Have you decided you want to learn a language?
Maybe more than one?
Maybe you even want to learn… all kinds of different languages?
Well, that’s great news! Give yourself a pat on the back!
But now what?
Now, it’s time to get all your language ducks in a row.
Either way, there are a lot of factors to consider before you embark—or re-embark—on any language learning journey.
For one thing, deciding what languages to learn can be almost as complicated as learning the languages themselves. After all, there are plenty of resources to teach you a language, but surprisingly few to teach you how to choose.
And the unanswered questions seem endless. Should you learn the most used languages or would it be better to study the most useful languages? What language could help you land a cool job? Once you’ve decided on a language, what learning method should you use?
Hey hey, slow down! In this post, we’re going to take things one tiny baby step at a time.
Why? Because while there’s a lot to consider before you dive in, just a little preparation can help you skillfully navigate your way towards fluency with a lot fewer roadblocks.
Why It’s Always Important to Think Out Your Next Step in Language Learning
Language learning can be an unexpected minefield at any stage. If you make the wrong decision(s), you may not be happy with the results. Learning those languages can take a lot of time and effort, and you don’t want to look back and regret all the time you spent learning the wrong language or not learning as effectively as possible. So it follows naturally that…
Choosing the wrong language(s) can prevent you from meeting your goals. Learning different languages can help you meet different goals. However, if you choose the wrong languages for your purposes, they might not help you meet your goals at all. For instance, if your main goal is improving your employability, learning a dead language like Latin probably won’t get you as far in most fields as learning something common, like Spanish.
Studying the wrong language(s) can also demotivate you. If you don’t like a language you’re learning, chances are you won’t be as interested in studying it. When you aren’t as interested in studying, your progress will be slow and frustrating. Choosing languages you like and want to use can keep you motivated and excited to learn.
If you select the wrong learning techniques, they can slow your progress. Everyone learns differently, so it’s important to find the right techniques for you. For instance, if you’re a visual learner, using exclusively audio courses isn’t likely to yield quick results. Similarly, if you learn by doing, studying a textbook might not be as beneficial as using a program that teaches you a language through repeated use.
Similarly, choosing the wrong learning techniques can lead to imbalanced skills. To become proficient in a language, you’ll need reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. However, some learning options focus on just one or two sets of these skills. For instance, dual-language books are a terrific study tool. However, if you try to learn a language exclusively through dual-language books, your writing, speaking and listening skills may be underdeveloped.
Finally, if you don’t think things out now, you may meet a roadblock you don’t know how to overcome. Thinking things out gives you clear direction, motivation and purpose. When you know your route ahead, you’re unlikely to get lost or distracted.
This all being said, you may be wondering, but what should that next step I need to think out be? Following we have not just one, but 11 baby steps every learner should take when starting in on one or more new languages.
You’ve Said, “I Want to Learn Different Languages!” Now What?
1. Consider why you want to learn languages.
When you decide you want to learn languages, it can be tempting to just pick a language and get to work. After all, learning a language is exciting, especially in the beginning. However, before you get too far in, it’s important to consider your motivations.
Your reasons for learning languages can determine what language or languages you learn and what you focus on. For instance, if you want to have an enjoyable vacation in Rome, this clearly hints that you should learn Italian. Similarly, it also makes it apparent that your focus should be primarily on travel vocabulary.
To consider your own motivations, ask yourself the following questions:
- How did you decide you should learn languages?
- When do you hope to use your language skills?
- What excites you about speaking other languages?
Once you’ve considered these points, you’ll be ready to move onto the next step and finally select languages.
2. Decide what languages to study.
Taking into account why you want to learn languages, it’s time to select which language or languages you want to study (or study first).
You may need to do some preliminary research to determine which languages best suit your current needs and goals. For instance, if you want to learn a language to increase your employability, look at job listings in your field of interest and see what sorts of language skills are required or preferred. Even this can vary a good deal between different industries. For instance, if you want to work in the automotive industry, you might find the languages of major auto-producing countries (like Japanese and German) most useful.
