You deserve the best.
The height of luxury and decadence.
All your meals should be prepared by Michelin-starred chefs.
All your clothes should be made from silk and unicorn hair.
All your lattes should be trenta.
Okay, maybe you can’t always have the best. I mean, trenta isn’t even available for hot beverages.
But just because some businesses can’t evolve to meet the world’s growing caffeine dependency doesn’t mean you can’t have the best in some areas of your life.
Case in point: You can totally learn a language the best way.
However, a caveat: There is no one best way to learn a language. That varies between learners.
So how do you decide which method is best for you? And what are the main contenders?
What Factors Influence the Best Way to Learn a Language for You?
One major component to consider is time. Some learners want to learn a language quickly. Others take their time and spread it out over several years. You might be prepared to spend several hours a day studying, but only have a few minutes to spare. When selecting what method is best for you to learn a language, this is an important factor to take into consideration. For instance, an immersion program isn’t suitable for someone who only has a couple minutes a day.
You’ll also need to consider budget. There are language learning methods that are completely free, while others can cost thousands of dollars. What budget you have available can play a big role in what methods are feasible and work best for you.
Another important factor is personal preference. What you like matters. After all, you’re more likely to keep studying if you enjoy the process. Because of this, some learners may prefer “fun” ways to learn a language while others may actually feel better about a more conventional approach.
The final component to consider is personal learning style. Look back over your previous educational experiences. What material did you learn most easily, and how was it presented? If you can replicate your best learning experience, you might have an easier time learning a language. For instance, some learners can get a lot out of reading a textbook or taking a class. Others learn better through hands-on experience. All of this can shape what method of language learning will work best for you.
The 7 Best Ways to Learn a Foreign Language: What Are They?
Through Regular Use as a Child
Okay. We’ll acknowledge that if you’re reading this article, this might not be a feasible option for you anymore. And if it is, well, good for you—you’ve earned that juice box and those animal crackers.
However, it’s still worthwhile for adult learners to be aware of the fact that learning a foreign language as a child is one of the most ideal ways to go about it. After all, children are language learning machines. They can absorb second and even third languages in the natural, easy way they learned their first language.
One study suggests that even babies can learn phonetically from live interaction with someone speaking a foreign language. Another study suggests that studying a foreign language in elementary school can improve a child’s cognitive abilities and actually better their performance in other disciplines, including math and reading. Jealous much?
So why should you know about this if you can’t learn as tantalizingly easily as a child? It’s simple. If you already have children or see children in your future, keeping this information in mind can motivate you to keep studying your target language so that you can raise your child bilingual. Who wouldn’t want to give their kid such a major life advantage?
But even beyond that, resources for children are still usable by older learners. There are tons of online language learning resources for kids, and many of them are cute and fun. You don’t have to be a kid to learn from them. So even if you can’t learn as a child, you have nothing to lose by taking a shot at learning like one. Below are a couple ways you can do that.
Dino Lingo is a subscription service that offers countless learning activities for over 50 languages, so if you’re a beginning language student, you can probably find some great material to help you hone your skills. The site offers lessons, songs, videos, stories and so much more. The focus is predominantly on the 200 most common words and phrases, giving you functional, highly usable vocabulary.
Little Pim may be designed for children under six, but since it uses repetition to teach vocabulary, anyone can learn from it. You can purchase “volumes” of learning materials, which consist of videos, parent guides, pronunciation guides and more, for 12 different languages. To get the most out of this as an adult, be sure to refer to the parent guides to do the activities yourself.
Consuming Authentic Media
Another great way for anyone to learn a language is by consuming authentic media, like movies, TV and music.
This is a popular method for several reasons. First of all, it’s fun. You can easily convert your entertainment time into learning time. Beyond that, though, there are many educational benefits to learning with authentic media.
For example, you’re exposing yourself to native speech, which can improve your accent and make it easier for you to understand authentic speech. In fact, some research has indicated that students must experience their target language being used by native speakers in order to learn to communicate effectively, and authentic media can meet this need.
