There are pivotal moments in every life.
You’re familiar with the ones that are life-changing, of course: graduations, marriage, births.
These are events to be celebrated and remembered.
But did you realize that learning a foreign language can also be a life-changing experience?
It can be!
Don’t believe me?
Picking up a new language could be the reason you land your dream job or meet the love of your life. Anything can happen when you develop new language skills!
There are many important motives for taking the language-learning plunge, and lots of different strategies for making this dream a reality.
Let’s check them out so you can prepare to learn a foreign language!
Take the Leap! Learn a Foreign Language and Change Your Life
Unexpected Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language
There are lots of reasons people undertake language learning.
Some of them are pretty standard: employment, personal growth, education or travel. For example, there are economic benefits to learning a new language, given that multilingual workers are in demand. And there’s no doubt that traveling is way more fun when you speak a bit of the local language.
But there are tons of other great reasons to learn a foreign language—some of which you might never have considered!
We’ve looked into some of the most recent research on foreign language learning and found some truly incredible, unexpected benefits!
Here are some of the most amazing benefits of learning a foreign language:
It’ll Broaden Your Worldview
According to a recent study, multilingual exposure allows for perspective shifts. That is, if you have experience with another language and culture, you stand a better chance of being able to understand issues and ideas from that point of view.
This means that foreign language learning doesn’t only increase your capacity for empathy—it also makes you a better problem solver because you’ll have the ability to view a problem from multiple angles.
It’ll Help You Overcome Cultural Barriers
Speaking another language promotes cultural exchange among people from around the world.
Beyond just being able to converse with each other, speaking the same language can be a huge factor in encouraging people to collaboratively create and share ideas.
Cultural barriers are breached when we share languages, and that has a positive global impact. It can pave the way for innovations in technology, science, art and other fields.
It May Improve Your Brain Function
If you need a purely self-serving, physical reason to learn a foreign language, look no further than the results of this study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The study found that language learning is linked to maintaining healthy brain function and delaying or preventing the onset of dementia.
That’s reason enough for anyone to choose a second language to learn!
It Can Make You a More Effective Employee
Speaking a second language looks great on a resume, for sure.
But did you know that being multilingual can impact your job performance in other ways?
Research has shown that learning a foreign language encourages fine-tuned communication skills and high levels of adaptability and creativity. Another study found that learning a foreign language can strengthen your decision-making skills.
All of these assets give foreign language speakers a leg up in politics, business and many other career paths.
It Contributes to Better Global Relations
One outcome of learning a foreign language is that it enhances global understanding and positivity. Language learners are very likely to have affirmative feelings toward the culture, country and citizens where their target language is spoken.
Multiply that by many thousands or millions of people learning foreign languages, and you’ll get a world that’s more compassionate and connected.
It Facilitates Further Language Learning
Another advantage of learning a foreign language is that it facilitates learning additional languages.
Some studies indicate that language learning gets easier after learning a second language. That means that becoming a polyglot isn’t an unattainable goal!
Whew! There are so many reasons to learn a foreign language. Surely you’ve identified at least one or two that get you excited about this incredible journey.
Tips for Learning a Foreign Language
Now that we’ve gone over why you might want to learn a foreign language, let’s think about how to make that dream a reality.
Here are some practical tips to gain fluency in a foreign language:
Practice to Make Steady Progress
You’ve heard that practice makes perfect, and that may be true for some things. But honestly, perfection in languages is near impossible. Think about it: Even in your native language you might use a word or phrase incorrectly, so it makes sense that you may make mistakes in a foreign language, too.
But if you put in the time, you’ll make progress. Guaranteed!
Schedule practice time into your language program. Make a schedule, stick to it and watch your skills grow. Perhaps focus on vocabulary drills one day, followed by reading and writing practice the next. All practice adds up—so pile it on!
Understand Your “Why”
The intention for learning a foreign language is a huge motivating factor. In other words, the more earnest your reason for tackling a new language, the more likely it is that you’ll apply yourself and stick with the program.
Are you learning for educational reasons? To give yourself added employment opportunities? Does romance or travel spur you on? Or are you just learning for personal enrichment?