If you’ve decided you want to learn several languages at once, you might consider learning several mutually intelligible languages. Mutually intelligible languages are languages that have enough overlap that speakers of one language can understand another language at least partially. Since these languages are similar, learning them both can be easier than learning two disparate languages.
3. Investigate each language more.
Now that you’ve tentatively selected a language or languages, investigate in more depth.
Not only will this help you decide whether a particular language is the right language for you, it will also provide you with some basic knowledge that can serve as the foundation for your cultural and historic understanding.
Where is it spoken? How widely spoken is it? What sorts of careers can you use it in? What makes the language interesting? As you investigate more, you might learn that a language is very intriguing to you or doesn’t actually interest you that much.
Ethnologue is one useful resource for learning more about languages—just keep in mind you have a limited number of free page views.
If you think European languages will be your jam, lingvo.info offers a colorful, easy-to-browse resource.
4. Do a test run.
It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for! Finally, you can stretch your legs and dive into your target language or languages. But don’t get too comfortable yet—you might still want to cut and run.
Until you’ve actually tried learning a target language, you won’t know whether you really like that language. Even if all your research indicates that it’s an ideal choice, you might not enjoy the sound, the feel or the look.
That’s why it’s important to do a test run before you commit time or resources to learning. You don’t want to be five weeks and $2000 into a course only to decide this isn’t the language for you.
FluentU is a great way to get a feel for different languages, and with the free two-week trial, there’s nothing to lose! With FluentU, you’ll learn through captioned, annotated and overall fully-loaded video content, like movie trailers, music videos, news and more. Since these are authentic, real-world videos, you’ll get a clear idea of what your language really sounds like.
When you’re trying to decide if a language is right for you, FluentU is a particularly helpful tool, because if you realize you don’t like the language you thought you’d study, you can switch languages for free at any time.
Plus, if you’re learning multiple languages, FluentU will save your progress for any and all languages you study. You can switch between languages to test them out without losing your spot in any of the languages.
Don’t like the language you’ve been testing? Go through the first few steps again until you find a language that interests you more.
5. Commit to learning each language.
If you liked your test run with a language, it’s time to make a commitment.
Mentally commit to learning the language. Remind yourself of your reasons for learning to fuel your motivation.
You should also tell people about each language you’re learning. Spread the word! If everyone knows you’re studying a language, this will help keep you accountable. After all, you wouldn’t want your friends and family to ask “How’s learning that language going?” a few months from now only to be left with no choice but to respond “I quit after two weeks.”
6. Decide what methods of learning you’ll use.
Thanks to technology, there are a huge array of methods to learn a language these days. The only problem is that with so many options, selecting the right method can be challenging. So now’s the time to weigh your options.
Conventional language courses are a tried-and-true option. For generations, these courses have been the method of choice for countless learners. One big benefit is that they offer a structured, balanced approach to language learning. Plus, since they meet in person, you’ll feel accountable to more people. However, they can often be pricey and inflexible. If you have a busy schedule, it can be hard to find enough time.
Online language courses offer many of the benefits of conventional courses. They frequently offer a structured learning path. However, unlike conventional courses, they tend to be lower in price and offer more flexible scheduling. That being said, without other learners in the same boat as you, you might struggle to find people to practice with.
Similarly, audio courses offer structured education with the added flexibility of being able to study while doing other things, like driving, cleaning or showering. However, the downside is that you won’t have as much practice reading and writing.
Language learning apps offer a fun, interactive way to learn a language with a lot to offer. There are apps that allow you to follow set lesson plans, enjoy practice activities, study vocabulary, play language games, connect with native speakers and so much more. However, each app offers different features, so finding balance when learning with apps may require a little extra effort on your part.
Luckily, you don’t have to choose just one method. Feel free to try out several different options and select what you like best. Better still, combine several different learning methods for an engaging and varied learning experience.
7. Find fun, supportive resources to keep you motivated and interested.
In addition to more conventional learning materials, you’re going to want to break up your study time with some fun, supportive resources.
