10 Great Strategies for Learning a New Language
For most people, learning a new language is not easy. Whether you’re starting from scratch or trying to break through a barrier to a higher level of speaking and comprehension, there will be times when you may just want to give up. Don’t! Learning a new language is a highly rewarding achievement that is well worth the effort. So whatever stage of your language learning that you may be, to help you get past your barriers, here are ten great strategies for learning a new language.
- Commit the time: If you are going to learn a new language, then you must put time into it. Spending an hour and a half in an English class once a week is not enough. Having two 90 minute classes is much better, but it still isn’t enough. You have to commit more of your free time outside of the classroom if you want to improve.
- Be patient: Learning a language takes time. There isn’t a machine like in The Matrix that allows you to simply plug a language directly into your brain, so you have to be patient. Try not to get frustrated and don’t be too hard on yourself as this will only spoil the learning process. Give yourself credit for the progress you have made, stay positive and try to enjoy the fact that you’re learning something new.
- Don’t be afraid of making mistakes: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan. Many people get embarrassed and become demoralised when they try to use a second language and make mistakes. But if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t make anything. Mistakes are a vital part of any learning process. Every time you do something wrong, you’re learning how not to do it; this is still learning.
- Just say it: ‘Practice makes perfect’ is an old adage, and it’s true for almost every skill you want to perfect. Speaking another language is no different. Every time you try to speak in that new language, even if you get it wrong, that’s practice. And the great thing about learning English, because it is such a global language, native speakers are used to hearing people speak in all accents and at all levels, so they’re used to hearing mistakes. So unless someone is being an a**hole, they really won’t mind helping to correct you. Think of it as free tuition.
- Vocabulary, words and phrases: Many people think that mastering complex grammar structures is the most important part of language learning. However, vocabulary is much more important. Each word has a meaning and we express our ideas by connecting these words into sentences. Therefore, having a good range of vocabulary and common phrases is the most important thing for improving your ability to understand and communicate. Grammatical structures are words placed in a specific order, and with practice and exposure your brain will eventually work these out. However, without knowing lots of words, your grammar structures will have little meaning. Not only that, grammar is generally far less enjoyable to learn than the sounds and meanings of great new words.
- Learn to notice and take note: One of the most difficult aspects of learning English is matching the way words are spelt to the way they are spoken. If you want to improve your pronunciation, pay attention and take note of the things you hear. If you want to improve your spelling, take note of peculiarities and points of interest. Whether you’re reading or listening to native speakers communicate, learn to notice details, expressions and commonalities – and take note!
- Do what you like to do: Some people enjoy learning languages, some people don’t. Whichever one of these types of people you are, it is important that when you use your free time to develop your new language skills that you do things you enjoy. This means watching programs and YouTube videos that you like, listening to podcasts that you find interesting, reading material that you find engaging, and doing exercises that you find entertaining. If you expose yourself to things that you enjoy doing, you will be more motivated. If you are motivated, you will be more productive.
- Use the tools: Long gone are the days where the only resources you had to learn a language were your teacher and an exercise book. The internet offers countless resources, all of which can be accessed on that little slab of metal and glass that you have in your pocket – your smartphone. Be smart with your smartphone and use it to help you. Use Google© translate to help you compile a list that you can refer to. Reverso© is another great translation tool which helps you search a word or phrase in context to help you better understand its range of meanings. You can look up a word on the Google© dictionary, then click the little audio icon on the side to hear how it is pronounced. Aside from all these resources, you can also use your phone to take notes, watch language learning videos on YouTube, listen to podcasts and even record your voice to help you practice pronunciation. There has never been a better time to access free resources to help you learn a new language.
- Find YOUR method: Many language schools sell the idea of a magical method for learning a language. This simply isn’t true. We are all different and we all have different ways of learning. The best way for any one of us to learn a language, or anything else, is to find a method that suits us. Whilst you may not be able to change the way your teacher delivers your classes, you have the choice to decide how you study and practice in your free time. So whether you enjoy memorising lists, watching TV, reading books, or having informal language exchanges to practice your speaking, whatever you find that you enjoy and helps you learn, follow that method and make it a regular routine.
- Enjoy: Learning doesn’t have to be painful. Whilst learning a language can be frustrating, it is very rewarding when you succeed. So try to enjoy the learning journey. Find a method that you enjoy, be patient and be kind to yourself, and you will eventually find that you can speak English, or French, or Russian, or Chinese – any language that you want.