How to learn a foreign language: Tips and advice for language learning

How to learn and improve a foreign language

If you are someone who has tried learning a foreign language, you will probably know firsthand how difficult, daunting and frustrating it can be.  Most of us have had the opportunity to study in a foreign language in high school and in college, but not many have managed to learn it well enough to be considered fluent.  The United States is still considered largely monolingual; yet, I think the majority of us would like to learn a foreign language whether it is for personal enjoyment or for more employment opportunities.

I am lucky to have been born to a mixed marriage and was raised to be bilingual (English and Thai) from the start.  I believe, and many studies have shown to be true, that having been brought up speaking two languages has made my acquisition of a third language (Japanese) far easier than someone who is a monolingual trying to learn a second language.  This is not to say that I have not had my fair share of struggles and frustrations because I have.  As a matter of fact, I still struggle with my third language on a daily basis, and I have been living here in Japan for, oh, 11 years or so.  However, over the years of struggling to be a trilingual as well as having been an ESL teacher, I have a few tips on how to make learning a foreign language easier.

Some tips

1. Immerse yourself in the language

This is the single best thing you can do, which is what I did.  I got myself a job and moved to the country where that language is spoken (Japan).  If you are a native English speaker and just starting out in your career, the most obvious and easiest job you can find, as long as you have a college degree, is an English teaching job.  The salary is generally relatively good compared to other entry jobs in the destination country.  For me, my Japanese improved by leaps and bounds within my very first year in Japan (granted, I had already had 2 years of Japanese in college and as I have mentioned, languages come easy for me). 

If you are still in college or even in high school, there are many homestay opportunities available.  An extended stay with a family will allow you to experience the culture and language and will be an invaluable experience of a lifetime for you.

2. Make friends with a native speaker of the language you are trying to learn and/or find a language exchange partner.

This suggestion probably works better in a college setting where there is a presence of students of all nationalities and languages.  Most international students are probably struggling with English themselves.  They might be feeling homesick and/or having problems trying to fit in, so if you befriend them, I think they will be very generous with their help.

 

3. Utilize the media (TV programs, movies with subtitles, music, books, etc.) 

Personally, I believe that reading books in the foreign language is the best way to passively learn the new language.  Start with easy books.  Children's books (or in the case of Japanese, easy manga or comics works wonders) are great because the text is simple and words and sentence structure are repetitive.  You learn grammar and spelling this way.  TV programs and movies are also wonderful tools for listening practice (at native level speed and pronunciation) and they usually are highly entertaining and provide you with a glimpse of the culture.

 

4. Connect and associate new words in the foreign language with words you already know.  I think this comes more readily to people who already know two languages and working on a third because you basically have more to work with.  Does the word in the foreign language sound like another word with similar meaning or has a close association in your native language?  For example, the word "douro" in Japanese means "road" in English.  If you say "road" backwards with an extra "o" at the end, it sounds like the Japanese word.  It doesn't have to be just the sound.  Another example is the Vietnamese word for "water", which is "nuek".  "Nuek" actually sounds like the word "to think" in Thai.  So, to remember the word, I imagined that thinking (Thai word) clearly is like cool, clear water (Vietnamese word).

5. Make mental image of words. 

In this case, action words (mainly verbs) are much easier to mentalize (sorry, I just invented that word, I think).  You can also try to act out the new word as you say the word out loud.  This is based on the Total Body Learning children use when they sing and act out songs like "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes".  Adults can do it, too!

 

6. Talk to yourself in that language. 

Count things in the foreign language (numbers are surprisingly extremely hard to remember).  Make simple sentences in the foreign language based on a grammar point to reinforce it.  I think it works better if you say it out loud so you can actually hear what you are saying, too.

 

7. Ask, ask, ask. 

Do not be shy.  Do not pretend to understand something when you don't.  When you do not know what something means, ask someone who knows or consult a dictionary right away.  Never be afraid of making mistakes.  People are generally very happy to help, especially when they know that you are making an effort to learn their language.  In some countries (like Japan and Thailand), people will probably laugh at your mistake (NOT at YOU), but it is genuinely good-hearted.  Actually, making mistakes are considered "cute" in Japan.  As a matter of fact, I noticed that, at least with me, the more mistakes you make, the faster you learn!

Trust me.  If you make an effort using the above tips, you can learn to speak a foreign language fluently, too!

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Comments 41 comments

Sab Oh profile image

Sab Oh 6 years ago

Good hub! As a loooong time teacher I can vouch for the good advice you offer here.