So if you’re looking for a fun way to prepare yourself to understand native-level speech, consuming authentic media is a strong learning option.
To get the most out of using authentic media for learning a language, try FluentU.
FluentU’s Quiz Mode provides a new take on authentic media. It fuses videos, images and example sentences into activities and flashcards for an engaging and unique learning experience.
Regardless of your current level, FluentU can help you improve your skills. You choose what you watch and how often. Meanwhile, FluentU uses personalized tracking and spaced repetition (see below) to build on what you already know.
Finally, a good excuse for a Netflix binge! Netflix offers tons of foreign language TV shows and movies that can be great learning tools for language students. Since they’re intended for native audiences, they use authentic language. But since they’re meant to entertain native speakers, they’re also super fun to watch.
You can find great material in any major language. For instance, Spanish students can enjoy countless hours of binge-able learning with “El Internado” (“The Boarding School”). French students might love a tense detective drama, like “Les Témoins” (“Witnesses”). To find programming in your target language, simply search the name of your target language and “TV” or “movies.”
Best of all, any program on Netflix at least offers English-language subtitling, so if you’re not fully proficient yet, you can use this to help you along. Some programs in foreign languages also offer subtitling in that language, which is a helpful way to more clearly understand individual words.
If you have a chunk of time you can devote entirely to language learning, an immersion program is ideal.
Adult immersion programs usually work like retreats. You enter a special program for a set length of time ranging from a weekend to a few weeks. During that time, you only use your target language. You take classes in your target language. You interact with other students in your target language. You’re even required to dream in your target language. Okay, no one can regulate your dreams (this isn’t some dystopian thriller), but you’ll be using your target language so much that you’ll probably do it whether you want to or not.
Immersion programs can be expensive and require a period of time set aside just for them, which can turn some students away. However, they also offer some unbeatable benefits. One study indicated that students in an immersion program progressed more quickly in oral communication than classroom students and even study abroad students. So if you want to really jump-start your journey to fluency, immersion programs are a great choice.
Concordia Language Villages
Concordia Language Villages is a Minnesota-based program that offers a nice array of immersion options.
For young people, there are summer immersive programs for 15 different languages.
While offerings for adults are more limited, there are still some great options. Adult learners can select from nine language offerings, including Chinese, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish. Programs usually last between two days and a week. The programs combine a focus on using the language and cultural activities. In addition to language lessons, participants enjoy authentic meals from countries where the target language is widely spoken, songs in the target language and cultural presentations.
If you’d rather enjoy your immersion program in an exotic locale, EF is a good option. EF offers immersion programs (each between two weeks and several months) for some of the most common languages in popular destinations around the world.
For instance, you can study Spanish in fun destinations like Barcelona, Madrid and Costa Rica. Korean students can enjoy the hustle and bustle of Seoul. German students can choose between Munich and Berlin.
Intensive courses offer 32 40-minute lessons each week. These programs are flexible, allowing for beginning through advanced students. You can also decide your length of stay.
One unique feature of EF is that you can generally choose between living in a student residence or doing a home stay. The student residence experience can help you connect with other students from around the world, while the home stay offers a more immersive experience with local culture and daily life.
No one can deny the appeal of studying abroad while in college. It’s an adventure unlike any other. You get to improve your language skills while exploring another culture.
Studying abroad can be a fun and engaging way to improve your language skills through daily interactions with native speakers. Plus, being abroad provides extra motivation. After all, you need those skills to communicate!
The same study referenced above also suggested that students who study abroad may experience more gains in fluidity than students who study in a classroom. The study also notes, however, that students in an immersion program clocked more hours actually using the language than study abroad students and therefore made greater gains, so if you study abroad and want to get the most out of it, try to use your target language even when you’re not out on the town.
IES Abroad is a study abroad provider that offers tons of programs all over the world. Whether you’re looking for a study program or want to test out your language skills in an internship, IES Abroad can help you find the right opportunity.
Do note that not all study abroad programs focus on language, so pay careful attention to select programs that will help benefit your language skills more directly. You might consider only browsing language offerings. However, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to study popular languages like French, Japanese, Spanish and more.
