Are you interested in learning a language, but feel that you aren’t quite ready to take the plunge?
Learning a foreign language may seem scary at first because it’s completely new and unfamiliar.
However, it’s not as intimidating as you might think.
In reality, there are numerous ways around the hurdles of language acquisition, and we’re sharing all of our tricks in this guide to get you started on your language journey ASAP.
It’s like what they say: There’s no time like the present!
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Top Tips for Learning a New Language
Whether you’re contemplating learning a second language or are already onto your third or fourth, this list of tips is applicable to every type of learner.
Here are our best ways to learn a language.
1. Determine your motivation.
Learning a new language is really fun. But something you have to get in your head is that it’s not just a new hobby to pick up and drop any time. It’s a complete lifestyle change, so it’s vital that you have the right mindset when learning a foreign language. If you’re moving to a new country, you’ll be more motivated to pick up the mother tongue. If your job requires you to travel and interact with foreign companies, you’ll want to learn different languages and cultural nuances to ensure business deals push through.
Think about why these famous polyglots learned multiple languages. Looking at Audrey Hepburn, one of the reasons why she was such a highly-regarded humanitarian was due to her ability to speak five languages other than English. Meanwhile, Noah Webster learned 20 languages in order to assess the etymology of words for his dictionary.
It’s amazing what the mind picks up and remembers when you have the right motivation.
2. Set weekly language learning goals.
One of the top tips for learning a language is setting weekly goals. If you want to learn how to become bilingual, you have to make your goals more manageable. While a year can be more than enough time to master a language, having that extended deadline gives you room to slack off since you’re not technically holding yourself accountable until a year later.
Not only do your goals have to be manageable, but they also have to be measurable in order to learn to speak a foreign language. If you want to give yourself a year to learn a language fluently, make sure you lay out smaller goals between now and then. Having weekly targets ensures that you won’t procrastinate, yet also ensures that you don’t take on too much work at any given time. You can start out with learning 10 new words a week, and then adjust your goals accordingly if you’re up for the challenge.
Remember, it’s all about manageable and measurable goals.
3. Immerse yourself in the culture.
Admittedly, it was so much easier learning English or your native tongue as a kid. Although learning a language as an adult is more difficult in comparison, it’s also way more exciting. The secret to learning languages is understanding that language is more than just words—acquiring a whole new vernacular means you’re unlocking the door to a whole new culture.
So if you’re thinking of adding a new language to your list of skills, or maybe wondering how to learn multiple languages at once, you need to create an immersive environment. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to move to a country where your target language is spoken. You just have to immerse yourself in the culture.
Think food, pop culture, foreign language news stations, podcasts and more. Foreign media opens you up to the world that your target language is intertwined in, which is the exact immersion method that’s been adopted by FluentU.
Language lessons don’t have to be as rigid as you might imagine them to be. FluentU shows its users that the world is their classroom by offering educational content in realistic contexts. Interested in pop culture? The library is full of movie clips and music videos that’ll teach you all about natural speech and local slang. Looking for more serious content? You’ve got tons of news clips and motivational speeches to learn the language in a more formal setting.
Feel free to sign up for a free FluentU trial to immerse yourself in a new language. Or two, if you’re feeling adventurous.
4. Acknowledge your learning curve.
Listen. There are bound to be bumps on the road. You can be diligently practicing every day, yet still can’t seem to nail a certain grammar concept or remember how to write a specific character. It’s okay. We’ve all been there, and it’ll continue to happen for as long as we’re learning new languages.
There are days that might seem more difficult than others, especially when you compare your progress with fellow students. And then you’ll wonder if you’ll ever be good at learning languages.
The answer is yes, but understand that foreign language acquisition doesn’t happen overnight. Despite not witnessing other people’s struggles, know that frustration is normal and is a shared experience. Just keep trying and practicing. Persistence and perseverance will get you through those hurdles.
And whenever you need help, just ask! One of the most admirable qualities of the perfect language learner is that they’re not afraid to ask for help when they encounter bumps in the road.
5. Have fun with it!
If you find yourself asking, “Why can’t I learn languages?” chances are that you aren’t enjoying the process.
Acquiring a new language doesn’t have to be all about textbooks and fluency tests. What people often forget is that you need to have fun learning if you want the language to stick with you in the long run.