Anolinde profile image

Anolinde 6 years ago Author

Thanks, Sab :) I'm sure there's more I'm missing though ..


skyfire profile image

skyfire 6 years ago

I learned Japanese with help of anime/friends and university diploma..i made a personal notebook that keeps a log of things that i do everyday and i tried to find out the words/sentence formation for those activities,that made it easy for me to understand language...still a long way to go..and now i'm going to learn Spanish..i hope it's easier than Japanese *fingers crossed*

Thanks for this advice-hub :)


Anolinde profile image

Anolinde 6 years ago Author

Thanks for the feedback, skyfire :) And yes, I learned by Japanese through anime as well (more manga, though). That notebook sounds like a great idea as well! Good luck with your Spanish (would LOVE to take up Spanish next myself). Gambatte ne!


Amelia Green profile image

Amelia Green 6 years ago from Europe

Tips 1 and 2 are especially important I think. So many people just dabble in a language, then get frustrated that they aren't progressing faster. Nothing wrong with language learning as a hobby, of course, but I think really using the language as much as possible every day leads to much faster progress and therefore less frustration.


vox vocis profile image

vox vocis 6 years ago

Nice hub! I am currently learning German as my third foreign language. The grammar is quite difficult but I easily remember new words. What I found very useful is watching films that I´ve already seen, synchronized into the target language or in the original audio system with subtitles in the target language.


Anolinde profile image

Anolinde 6 years ago Author

Amelia, I agree! As with most other things, practice makes perfect. Use it everyday in a variety of ways helps a lot!

Vox, excellent point made about watching films you've seen. I should probably have mentioned in tip #3 about the media to choose what you're most interested in so that the process is actually FUN for you. I prefer books myself, but we all have different styles of learning :) Good luck with your German! I personally found the pronunciation really hard!


gramarye profile image

gramarye 6 years ago from Adelaide - Australia

Hi, I teach ESL and I tell my students to do everything you have suggested. Saw your question in the forum, but I only feel qualified to comment that it is a well written hub. I'll leave it to the experts re traffic etc...


Anolinde profile image

Anolinde 6 years ago Author

Thanks, Gramarye. The question is, though, do your students take your advice? LOL .. most of my students (college level Japanese) ask this question "how do I improve my English?" expecting there to be an easy way to learning English. Ha! Sometimes it's so hard trying to make some of them understand that learning a language (and learn it well) takes a lot of time and effort!


jenfer456 6 years ago

I am advise on http://specla.com good web 2.0 site for words memorization and language studding , this site use advanced words association based memorization technique, for me this worked .


FMaggi 6 years ago

I always say, hang out with small children and watch talk TV! (not necessarily at the same time).

But, if you do make mistakes, you can share them on this site:

www.upyourbottom.com !


Anolinde profile image

Anolinde 6 years ago Author

Jenfer, thanks for your comment :)

FMaggi, that sounds like very good advice! And the website is funny :) I'm not sure if you know about this one, but there's also this hilarious site called www.engrish.com (mainly about East Asians' "Engrish" mistakes) .. I should probably write a hub about that! :P


daywriter profile image

daywriter 6 years ago from USA

They are all good advices in order to learn a foreign language - i teach Portuguese and Culture in private classes 1-1 basis. To teach is my passion and the students are highly motivated - these two points are important. As for me having lived four years in Manila, Philippines, never learned how to speak their tagalog. I will be reading these comments from now on as i intend to visit this site more often again!


Anolinde profile image

Anolinde 6 years ago Author

Thanks for your comment, daywriter. I hope to see you around HP! :)


TroyM profile image

TroyM 6 years ago

Check movies for foreign films, too. Lots out there to help with your language skills.


HarryHarding profile image

HarryHarding 6 years ago

I find the best way to learn a language is to find something you love, like a TV show or a song, and listen to it 100 times. Learn the vocab, and then one day, when that situation comes up, you somehow know how to say what needs to be said and you just do! it's a great feeling =]


Anolinde profile image

Anolinde 6 years ago Author

Great tips, TroyM and HarryHarding :) With forign films, it helps to also watch them with subtitles (in the foreign language, of course), especially in the beginning. TV shows and songs are the same ... what I used to do is have a vocab log ready while watching TV. When a word that I don't know come up, I jot it down to look it up later. I didn't get every single word nor understand the whole show, but it helped a lot in the beginning!


Abwaan profile image

Abwaan 6 years ago

The first foreign language I learned was English. English was an awesome language for me in terms of it being the international language of the world and that I had to learn it to communicate with my felow international citizens. As you said, I immersed myself in English and at this point I'm in an excellent level where I don't have any problem communicating with English speakers whether they speaak it as second or first language. However, when it comes to writing, I think I have got a lot to go, although I cannot dicern the degree by which writing in a foreign language or speaking it differentiate, because according my experience as far as English language is concerned, even native speakers of English should learn how to excel at writing in English. At the end of the day, can you please explain the difference between speaking in a foreign language or writing in it?


design a house profile image

design a house 6 years ago from Seattle, WA

What I've found to be one of the most important things is to be flexible in your thinking. You'll struggle as long as you try to learn through the lens of English. Be willing to let go of English and just learn to understand with a blank slate.


hmcahyo-Indonesian 6 years ago

THank for the good article

i think i have tried some of those tips..even sometimes hard for me to find a native as afriend

hmc.web.id


Anolinde profile image

Anolinde 6 years ago Author

Abwaan: writing is the hardest one to master out of the four skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) no matter what language, I think. As you've said, even native speakers of a language (again, any language really) who can speak fluently can have problems writing well. I think writing is just a different species altogether. It will take up a lot of space here to explain the difference between speaking and writing in a foreign language ... hmm, I should write a hub about it! :)

Design a house, yes, flexibility is very important. Good input!