Studying can be grueling, and inevitably, you’ll need some study breaks. But that doesn’t mean you have to halt your learning progress! With more recreational resources, you get the feeling of a break with the added benefit of additional learning time.
Enjoying authentic materials is a great way to continue your language learning while taking a break from studying. Supportive resources like books, movies, TV and games can be both engaging and educational.
For instance, if you can’t get enough Netflix, you can also use it as a supportive resource in your language education. For most popular languages, all you have to do is search the name of the language. From there, you can often narrow your search to more specific categories.
For instance, searching “Japanese” yields a lot of results, but it also suggests I narrow my search to “Japanese Movies,” “Japanese TV Shows,” Japanese TV Dramas,” etc. And once you watch one movie or TV show in your target language, you can count on Netflix to recommend more.
YouTube also offers abundant foreign language resources. Try searching the name of your target language and “subtitles.” For instance, if you search “French subtitles,” you’ll find an array of videos in French, some with English subtitles, others with French subtitles. But of course, for high quality assurance and no wasted time, you can always just use the specially selected videos on FluentU.
8. Set specific goals and timelines so you stay on track.
With your arsenal of learning materials in tow, you’re ready to map your path to success.
Even if you’re fully committed to learning a language, it’s important to establish clear goals and timelines. The problem is that life gets busy, and if you haven’t established clear objectives for yourself, you might find your study time keeps getting cut short or eliminated altogether.
That being said, it’s important to set goals and timelines that are appropriate for you. Setting excessively ambitious goals that you never meet can make you feel like a failure. However, setting very low goals can lead to slow progress, so you should consider that, too.
Try to set a specific study schedule. If you schedule your learning for the same time each day, it will become part of your routine, and therefore, you’re less likely to forget to do it. For instance, you might study for 15 minutes every day during your lunch break.
Setting goals is also important. What do you want to learn and when? For instance, you might decide that you want to learn the 50 most common words in your first week of studying. This will help you focus on what you’re studying. It will also give you a valuable sense of accomplishment.
Full fluency can take a while, so if this is your only goal, your sense of accomplishment may be greatly delayed. However, setting multiple goals along the way to fluency allows you to meet your goals successfully, giving you the motivation and confidence you need to press onward.
9. Reach out to other language learners.
Other language learners can be a valuable resource. They can keep you motivated, answer your language learning questions and provide you with support when you feel like you just can’t do it.
If you’re taking in-person courses, finding other language learners will be easy—just befriend your classmates. If you’re learning online or independently, though, you might have to put in a little more effort. Luckily, there are plenty of online communities for language learners. For instance, you might check out the Language Learning subreddit.
To connect with learners studying your target language, there are even more specific groups. For instance, if you’re learning Spanish, you might check out the Learn Spanish subreddit or another forum, like Tomísimo.
To find specific groups like this, try searching the name of your target language and “learning forum,” “learning message board” or “learning group.”
10. Connect with native speakers.
Connecting with native speakers is often the final piece in the learning puzzle. Once you make good friends who speak a foreign language, you’ll be that much more motivated to perfect your skills. Plus, you’ll have someone you enjoy practicing with.
You may not start making friends right away, but in the meantime, there are plenty of great language exchange services that will help you connect with native speakers. For instance, italki allows you to hire native-speaking teachers on a customizable, one-at-a-time basis. This makes the learning process convenient and simple for you, and allows you to practice with a variety of different speakers.
Tandem is an app that will let you chat with native speakers for free. Language exchange apps can be a great way to connect with native speakers of your target language who are learning your language and to make friends in the process.
11. Never give up!
The only surefire way to fail to learn a language is quitting. Everyone who has ever learned a language has likely encountered some problem or setback. The key to success is to continue anyway. Learning a language takes time, but as long as you keep working, you’ll get there!
Follow these steps, and soon, rather than saying “I want to learn languages,” you can proudly proclaim “I’ve learned languages.”
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