance of setting goals. This is still advisable, perhaps even more so when you first start learning a new language. Because I have already discussed how to set realistic goals and then achieve them, I will not go into depth on goal setting again, but I definitely recommend any language students reading this piece to also look over that particular section of my last language article for clarification.
Gather Your Resources
After you decide what language to study and your reasons for studying, it is time to look for resources. This is one of the most exciting parts of the language journey in my opinion. I absolutely love doing some research into my target languages and uncovering what tools I like versus those I don’t. One great aspect about learning a language these days is the sheer volume of study tools there are. I try my best to have a variety of different study resources at my disposal because I find this keeps the process engaging and fun for me.
I personally love books, especially language learning books. Thriftbooks.com is a wonderful resource for individuals looking for language books that are cheap and in good condition. Many polyglot Youtubers also obtain their books through the site. Thriftbooks.com also offers coupons and special sales. In addition to Thriftbooks.com, I use kobo.com because there I can find several free e-books in my target language.
Podcasts are another creative way to learn. I find them to be great for supplemental help. I primarily listen to podcasts to obtain new vocabulary words and train my ears to pick up how the language sounds when spoken. While I would not recommend only using podcasts for studying, I do think they are a valuable tool when it comes to learning new words and phrases.
Blogs, Instagram accounts, Youtube channels, and even LinkedIn groups are great additions to the resource list. I find that utilizing resources that are relevant to your personal interests makes learning easier and more enjoyable. Because I enjoy learning about other cultures, I am subscribed to a few different French and German cultural Youtube channels such as Arte, Easy French, and Easy German.
I’ve found that watching just a few of their short emissions every day has really increased my ability to understand my target languages, in addition to my knowledge of the culture these languages come from. Because I enjoy reading psychology journal articles, I have also begun to read them in French. This has been quite fun for me not only because psychology interests me, but also because it has given me a different lens from which to look at the language itself. A lens I probably would not have gotten from just my language grammar books alone.
I encourage anyone who is learning a language to incorporate their personal hobbies and passions into learning. If you enjoy horror movies, maybe watching your favorite horror film in your target language would be a good idea. If you really love to garden try to find some gardening blogs in your target language. Are you passionate about world news and events?
Try watching the news or reading a newspaper in the language you are learning. It will be more difficult for someone to use study tools they find boring or irrelevant. There are too many great resources out there for a language learner to even consider using resources they do not particularly enjoy using or feel aren’t helpful nor efficient. The objective is to really make the language a part of your life and by extension a part of who you are. Doing so will only keep you motivated for the journey ahead.
Set a Study Time and Duration
Having a set dedicated study time and duration can increase the chances an individual follows through with their plan and gets some study time in regularly. A big part of successfully learning a language is consistency. Studying does not have to be long and tedious, but it should be consistent. The really great thing about studying is it does not have to be the same content or method every day. You do not have to read the same three hundred flashcards every day or even practice grammar every day. I personally find that mixing up what kind of studying you do each day is more effective and less of a hassle.
Contact with the language is considered studying, as long as the contact is meaningful and active. Passively listening to a Youtube video or podcast episode would not be considered contact with the language because it was done without truly being present in the process.
That being said, whether you are studying grammar exercises or watching a show, make sure to do so actively. Interrogate the material. Ask yourself what the material is teaching you, what you are gaining from studying. However, you choose to study, setting up an appointment with yourself can really help you remain consistent in your routine.
I think aiming for a minimum of twenty minutes every day is a good way to start out. Then as you progress you can shorten or lengthen this period of time. Remember to consider what your schedule looks like and whether you prefer to study in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Avoid scheduling study time during a time of day where you know you will feel tired or unmotivated. I love waking up early, so I study in the morning. Find out what study times and durations you prefer and go from there!
Find a Language Partner
When you feel confident enough in the language, it may be time to search for a language partner. I recommend using the apps italki and HelloTalk to find native speakers with whom you can have conversations. These apps are free to use and allow users to connect with people from around the world. If you speak other languages, you can advertise those on your profile and exchange language practice with individuals studying your maternal language(s).
There are also online language learning groups students can join. I have found these more helpful for resource recommendations than for language practice, but that is not to say you cannot find a language partner in these groups. Once you have found a partner(s) I recommend scheduling regular study times with them. This just goes back to the importance of consistency and maintaining a regular routine. I prefer to only have two or three partners because more than that can get overwhelming, but you can of course have as many as you like. The choice is all yours. Finding what works for you is crucial.
Learning a language can be difficult, but luckily there are many different resources out there. If you have always wanted to learn a new language, start now! There has never been a better time to do so. Thanks to the internet, we all have access to an incredible amount of information on nearly every subject. Not only can we gather information, but we can also connect with others from across the world. That in itself is truly amazing.
I hope these tips will be useful for you all on your language journey. My final takeaway is to just have fun with the experience and to celebrate the victories along the way.
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