Regardless of whether you’ve already made headway in your journey or are still confused about how to start learning a new language, you need to tailor your learning according to your interests. You’re way more likely to remember expressions and words when the subject matter aligns with your hobbies or is relevant to you. If you want to learn a language fluently, apply that language to the things you care about and love.
Fun means something different to everyone, so don’t feel compelled to turn each study session into a game show. If you love cooking, make some tapas by looking up recipes in Spanish. If you love Netflix, binge-watch a K-drama. If you’re a gamer, follow a Twitch user that speaks your target language.
How to Learn a Language Fast
They say that it takes a lifetime to be fluent in a language. Unfortunately, not all of us are that patient. Sometimes, we don’t have a lifetime. Sometimes, we only have a couple of weeks before traveling abroad or meeting with international clients. Sometimes, we have to figure out how to learn a language fast.
Countless people have asked, “How long does it take to learn a language?” It really depends on how much time you can dedicate to studying. Some people learn a language in six months, while others learn a language in 10 days. But if you’re wondering how to learn a language fluently in that short amount of time, that’s a completely different question.
The fastest way to learn a language is to create time for it. You also have to be smart about how you spend that time, utilizing techniques, such as sentence mining, to be as efficient as possible. If you put in the time, effort and commitment, then the magic number for fluency is three months.
Here are a few tips on how to learn a language in three months.
1. Make it part of your daily routine.
Some people just have a knack for languages. Thankfully, the ability to learn languages quickly is a skill that anyone can acquire. However, you have to be willing to put the work in by creating a schedule and sticking with it. That means that language acquisition has to be part of your everyday routine. Even on your busiest days, you have to at least squeeze a study session in on your commute. Even 20 minutes spent listening to a podcast or doing language exercises on an app is still progress.
Utilizing your daily commute is just one of the many strategies to learn any language on a busy schedule. But if you aren’t a morning person, then it might not be the best use of your time. When creating your schedule, take into account what goes on in your day. When you’ve figured out the time slot with the least amount of distractions, then you’ve figured out the best time of day to learn a language.
2. Adapt to your learning needs.
We all have preferred ways of learning. For example, a sensory learner would probably learn a new language fast if their study sessions appealed to their senses. You have to determine what works best for you.
Now, if you ever find that a certain learning method isn’t working for you anymore, don’t hesitate to change things up. Believe it or not, you have the power to customize your learning. No one knows you better than yourself.
When you see that you’re slacking when it comes to self-study, change things up with a language partner or tutor, or perhaps sign up for a class. If you do have a tutor but you feel the chemistry or learning method isn’t right, find another tutor or transition into self-study. It’s normal for certain strategies to lose effectiveness once you progress or your circumstances change. Keep your focus by adapting to your needs and environment.
3. Prioritize phrases, expressions and colloquialisms.
If you’re on a tight schedule, don’t concern yourself too much with how to learn grammar in a foreign language. While grammar is important, the subtleties of the language are also something you can pick up when studying phrases and colloquialisms. The best way to learn a language quickly is by focusing on vocabulary instead of grammar.
However, you can’t just learn the 1,000 most common words of your target language and call it quits. You need to understand how those words work with other parts of the sentence. If you must know how to learn a language fast, then you need to learn how those common words interact with each other by studying phrases and expressions.
4. Communicate as much as possible.
It’s intimidating to test yourself with native speakers. To be honest, there’s no way around it. If you want to learn languages fast, you have to start speaking right away and continue to speak. Mistakes are bound to happen, and that’s totally encouraged since that’s how we learn! Just converse to the best of your ability, receive immediate feedback and adjust accordingly.
There are tons of ways to communicate with native speakers. You can attend language meetups, find a language partner, converse more with your tutor or practice with your friends if they’re fluent in your target language.
5. Hold yourself accountable to your goals.
To learn a new language quickly, you need to follow through with your goals. If you’re serious about reaching fluency in three months, you have to do what you can to ensure you get there. You have to constantly test yourself, and by test, I don’t necessarily mean weekly written quizzes, although you have to measure your progress in tangible goals.
