7 Tried and True Language Learning Techniques for Any Skill Level
Curse words are often the first things people learn in a foreign language.
That’s because they get the most mileage—especially when you’re frustrated tackling beginner lessons.
Learning a new language is one of the hardest things you can do.
There, we said it.
If you’ve ever found yourself using the handful of frustrated curse words you’ve learned in your target language while practicing or during a lesson, you’re not alone.
Beginners aren’t the only ones struggling. There’s a learning curve no matter what level you’re at.
But you can do this. So many other people have learned successfully. How?
The answer is simple: Keep going. No matter what, don’t give up.
Okay, it may not be quite that simple—you’re going to need some great techniques for learning too. If you find yourself bored, unchallenged, uninspired or totally stagnant with your current learning techniques (or if you haven’t settled on any one technique yet) then this post will be just what you need.
We’re going to introduce you to a variety of learning techniques that can help you stay in the game. You’ll be exposed to different ways of looking at your target language and approaches to learning. The purpose of this is to keep things interesting and keep your options wide open.
Most people find success by combining different techniques. Try one or all of these and see what works for you!
7 Tried and True Language Learning Techniques for Any Skill Level
1. Find a Program and Stick with It
For those who need order and organization in their lives, a full-service language program that guides you step-by-step may be just what the doctor ordered.
Usually, these come complete with a textbook, written exercises and audio listening components for a well-rounded learning experience. Some programs may include interactive exercises and visual cues. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of options for language learning books, audio CDs, and computer programs. There’s sure to be one out there for you!
One of the best places to find your language program is your local public library. Search the 400s section using the Dewey Decimal System to locate the language books of your choice. Then browse away!
Sometimes libraries house their CD collections in a separate location. Also, they may have subscriptions to computerized learning programs—so ask your librarian! If you’re interested in buying one of the resources from a bookstore, you can always check it out from the library first to see if you like it.
Amazon and Google Books are additional resources for finding a language learning program that fits your needs. Search for your language along with keywords like “learn,” “learning” or your proficiency level (beginner, intermediate, advanced). The advantage of searching Amazon and Google Books is that they let you preview a book before deciding to buy it!
Once you find a program that you like, stick with it or you won’t get the most out of it. Especially in your most frustrated moments, you need a consistent method to allow the natural learning process to take over. Switching back and forth between different programs may deter your progress, since they don’t go at the same pace or follow the same patterns.
Need some ideas for language learning programs? Check out our recommendations here.
2. Label Your Stuff in the Language
When you can’t travel abroad to a country that speaks your target language, the next best thing is to pretend you’re there. In Spain, it’s not a pencil, it’s un lápiz. In France, it’s not bread, it’s pain. Thinking of everyday objects around you in the foreign language and putting labels on them by name will make you start to think more consistently in the language.
As much as possible, put Post-it notes or sticky labels on items around you to help you learn their names in your target language. You can even buy yourself a pre-made Vocabulary Stickers set, which gives you fun, color-coded labels for the most common items in your home and office.
When you can’t label things—like when you’re in public—try to think of the word in the language. If you don’t know it, jot down a note and look it up later! Be curious about the world around you and how it would be talked about if you were in another country.
Looking for new words to learn? Try using books as outlined here.
3. Use Flashcards Consistently
A tried-and-true method dating all the way back to grade school, flashcards are a proven way to memorize learning material. But how quickly did you forget that information in school after you took the test?
When you’re learning a language, you want to learn it for life. Flashcards can get vocabulary to stick, but only if you keep using them consistently. The best way to remember words and phrases is to be exposed to them frequently. Keep your memory sharp by using flashcards every day—even if just for 5 minutes.
We’re more likely to remember things when they’re grouped with similar concepts. Rotate your flashcards in logical themes, such as objects in the kitchen, verbs related to sports, and vocabulary for the workplace. Introduce new vocabulary on a regular basis—but if you find yourself forgetting words you thought you knew, you might want to go back and revisit them. Making flashcards is easy—there are even websites like Brain Grinder that will generate printable flashcards for you!