CIEE is another provider of college study abroad programs. With over three dozen country options, you’ll have a lot to choose from.
The CIEE website even allows you to search by language of instruction, making it easy to find the right program for you.
Plus, CIEE also offers the unique CIEE Open Campus program in which you actually design your own study abroad by selecting up to three destinations. While most of the language offerings for this program are beginning-level, it’s still a fun introduction to a language.
Programs may offer home stays, residence halls and even private apartments.
Interacting with Native Speakers Regularly
Whether you’re interacting with native speakers abroad, through language exchange or around you, regular interaction using your target language can massively increase your skills.
The more you interact with native speakers, the more comfortable you’ll get with the language. Plus, you’ll naturally acquire more and more vocabulary in order to meet your communication needs. While research indicates that native speakers will likely simplify and modify their speaking patterns when communicating with non-native speakers, it can also be assumed that you might modify your speaking in a target language in order to communicate more fully with native speakers.
MyLanguageExchange.com is like a matchmaking service to find a language exchange partner.
If you don’t know a native speaker and/or don’t have much opportunity to converse in your target language, MyLanguageExchange.com can help you connect with one. Once you find your match, you can communicate through writing, texting, voice chat or even in-person exchange depending on you and your partner’s needs, goals and personal preferences.
To get the most out of MyLanguageExchange.com, be sure to take the time to read user profiles to find a compatible exchange partner. After all, you’re much more likely to keep conversing with someone if you really click.
Whether you want a language exchange partner or would prefer a native tutor, italki can help connect you with some awesome native-level speaking practice.
While italki’s main focus is on providing one-on-one tutoring, it also offers a service to help you connect with a native speaker for language exchange. You might prefer one-on-one tutoring if you would benefit from professional help, guidance or just don’t have the time to help someone practice your language.
Spaced repetition is a system of learning in which material is presented at specific intervals designed to improve learning efficiency. Because it’s designed to help learners memorize information, it’s ideal for learning new vocabulary.
This article notes the abundance of research showing the effectiveness of spaced repetition. And over time, more and more language learning programs have adopted this approach to improve the efficiency with which learners acquire new information.
For language learners, it’s best to pair spaced repetition with other learning methods in order to ensure a well-rounded education.
Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning options that uses spaced repetition. Through a variety of quizzes, you’ll see vocabulary words over and over again in different contexts, which can help you build your vocabulary and your confidence.
AnkiApp is a a flexible flashcard app that uses spaced repetition.
Not only are there existing flashcards for language learners, you can also make your own flashcards and AnkiApp will take care of providing you with the spaced repetition you need for efficient learning.
This is ideal for language learners looking to learn vocabulary sets that may be hard to memorize with other tools. For instance, if you work in insurance and need to learn industry-related French terms, you can make your own flashcard set.
Whether you take in-person language courses or online language courses, formal courses definitely have their place in language learning.
One study suggests that most research supports language instruction being beneficial to both children and adults ranging from a beginning to advanced level.
If you’ve ever taken a language course, you likely already know the benefits. First of all, they offer the benefit of being developed to be well-rounded and to balance your skill set. Plus, they offer a clear learning order that builds on previous learning.
For maximum effect, you might try pairing a language course with another method to maximize your learning. For instance, a lot of students benefit from learning through a course and then giving their skills a workout by interacting with native speakers.
This website offers a number of free or affordable language courses through real universities.
For instance, “Tsinghua Chinese,” offered through Tsinghua University, is a self-paced introductory Chinese course that you can take for free. Want a certificate to mark your accomplishment? This is available for $49.
Language courses offered include Chinese, English, French, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and more. Plus, edX also offers some courses in languages other than English, which is a great opportunity for advanced students to use their language skills in context.
Alison offers over 1,000 hours of free online language instruction. That’s a hard offer to decline!
Courses cover common languages, like Chinese, English, French and Spanish. However, there are also some less common offerings, like Irish.
So go ahead and select the best learning method for you.
You’re worth it!
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