Let’s say one week, you set out to learn 20 new words. The obvious way to test yourself is with a vocab quiz, but you can also challenge yourself to use all of those words in a journal entry or in a conversation with a native speaker.
You can be creative with these goals. Just make sure that your weekly targets are slightly out of reach, yet achievable, as well as measurable. And finally, stick to them!
How to Learn a Language from Home
While many of us dream of spending a year in Costa Rica learning Spanish, some of us don’t have the luxury to learn a language abroad. Luckily, you don’t have to fly out of the country to learn a new language. In fact, you don’t even need to leave your house.
Traveling abroad, traditional in-person classes—those methods of language learning are very pricey, especially for those on a budget. If you’re after a cheap language learning alternative, then the way to go is to learn from home. Regardless of whether you spend most of your time at home or have a busy work schedule, learning from home is often the most convenient option for language students.
Admittedly, learning from home brings about its own sets of struggles. Check out these tips to stay on top of your language goals.
1. Mix and match learning strategies.
When you’re learning from home, it becomes easier to lose momentum in your studies. You’re surrounded by distractions, and let’s face it, it’s tough having to study after a long day of working and running errands. All you want to do when you get home is shut off your brain and relax.
If you find it difficult squeezing in a daily home study session, the problem might be in the way you’re studying. The brain gets bored after a while when you only rely on one study technique. Even if you’re an analytical learner who enjoys textbooks, you might only retain so much information when the study method begins to feel repetitive.
The best thing you can do to keep your momentum is to mix things up. Employ a few language study techniques to find out what combination personally works best for you. Maybe you enjoy having conversations in language chat rooms but still need a traditional reference, such as a textbook, to understand grammar points. Whatever the case, there is a multitude of language learning techniques that you can experiment with.
2. Make use of foreign language media.
When you think of how to learn a language fluently, your initial thoughts are probably geared towards traditional mediums, such as textbooks. What if I told you it was possible to learn your target language via the likes of Netflix and Spotify?
Perhaps one of the best things about language learning at home is making use of entertainment sources, such as television and movie streaming apps, online radio stations and more. Instead of watching the latest reality show on Netflix, why not watch a movie in your target language? You can also pick a title you’ve already watched and change the audio language settings to your language of choice. Either way, Netflix is an awesome way to have fun while learning new vocabulary and expressions from the comfort of your couch.
Another way to promote language immersion at home is by simply playing foreign radio stations, language podcasts or foreign language content from FluentU in the background while doing chores. It’s an unconventional way to study for sure, but you have to be creative and efficient when learning a language at home.
3. Put sticky notes and labels on everything.
Flashcards are great and all, but one of the real secrets of how to learn a language at home is putting sticky notes on everything. Having labels on everyday objects, such as the stairs, closet and pantry staples, is super helpful since it’s basically having household items automatically translated for you. Additionally, it saves you the trouble of manually looking “fridge” and “bed” up in a dictionary. The more often you see these translations, the more likely these words will stick in your memory.
Your home is going to look strange, that’s for sure. You just have to embrace the weirdness factor. After all, it’s all for the benefit of learning a new language!
4. Practice speaking in the mirror.
Communication is key when picking up a language, but mustering up the confidence to talk to native speakers is a whole different ball game. To help you get over the fear of speaking in a foreign language, try watching yourself talk. Speaking in a foreign language is not just about the words but also your facial expressions and body language.
It’s the same concept of practicing speeches in the mirror; the more you see yourself moving your mouth and the rest of your body, the more comfortable and natural you’ll feel as you’re speaking in a new language.
You can also build your foreign language confidence by recording yourself on your phone and playing it back to see how you can improve the way you communicate.
5. Find a language partner or a tutor online.
If you thought language learning from home meant you had to learn sans a tutor, you thought wrong! The thing about independent language learning is that you need feedback. Without assistance from native or fluent speakers, you won’t be able to truly test your language skills.
Can’t afford a tutor? Then opt for a language partner that you can chat with online. That way, both of you benefit from the language and cultural exchange. You also learn how to type in another language in the process, which is a challenge on its own when it concerns character-based languages such as Korean, Japanese and Mandarin.
While moving to a new country sounds exciting, it can be stressful finding new friends among the locals. When learning a foreign language at home, befriending a native speaker of your chosen language through websites or apps is much less frightening, as the precedent of a mutual language and cultural exchange has already been set.
