5 Questions About Language Learning You Should Seriously Consider
When you’re learning a language, you have a ton of options.
You might choose between the easiest languages to learn or the ones that are most likely to score you a language-related job.
In any case, you want to make sure you choose the right language for you, select the right approach that’ll help you enjoy your studies and save you time during 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.
- 1. Why do I want to learn a language?
- 2. What language do I want to learn?
- 3. How quickly do I want to learn the language?
- 4. How much time am I prepared to commit?
- 5. What learning method is best for me?
- And One More Thing...
1. Why do I want to learn a language?
One of the most important questions about language learning you should ask relates to your motivation.
The reason you want to learn a language can make the difference between loving a language for the rest of your life, or quitting after you learn just a couple of phrases.
Some reasons you might want to learn a language include:
- International travel. If you want to learn a language to take a vacation along the Mediterranean coast, Italian or Greek would fit the bill much better than Chinese.
- Career development. Similarly, if you want to learn a language to increase your employability, widely spoken languages like Chinese will serve your purposes much better than less common ones like Basque.
- Your school’s language education requirements. If you’re studying in a foreign country, you may be required to have a certain proficiency level for the local language, which you can prove by taking and passing one of many language proficiency tests.
- Expanding your knowledge of the world. Sometimes, you just want to learn a language for its own sake, and that’s totally fine!
2. What language do I want to learn?
After accounting for your motivation, you next step is to choose the language you want to learn.
Specifically, what do you want to do with the language you’re learning?
- If you’re looking to learn a language to increase your employability, look at job ads related to the sorts of positions you’re interested in. What language skills do you need for them?
- If you’re looking to learn a language for travel, the choice might be a little easier. Just think about what cultures intrigue you and what places you’d like to visit. Then, research what languages are most commonly used in that area.
3. How quickly do I want to learn the language?
Setting your language learning timeline is important, since it can affect the way you study and how much time you can commit to it on a daily basis.
Some factors you should consider are:
- The amount of time you can set aside. For example, if you want to learn a language in six months (whether for an upcoming trip or the satisfaction of a need to learn something new), you’ll need a greater daily time commitment and immersive study. If you have a longer time frame (like at least a year), you can also learn a language by studying it for just a few minutes a day.
- The relative difficulty level of the language. 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.
There’s no one-size-fits-all timeframe, but you can set objectives that are easy enough to motivate you to study and difficult enough to challenge you at the same time. For example, you can aim to learn common phrases in the first month and become conversational within three to six months.
Earlier, I mentioned that you can engage in immersive study. One way you can do that is through a language learning platform like FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
4. How much time am I prepared to commit?
Now that you have a specific deadline for when you want to learn a language, your next question is: how much time do you want to spend on language learning between now and your deadline?
If you can only study for 15 minutes a day, you’ll won’t learn your target language as quickly as someone who devotes at least four hours or so a day.
Of course, you want to find a suitable compromise between your target deadline and how much you can realistically spend on language studies a day. If you want to achieve near-native fluency in a language in six months but your schedule is booked to the gills, you may want to adjust your expectations or deadline.
How much time you’re prepared to commit is also essential to your choice of language learning method, since they’re designed to work for different study timeframes.
5. What learning method is best for me?
Speaking of learning methods, here are some of the choices you can try.
- Immersion. This means listening to, reading and speaking your target langauge as much as possible. It usually involves a greater time commitment, but it can also help you learn a language more quickly. Immersion works particularly well if you live in an area that speaks your target language.
- Language courses. These often involve 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, since you often have to devote a certain amount of time each week to them.
- Apps. These programs usually focus on teaching you a language using interactive, multimedia elements. They also offer a more flexible time commitment (e.g., some are designed to be used for just a few minutes a day). On the other hand, you can’t always vouch for their reliability, since that’s heavily dependent on the app developers.
- Audio programs. These work best for regular commuters, since you can cram some learning into time that would otherwise be wasted. On the other hand, this isn’t the best option if you have a hearing impairment or don’t learn well using audio.
- Textbooks. Since these are often written by experts, you can usually count on them to be reliable (though not necessarily updated). Whenever you need info on how conjugation works or what possible meanings a word could have, textbooks are a great choice.
When choosing your learning method, it’s important to find one that you enjoy. After all, if you hate cracking a textbook open, you won’t study as often or as effectively as you otherwise would. The only way to determine what methods you like is to experiment with them. Then, feel free to mix and match your favorites to maximize your learning.
Before you get too deep into your studies, consider these questions about language learning. They just might give you the answers you’re looking for.
And One More Thing...
If you dig the idea of learning on your own time from the comfort of your smart device with real-life authentic language content, you'll love using FluentU.
With FluentU, you'll learn real languages—as they're spoken by native speakers. FluentU has a wide variety of videos as you can see here:
FluentU has interactive captions that let you tap on any word to see an image, definition, audio and useful examples. Now native language content is within reach with interactive transcripts.
Didn't catch something? Go back and listen again. Missed a word? Hover your mouse over the subtitles to instantly view definitions.
You can learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU's "learn mode." Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
And FluentU always keeps track of vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You get a truly personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store.