Understanding your why will help you target learning.
If you’re planning to travel, focus on lingo that you’ll encounter in a particular spot or concentrate on getting all the vocabulary you’ll need to make your plane, train or automobile connections happen with ease.
Employment or educational motives also have specialized terms and phrases that you’ll want to address.
Target your program to suit your needs. Remember, this is your language journey so be sure it’s headed in the direction you want to go!
Try to immerse in culture as well as language.
Take learning off the screen or page and bring it right into your day-to-day activities. That means look for music, movies, cooking projects and more that’ll make the language seem real. Allow yourself to investigate clothing, crafts and dance that make you feel as if you’re experiencing—in addition to learning—a language.
FluentU is a super source for online language immersion. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into one-of-a-kind language-learning experiences. Curated videos from across the globe bring your target language to life. They’re the ideal way to get a feel for culture as well as language.
The native speakers in each and every video accurately model pronunciation for learners to imitate. They also introduce idioms and regional dialects for learners to experience—and all of this happens without ever having to pack a bag or catch a flight! It doesn’t get much more convenient than that! Check out the free trial today.
Search for Varied and Exciting Materials
Consistently look for new, fun and engaging materials,
Many learners have been derailed on their language expeditions by boredom. Ho-hum, repetitive materials offer little incentive to learn, and without incentive, learning can stall.
Look for interesting resources, like comic books for reading practice or journaling to help power up writing skills.
Download a few apps to your phone or tablet for mobile learning. Many have options to download content for use when you don’t have internet access. These ensure that learning is never out of reach!
Try a few games in your target language. Many are available online through Amazon or eBay at reasonable prices. The point is to vary content so you’ll be excited to learn and engaged in the process.
Find a Language Partner
A reliable language partner can literally become a language learner’s best friend!
Check out your local cultural clubs, library, university or continuing education resources to locate a local language partner. Look for someone who’s either a native speaker or an advanced speaker of your target language. Plan to meet on a set schedule so there’s some consistency to this part of your program.
If there’s no way to meet up locally, seek a foreign language buddy online. Conversation Exchange offers pen pal exchanges, Skype, text chats and, in some areas, local meetups.
Speak as Often as Possible
It can’t be stressed enough: Use every opportunity to put your speaking skills to work!
The more you speak, the better you’ll speak. The sounds and words will come to mind more quickly and those foreign words and phrases will feel familiar.
You don’t need to have a conversational partner on call or nearby. You can practice speaking on your own.
If you’re watching a movie, repeat the dialogue. Use subtitles if necessary to get every word that’s spoken. This repeating technique works well with podcasts or television shows, too.
Reading a book? Read out loud. Let yourself grow comfortable speaking and hearing the language. This is a super method for practicing because there’s no pressure to get things “right”—if you stumble over a word or phrase, simply reread it.
Sing in your car or in your shower. Get used to speaking your new language and set yourself up for success.
Set Definite Goals
Goals are an ideal way to clearly define exactly where you want your language program to go. Set a goal and determine how to reach it. Plan for success and watch it happen!
SMART goals work for nearly any endeavor. They’re especially applicable to language programs.
SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Let’s see what each of those terms mean in relation to foreign languages.
Specific goals are clear. They set an exact outcome. “I want to speak Japanese fluently in 12 months” is a specific goal. There’s no gray area in a specific goal.
Measurable is the map for how you’re going to work toward that goal. Studying Japanese for an hour each day is measurable. The time is actually something that you’ll hold yourself accountable for. You can measure the hours and ensure that the goal is met.
Attainable goals are ambitious, but realistic. They’re not set so high that they’re super difficult to reach. An attainable goal would be reading a novel in your target language every month. Is it a hard goal? Definitely. But is it attainable? Probably.
Relevant goals mirror your “why”—which we spoke of earlier. What’s your intention for learning this language? Education? Employment? Travel? Whatever the reason, use it to craft your relevant goal.
A timely goal sets quantifiable time-related boundaries. Speaking Japanese for six hours three days a week, or planning to finish a self-guided online course in two months, are timely goals.
