The Best Way To Learn A Language: Top Tips and Easy Steps
It can be daunting starting to learn a new language, but overcoming your fear of speaking a foreign language will help you in all walks of life.
We’ve rounded up some of the best ways to learn a language – follow them collectively and you’ll strike gold!
Break down your goals.
Learning a new language means learning lots of lovely new words. And learning all this new vocabulary is no small endeavour.
Take English as an example.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary details just under half a million words – 470,000 to be exact. That is a lot of words to learn – if you want to know them all.
But, here’s the thing. Language doesn’t use the vast majority of its words. The vast majority of these words sit on shelves in dusty storerooms and wait until the one day they are required for a conference speech, technical paper or spelling bee!
In English, 65% of written material is composed of a mere 300 words. So, you can ignore 99.9% of all the words in English and still understand well over half of what is written down.
It’s important to keep your end goal in mind. Whether you want to learn the language for work, for travel, or to communicate with friends or family members, you should organise your learning into sections relevant to your end goal and tackle one bit at a time.
Little and often.
The best way to learn a language is to employ a technique called “spaced repetition”. You’re far more likely to absorb vocabulary properly if you practice little and often.
Say you have a block of vocab to learn. After reciting it and testing yourself with flashcards five times in one day, you may feel like you’ve finally embedded it in your brain. But a couple of days later, most of it has probably sifted out of your mind.
With the “spaced repetition” technique, it is way more effective to space out your learning by tackling the same block of vocab once a day for five days in a row.
This is based on the notion of the “forgetting curve”, which shows how we forget things over short periods of time if they are not properly reinforced. Creating a language study plan will help keep you on track!
Process, don’t memorise.
Just as you’ll forget things easily if you try to cram too much information at once, if you simply try to memorise the vocabulary rather than process it, you won’t retain it.
Learning a new language is always more effective when your brain can make connections that make it easier for you to retain information. Humans learn things through associations and memories, so if you can contextualise your learning, you’ll become proficient in your chosen language far quicker than trying to memorise screeds of vocab tables!
You can use all sorts of things as learning tools. Tune into foreign radio stations or podcasts. Watch some great foreign language films and tv shows with the subtitles on. Read foreign news articles. Listen and sing along to foreign songs. Even try making your favourite recipes by following the recipe in your target language!
These will help you immerse yourself in the language, making it much easier to recall information when you practice the language.
Nail your pronunciation
Some people make the critical mistake of pushing proper pronunciation to the backs of their minds when learning languages. “If they can basically understand what I mean, then it’s fine,” you might shrug to yourself as you struggle to roll that Spanish R properly.
No! The best way to learn a language is to focus on your pronunciation as best you can. You don’t need a perfect accent but it’ll do you a world of good in real-life situations – your conversations will run smoother and be more effective with different groups of people. Not everybody will be able to decipher what you meant to say, so it’s better to actually work out how to say what you mean to say!
Pronunciation can be tricky to work on. You might have difficulty even picking out different sounds. You can use sound clips on Youtube to help you compare similar sounding words in your target language and test yourself to see if you can identify which is the correct one. After some practice, you’ll be able to pick out the differences more easily.
Some words use different mouth positions than what you would use in your native language. You can train your mouth muscles to pronounce these words just as easily as you would words in your own language. Again, Youtube is a fantastic resource where you can find many guided pronunciation videos to help you work out where your tongue, teeth, and lips should be to make the right sounds!
Recruit a friend.
Learning a second language (or third, fourth, fifth…) is much easier with the help of a language partner! Google translate can only help you so much, so if you can recruit a friend you already have (or make a new friend!) who speaks your target language, your language skills can improve dramatically in a short space of time.
Whether you Skype, chat on the phone, or meet up in real life, having this support will do wonders. You can practice conversational language or ask them for assistance with certain phrases or grammar rules.
Adding this social element into your learning process will help keep you accountable for your learning and will give you real-life assistance that you can’t pick up in a grammar book or from online courses.
There are tons of language learning tools you can use. Duolingo, Babbel, Memrise, and Rosetta Stone are some of the best apps and programmes you can use if you’re learning a language for the first time.
These add an element of gamification to the learning process which will liven up the experience and keep you motivated to practice every day!
Different apps cover different languages so whether you’re trying to learn Russian, Arabic, Korean, Mandarin, or Italian, check which apps have the best recommendations for your chosen language.
Learning a new language is a wonderful thing. You can learn more about and appreciate other cultures better. More job opportunities will open themselves up to you. You can make new friends from far flung places.
But you don’t get all of this without a little bit of hard work! Following these tips together is the best way to learn a language.
If you are in need of professional interpretation or translation services while you brush up on your language skills, Global Language Services offer help for companies in a number of industries and specialise in many different languages. Get in touch to see how Global Language Services could help you.