How to Teach Yourself a Language
You’ve made it this far, so you probably still have some questions about learning a new language. Maybe you’re questioning how to learn a language without a teacher or if it’s even possible to learn a language by yourself. The answers are yes and yes.
Like with any study or learning method, there are pros and cons to each. Although a tutor or teacher is helpful, it’s not always the most realistic option for everyone. It’s difficult having to commit to classes when you’re on a tight or unpredictable schedule. Not to mention, they can be quite pricey. There’s also the matter of the teacher and the structure of the classes and course. When you sign up for classes, you have no control over how you learn the language. That decision is left up to your teacher.
Having a teacher works for some but not others. If you require flexibility, control and cost-efficiency, here are a few language study tips to help you learn a language on your own.
1. Be creative in your language learning journey.
When you become an independent learner, you have control over the way you learn new material, so don’t limit yourself. Get those creative juices flowing and discover all of the fun ways to learn a language. You can learn a new language with games, cartoons, media or other pastimes you may have or tailor your lessons to appeal to your five senses. The possibilities for creative language learning are endless.
One of the greatest lessons from good language learners, and one that we often forget the most, is to be creative with your learning methods. Learning doesn’t have to equate to lectures, midterms and final exams.
2. Schedule short but periodic study sessions.
Because we often measure progress by the number of hours we put in, people have this preconceived notion that longer study sessions increase information retention. When you create your own language learning study plan, there’s more to factor in than solely the amount of time you spend studying. You need to consider how that time is going to be spent, as well as how often you’re studying.
The key to self-study is consistency. Short but periodic study sessions help you maintain motivation and interest in the subject. Learning the language then also becomes part of your daily routine, rather than something you have to do a couple of times a week. Lengthy study sessions end up feeling laborious rather than fun.
Another one of the tips on learning a new language that relates to this is to take breaks! If you plan on spending at least an hour day on language learning, break that time up to refresh your brain. Just be careful not to take too many breaks, as that will render your daily studies useless.
3. Make your study notes and tools accessible by phone.
Learning a language is not about acquiring a new skill. Your target language is a lifestyle change. It’s a new aspect in your life that needs to exist outside of your designated study space. Accessibility is a must, so make sure you have digital access to your notes, textbooks and other resources you rely on. Having everything on your phone will make it that much easier to study on the go.
Want to take things up a notch? Another trick for how to learn a language by yourself is to set your devices’ language settings to your target language. This allows you to work on your reading skills while going about your daily phone habits.
4. Track your progress.
When you have a teacher or a tutor, they track your progress with quizzes and tests. It’s not as easy to carry out those quizzes when you’re studying independently. It’s a lot easier to cheat when you don’t have someone else looking over your shoulder.
But tests aren’t the only way to measure your progress. To avoid forgetting a language, test yourself in nontraditional ways. One week, it could be in the form of a journal entry. Another week, it could be in the form of a word search in your target language. You could even translate a foreign language podcast, so don’t limit yourself.
5. Socialize with native speakers.
Just because you’ve chosen the route of independent study doesn’t mean that you can’t ask native speakers questions. If you want to know how to teach yourself a language, take advantage of meetup groups to learn a language with friends.
These language meetups are more than just a cultural exchange. They’re a way to meet people with similar interests and identical language goals. Plus, it’s way more fun to learn a language with a friend than without one.
What NOT to Do When Learning a Language
We’ve spent tons of time on tips for how to learn a language fluently. Let’s do a little reverse psychology, shake things up a bit and discuss everything you’re not supposed to do when learning another language.
We learn from our failures, so let’s talk about all the ways you could fail in your quest to master a new language.
1. Bite off more than you can chew.
The first way you can fail at learning a new language is by being way too eager and setting unattainable goals. Instead of shooting for the stars, shoot for an entirely new universe by cramming everything in the shortest amount of time. For example, if you’re thinking about how to learn a new alphabet, aim to learn the entire thing in one go instead of learning it in smaller groups of letters. Why not really challenge yourself and make things as hard as possible, right?
And this isn’t only limited to second language learners. This happens to those learning two languages at once, in addition to polyglots. One of the most common polyglot problems is their hankering to master a new language even though they’re struggling with their current one(s).