Be Willing to Try New Things
There are nearly as many ways to learn a language as there are languages. That means that there’s a variety of resources, programs, techniques and materials available. Luckily for you, many of these great language-learning materials are available online, right at your fingertips.
Try everything, even things that don’t seem likely to be a perfect fit. You might surprise yourself and discover that you actually do love learning a foreign language through gaming or poetry or classic movies. Just like that, you’ve picked up a new interest alongside your new language skills!
Build a Core Vocabulary
It’s essential to build a core vocabulary when you’re learning a new language. Vocabulary is the foundation of a language; in order to grow strong skills you’ve got to have a firm starting point.
Concentrate on the common words and phrases first, since these are the ones you’ll use most frequently. Then, add more complicated expressions, lingo or idioms to enhance your conversational skills.
Embrace and Learn from Your Mistakes
Learn from your mistakes.
Remember how we said it’s nearly impossible to speak a language—any language—flawlessly 100% of the time? That’s an absolute truth for most of us, which means we’re going to make mistakes. Lots of them, even.
The key with mistakes is to not dwell on them. Mistakes are expected and inevitable, and if you take the view that they’re opportunities for learning, they can become a positive part of your journey. That’s right—see your mistakes as teachable moments.
Get a ton of wrong answers on your last grammar quiz? Take note of what’s not sinking in, look for new methods to grasp that material and work on it.
Travel to Learn
If it’s at all possible, plan some travel to a spot where the language you’re studying is spoken. Immersion is a fantastic way to learn a language. Many immersive experiences last several months, which is a near-guarantee that lots of language, culture and life-changing experiences can be had!
If you’ve got less time to spend, a short adventure works well, too. Plan a getaway to hone your language skills. Chatting with native speakers will add dimension to your learning program that you just can’t get from a book!
Use the Buddy System
We’ve all heard that it’s better to get a partner involved on a fitness journey. Well, that concept works with language learning, too!
Find a learner who’s at the same level as you are. Instead of building abs, build language skills! Hold each other accountable for keeping on task. Learning buddies can support and encourage—and that’s an invaluable asset to any program!
Learn to Walk Away and Take a Break
Sometimes it’s beneficial to put some distance between yourself and the foreign language you’re studying. Yes, that does seem strange but if you’re experiencing an external crisis or illness or even if you feel you’ve hit a wall with your language program—walk away. Give yourself time to regroup.
Find a few fun distractions. Netflix (in your native language), maybe. Be kind to yourself and allow your mind to take a break. Do other things that bring you peace or pleasure for a day or two.
Then, when your mind is ready to concentrate again, return to your language program. You’ll be energized and ready to learn. All things will go more smoothly with a rested mind!
Find Your Own Learning Time
We’re all different so it stands to reason that we might have different learning styles, as well as internal learning clocks.
Some of us are “night owls” while others are morning people. Tasks seem uncomplicated and less demanding if we attempt them during our favorite time of the day. Conversely, we can—and often do!—struggle when we try to work during our less-alert hours.
Chronobiology is the term for finding your personal best learning time.
Science has shown that for the majority of people, the brain’s top learning hours occur for four hours midday and for six hours in the evening. So if you’re able to do so, schedule some of your language program for those times when you’re most likely to learn effectively. Chances are good that you’ll power up your skills when your brain is at its peak learning time!
Language acquisition can be much more than a hobby. It can be a tremendously life-changing event!
Learning a new language touches lives in many ways. It can positively impact brain function and possibly delay diseases like dementia. It can elevate cultural awareness, closing the gaps that exist between different ethnicities. It can impact global economics, making the world marketplace more stable.
Foreign language learning doesn’t have to remain a dream. It can become reality—and with these relevant tips, any learner can be successful!
Explore your language options, choose a target language (or two!) and grow your communication skills. Learning a foreign language is exciting, challenging and beneficial on many levels. Start working on it now and you’ll thank yourself later!
Embrace this pivotal moment in your life. Celebrate it the way you would any other large-scale personal achievement.
Most importantly, have fun!
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