Looking for something that goes a few steps farther than flashcards? FluentU brings flashcards to life.
FluentU takes authentic videos videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
4. Read the News in the Language
Regardless of your proficiency level, reading the news in a foreign language is a great way to keep up with the language—and stay connected to current events! Even as a beginner, you can parse out the meaning of short news articles to learn new vocabulary and exercise your reading comprehension. Regular reading in the language exposes you to a variety of words and grammatical structures, many of which you might not encounter in your regular language studies.
You can find an online newspaper from just about any country online. For example, a quick Google search for “newspapers in China” brings up Asia Today, Beijing Daily and Chinese Daily. The website Online Newspapers provides comprehensive lists of newspapers around the world. When browsing headlines, look for simple topics like news about celebrities or local crime events.
A bonus to this technique is that you’ll learn a lot about the culture and people that speak the language you’re learning. As you continue to read more, challenge yourself to try more difficult texts. You may be surprised how quickly you’ve advanced using this technique!
5. Find a Conversation Partner
Of all the ideas about how to best learn a language, there’s one that can’t be denied: Practice is the best way to improve. Though helpful, you can only get so far with responding to audio CD prompts. Short of having conversations with yourself, why not find someone you can speak with?
Joining a Meetup group can hook you up with other people learning the language. You’ll likely meet individuals who are farther along than you that can bring you up to step, but you’ll also meet those who aren’t as skilled in the language. Teaching them some new words and phrases can help reinforce what you’ve already learned.
A language exchange partner can give you some one-on-one time and lends an opportunity to make a friend. In a language exchange, you’ll meet with someone who speaks the language you’re trying to learn and, instead of paying them, you’ll spend some time tutoring or conversing with them in a language you know. For many people in the U.S., that tends to be English, but it could be any language. Finding a group or individual you can regularly speak with in the language is priceless on your journey to fluency.
6. Think Like a Kid
Adults always comment on how children seem to absorb information “like sponges”—especially when it comes to language. Past a certain age, learning new things appears to be more of a challenge. However, there’s actually no scientific proof of the link between age and learning ability. Instead, it might be a case of mind over matter.
As we age, we form certain thought patterns that connect the circuitry of our brain. In short, we become rigid in our thinking. We’ve also developed a distaste for the all-too-familiar experience of failure. These elements of adulthood can be blocks in the process of learning something new. As kids, we don’t have these patterns established, and our minds are more open. Children are less judgmental and more willing to try new things and make mistakes. They also have less prior knowledge of language, so preconceptions of how language should work don’t get in the way.
Try to think like a kid when it comes to learning your language. Keep an open mind, and actively break down your own notions of how language “should” be structured based on what you already know. Don’t judge yourself, and don’t be afraid to use the language you’re learning—even if you do make mistakes. You’ll never become fluent if you don’t let yourself try.
7. Set Goals for Yourself
You wanted to learn a new language for a reason. Maybe you’re traveling abroad for business or pleasure, or perhaps you’ve started a new relationship with someone from another country. Whatever the reason, you can use it to keep yourself motivated. Regularly remind yourself why you decided to learn the language in the first place. Keeping the end goal in sight will help you stay on course.
To get there, set well-planned goals and deadlines for reaching them. For example, if you’re going to the zoo on your vacation, you might want to learn 10 words about animals by the end of the week. By picking goals that make sense for your end result, your overall plan makes more sense as the pieces fit together. The logical progression will give you a sense of accomplishment. Simply write them down, or use an online goal-setting application. Track your progress, and don’t forget to reward yourself!
As you can see, there are a lot of different approaches to learning a language. Beginner or advanced, you can start using any of these methods any time!
You don’t have to do everything at once—only when it makes sense for you to do so. If you want to mix things up one day, or see if something new will make you a better speaker, try one of these options to get a new perspective.