Thinking Time: 5 Questions New Language Learners Should Consider
Asking questions is essential in daily life.
You ask questions in school to learn more about a subject.
You ask questions at restaurants to decide what you want to order.
You ask questions at parties to distract people as you dump all the snacks into your bag.
So if you’re asking questions everywhere else, why would you ask questions before you learn a new language?
When learning a language, there are just so many options. For instance, when selecting a second language you might choose between easy second languages for English speakers or you might consider what language will help you score a language-related job. When you select your learning method, you might try to find ways to speed up the learning process.
But how do you decide what to learn and how to learn it? Ask yourself these five simple questions to point your education in the right direction!
Why Plan Ahead Before You Learn a New Language?
One of the main reasons to plan ahead before you learn a new language is to ensure you select the right language. Choosing a language that won’t help you achieve your goals could take valuable time away from studying a language that would better suit you. While learning any language is valuable, learning the right one is invaluable. Common languages are particularly popular, but not every language is right for every person.
Plus, planning ahead will help ensure you select the right approach. The right approach can make a difference between you enjoying your language study and suffering through it, so it’s essential to choose the right approach for you.
Finally, planning ahead will help you save time during the learning process. Otherwise, you might need to pause to consider what you need to do next in your language study, or you might lose motivation altogether and quit.
5 Key Questions to Consider Before You Learn a New Language
1. Why do I want to learn a language?
It may seem like a simple question, but it’s important to consider your own motivation.
Motivation is an important factor in language learning because it can be the difference between learning and loving a language for the rest of your life, or quitting after you learn just a couple phrases.
There are several factors that might motivate you. For instance, you might be interested in learning a language for international travel, career development or just expanding your knowledge of the world. Another motivator might be your school’s language education requirements. However, if your main motivation for learning a language is that it’s required, finding a motivation deeper within yourself will better propel you towards success.
Considering your motivation is also important for language selection. After all, if you want to learn a language to vacation along the Mediterranean coast, Chinese definitely won’t fit the bill. Similarly, if you want to learn a language in order to increase your employability, widely spoken languages like Chinese will serve your purposes much better than less common languages like Basque.
2. What language do I want to learn?
Once you’ve considered why you want to learn a language, you’re ready to consider what language you want to learn.
When considering this life-changing question, it’s important to take your motivating factors into account. What do you want to do with the language you’re learning?
If you’re looking to learn a language to increase your employability, one of the best ways to answer this question is to look at job ads related to the sorts of positions you’re interested in. What language skills are necessary?
If you’re looking to learn a language for travel, selecting a language is a little easier. Simply think about what cultures intrigue you and what places you’d most like to visit. Then, research what languages are most commonly spoken in that area.
3. How quickly do I want to learn the language?
Setting your timeline is important since it can influence your methods and daily time commitment.
People learn languages at a wide variety of speeds. Some people want to learn a language quickly, whether it be for an upcoming trip or just instant gratification. Learning a language quickly usually requires a greater daily time commitment and immersive study. Immersive study involves immersing yourself in the language by using it often. If you have a longer time frame, though, you can also learn a language by studying it for just a few minutes a day.
It’s also important to note that some languages are harder for English speakers to learn and usually require a longer time commitment to master. For instance, you can probably learn Spanish much faster than Arabic, so this is important to take into account when setting your timeline.
Setting ambitious goals for your speed will help keep you pushing forward, but setting your goals too high can make you feel like a constant failure. So always try to set moderately ambitious objectives, like learning common phrases in the first month and becoming conversational in the first three to six months.
4. How much time am I prepared to commit?
The question of how much time you are prepared to commit is inextricably linked to how quickly you want to learn a language.
Obviously, if you can only study for a couple minutes a day, you’ll not learn a language as quickly as if you were fully immersed in a language.
Because of the link between speed and time commitment, you might also find that your answers to these two questions are incongruous and you must find a compromise. If you answer that you want to learn a language quickly but are only prepared to spend two minutes a day, it’s time to prioritize your speed goals or time commitment. Which is the most important to you?
Considering how much time you’re prepared to commit is also valuable in selecting your learning method, since some are designed for very brief or more extensive study periods.
5. What learning method is best for me?
Building on all your answers up to this point, it’s time to consider what learning method is best for you.
There are a wide variety of methods available to learn a language.
Immersion is a common option that involves immersing yourself in the language by hearing, reading and speaking it as much as possible. This usually involves a greater daily commitment, but it can also help you learn a language more quickly. Immersion works particularly well if you can spend some time living in an area that speaks your target language.
Another option is language courses. These often involve a set time commitment each week, homework assignments, quizzes and all the other fun stuff you’d expect from courses. They’ll teach you the foundations upon which a language is built, but they can also be less flexible.
Other options include apps and software. These programs usually focus on teaching you a language with interactive, multimedia elements. They also offer a flexible time commitment—some are designed to be used for just a few minutes a day.
Audio programs are a strong option for commuters since you can cram some learning into time that would otherwise be wasted.
Textbooks are also a popular learning method since they offer clear explanations of a language’s rules. For anyone who likes to have a firm grasp on how each conjugation works or what possible meanings a given word could have, textbooks are a strong companion.
When selecting your learning method, it’s also important to find something you enjoy doing. After all, if you hate cracking a textbook, chances are you won’t study as often using this last method as you otherwise would. The only way to determine what methods you like is to try a few out. Then, feel free to mix and match your favorites to maximize your learning!
Before you dive into learning a new language, consider these questions. They just might give you the answers you’re looking for.