2. Give up when the going gets tough.
A good language learner is patient, yet if you keep on making mistakes over and over again, you might as well give up. Besides, you already know what the outcome is going to be. If you can’t get the pronunciation right or can’t seem to remember how to write certain characters, why bother putting more effort in when it’s starting to look like you’re one of those people who just aren’t good at languages?
Sure, you can learn any language with a growth mindset, but can one really grow when they’re making the same mistakes over and over again?
3. Consider the target language as just another task.
Our schedules are radically different from one another, with our own sets of daily tasks. If you want to know how not to study a language, then treat it just like any other task in your schedule. Take the joy out of the learning process and dwindle it down to another thing to do on your list. Turn language learning into a chore, and risk not retaining any new information.
Or, if you actually want to know how to speak different languages, use the target language to accomplish a daily task instead of making the language itself a task. But do as you see fit.
4. Learn the language in isolation.
Some people learn a language as a family, and others learn a language with a friend. However, anyone who likes to limit human interactions would probably want to learn on their own, without the help of others, even native speakers.
If you want to completely ignore the right ways to learn a language, forget asking for help or feedback.
5. Forget about listening.
The last tip on how to fail at self-teaching a language is to not include any study strategies that’ll improve your listening skills. Listening to podcasts, watching videos on YouTube, watching movies—aren’t they all just a waste of time when you’re a novice and their words all sound like gibberish to you? How important is it to improve your foreign language accent, anyway?
The Best Language Learning Methods/Approaches
You might know all of the tips and tricks for easily learning a new language now, but there’s something else we still need to cover. Have you ever wondered, “How do we learn a language? Is there actually a method to the madness?”
Actually, there are quite a few methods.
We all have varying language learning styles. You might prefer one-on-one language learning over large classes. You might go straight to the experts and learn language from polyglots. Maybe you prefer to learn from the comfort of your own home, relying on input-based language learning. Perhaps you’d rather delve into the science of language learning by studying the research and implications of SRS spaced repetition language learning.
Or, you might want to try something a little more radical, such as using hypnosis to learn a language, or even learning a language while you sleep.
The point here is that we all have our own preferences when it comes to language education because we lack a singular, unified theory of language learning.
Instead of there being one theory, there are several language development theories that have given rise to a number of effective foreign language learning strategies. As a learner, you need to know everything that’s available to you in order to make the best choice for your language education. Your methods, or the methods that your teacher or tutor chooses for you, need to be effective, entertaining and, most of all, worth your time.
Best for aspiring polyglots
More often than not, people perceive foreign language immersion as living in the country where your target language is spoken, when in fact, it’s simply using the language as much as possible. Immersion language learning occurs when you move abroad, but it also can occur in a classroom where the instruction is in the target language from start to finish. It can also occur at home where learners complete daily tasks in their chosen language.
Most of the time, immersion is how polyglots learn languages.
- Studies from the University of Minnesota demonstrate that fully proficient bilinguals outperform monolinguals not just in literacy but also in cognitive skills development, particularly in problem-solving, divergent thinking and pattern recognition.
- Language immersion increases cultural awareness and promotes global thinking.
- Progression is faster through immersion than other learning methods.
- Immersion programs tend to be more stressful than other methods since there’s a greater tendency towards frustration when you can’t adequately express yourself in the target language.
- Immersion requires greater commitment compared to other learning approaches.
Best for complete beginners
Grammar-translation is the oldest known method for language learning. It was first adopted as a way to study dead languages, like Latin, to improve intellectual function. It later developed into a practical way to learn languages in general.
This translation language learning method focuses on original literature in the target language, translating texts into the native language while heavily emphasizing grammar and vocabulary. Sometimes referred to as the classical method, many people still use grammar-translation to learn a new language.
- You gain a better understanding of complex grammar structures, expressions and phrases, as reiterated in this Harvard research study.
- You learn the material in your native tongue, making it easier for complete beginners to learn in a familiar context.
- You improve your reading and writing skills.
- Grammar-translation ignores the development of listening and speaking skills.
- No critical thinking skills are developed since you’re simply translating.
- It can be restricting for students as their learning is based entirely on traditional instruction.
Best for listening and speaking skills
Also known as the “anti-grammatical method,” this approach developed as sort of the antithesis of the grammar-translation method, taking the focus away from grammar and rote memorization and redirecting it towards context. This means learning entirely in your target language. It’s similar to the way you learned as a child, hearing your family and the people around you speaking in your mother tongue. This is why the direct method is also called the natural method.
- The natural method allows you to learn the language rather than about the language.
- Listening and speaking skills greatly improve through demonstration and discussion.
- This approach focuses on direct use of the target language, so you have an accurate representation of pronunciation, language habits and other spoken nuances.
- This method only works if your instructor is a native speaker or someone with near-native fluency, as research from the International Islamic University indicates that the students’ ability is entirely dependent on the teacher’s skill level.
- Reading and writing skills are largely ignored.
Best for travelers and professionals
During WWII, armies had used what was then called the army method as soldiers needed to be orally proficient in the languages of both allies and enemies. It’s now known as the audio-lingual method and is quite similar to the direct method, as they both are an oral learning approach. What separates the two approaches is that the audio-lingual method drills grammatical sentence patterns into learners, which is similar to language shadowing.
- Drilling exercises encourage you to participate more. It also improves your pronunciation, intonation, stress and rhythm, as noted in a study from the Iran University of Science and Technology.
- You learn and practice useful, everyday language right from the get-go.
- You rely on visual cues, rather than dictionaries, to learn new vocabulary.
- Because there’s a greater focus on sentence patterns, vocabulary is only presented in terms of those structures.
- Since the instruction is based on mimicry and repetition, there’s very little room for flexibility of the language. Everything you learn ends up being mechanical rather than natural.
Communicative language learning
Best for verbal communication skills
As the name suggests, the communicative language learning approach places the emphasis back on the core idea of language, which is communication. Grammar, vocabulary and the rest are simply parts of the whole, and this approach looks at improving learners’ communication skills as a whole instead of nitpicking over every grammar point. With communicative language learning, you understand the meaning and are better able to make connections with your target language through increased student interactions.
In these teacher-guided roleplaying and communication exercises, mistakes in spoken grammar and awkwardness are to be expected when you’re communicating with fellow learners.
- You not only learn about verbal communication but also about nonverbal cues in conversation, as you’re forced to interact and be creative with other learners to communicate meaning.
- This method focuses more on the learner rather than the teacher.
- You gain confidence in communicating in your target language.
Best for learners who aren’t in a rush
Not to be confused with the natural or direct method, the natural approach to language learning takes away the typical pressures of language learning and centers on comprehension over time. In this article about applying the natural approach in an unnatural setting, it notes that emphasis is placed on language acquisition rather than learning, with learners acquiring language without being aware of doing so.
It’s the same way you learned your native tongue, by constantly being surrounded by the language, minus the pressure of having to dive deep into the nitty-gritty, like syntax and grammar. The natural approach is all about increasing exposure to the target language through things like social situations and foreign-language media, as well as little immersive tricks like putting vocabulary labels all over your house. You’re immersing yourself in the culture without the actual stress of immersion.
- You acquire the language on your terms.
- You’re encouraged to make mistakes so you can learn from them.
- This is especially beneficial for those who don’t necessarily have clear-cut language goals and are simply learning the language for fun.
- It’s not suitable for those on a deadline to learn a language.
- This method won’t work for analytical learners.
Best for long term language acquisition
Language learning through metacognition varies from the rest of the approaches on this list. While the other methods are cognitive strategies of learning, metacognition is the process of understanding your thought processes. It’s about the planning, optimization and evaluation of your learning strategies and using error analysis in language learning to monitor your progress. As mentioned in the book titled “Metacognition in Language Learning and Teaching,” metacognition is simply language awareness and the understanding of one’s learning.
- This self-assessment allows you to better understand what works for you, helping you to adapt or switch learning strategies when needed.
- It encourages a higher level of thinking compared to behaviorist approaches to learning.
- This internal thought process is more difficult to measure in terms of progress.
Congratulations! You made it all the way through the guide. You now have all of the information you need to finally embark on your new and exciting language journey. Best of luck, and remember, it’s not as difficult as you think it’s going to be!
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