Hmcahyo, finding a native speaker to practice it with can be hard if you don't live in a country that speaks that language. Like in Japan, people go to language schools for an hour a week, but I really don't think that's enough. I know there are some language teachers teaching through skype now, so location doesn't matter as much as before. You might want to check that out? In any case, good luck and best wishes! :)


John 6 years ago

some website providing free audios for learing foreign english

http://smartraveluk.com/


Learn a Language  6 years ago

Another good (& fun) tip is to learn a language through the cuisine. E.g. For Spanish food, try making Patatas Bravas, and pick up names of the ingredients and cooking terminology along the way.


nicole.reilly profile image

nicole.reilly 6 years ago from Austin, TX

Thanks for these tips. This will be handy for my Nihonggo class. Nice hub!


LizzyBoo profile image

LizzyBoo 6 years ago from Czech Republic

Very nice article. I also experienced the same I moved into country in what language I wanted to learn. Your advice is great and surelly helps many people.

Thank you very much Lizzy


dihia 5 years ago

interesting and useful.

these tips really facilitate learning a foreign lge


Martin 5 years ago

Very good list, and a nice fresh approach.

Adding to the 'watch tv' option, try foreign films with English subtitles. Brain on autopilot, easy extra learning while having fun.


Anolinde profile image

Anolinde 5 years ago Author

Thanks for all your comments and feedback! :) Thanks especially to Learn a Language and Martin for their extra tips!


theindiaphile profile image

theindiaphile 5 years ago from London

Excellent tips!


marieryan profile image

marieryan 5 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

Good sound advice! An excellent article, Anolinde! I am an E.F.L. teacher and give this advice to students- There is no magic one way to learn a language! The more strategies used the better! Immerse yourself AND read comics AND watch children's TV, AND make friends with native speakers, etc..


Anolinde profile image

Anolinde 5 years ago Author

Thanks, theindiaphile and marieryan! Totally agreed with you, marieryan. Can't go wrong with using all strategies!


Gabriolus 5 years ago

i like your hub but here is the thing Rosetta stone may be in the top five best languege programs i think the prices are to high i am on disabilaty and live on a fix income so using a program liek that is way beyond my grasp.


cerita cinta sejati 5 years ago

Learning languages is fun but needs to be patient. Anyway thanks for the tips.


francisid 5 years ago

Learning a foreign language is indeed hard esp. if it's so different from your mother tongue.but,it would also help if you would talk with somebody who is a native speaker of that foreign language,read a lot of materials written in that foreign language,and lastly,be confident when speaking.


Bbudoyono profile image

Bbudoyono 5 years ago

You are absolutely right. I did all your tips when I learned English in Indonesia. Thank for writing the good hub.


JacksonBookBox profile image

JacksonBookBox 4 years ago from Pondicherry

Very useful info, good hub :)

Well we can also learn by a method SLS (Same Language Subtitling)modes of learning. Animated stories with SLS, also its there for many foreign languages. It synchronizes the text, audio, and visual media to create an educational and entertaining reading experience for children and even adults who still have a child in them!

Its based on a methodology called Same Language Subtitling (SLS) where a child can relate the phonetic sounds with the visual subtitles to accelerate reading skill development. When SLS is integrated into a "book", reading happens automatically and subconsciously, as proven through sophisticated eye-tracking research.

Do check this youtube channel for more info

http://www.youtube.com/user/bookboxinc

Esperanto story were added recently,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fmqZmaojaA


TeacherCaro profile image

TeacherCaro 4 years ago from Venado Tuerto,Sta Fe, Argentina

Thanks for the advice. I'll try it.


roshanh 4 years ago

Any advice on quick Norwegian?


ysb888 profile image

ysb888 4 years ago

Thank! A great hub, I apply those tips because I want to study Thai soon!


ltlearning profile image

ltlearning 4 years ago from Argentina

Great Hub with useful tips for sharing to language learner students


Spongy0llama profile image

Spongy0llama 3 years ago from Canada

Excellent tips! The secret to active fluency is to speak speak speak with abandon! Mistakes really don't matter. Even if you don't understand the grammar thoroughly, just use the words you know until you are understood. Making this kind of effort in an environment of immersion is the best road to fluency. That's been my experience in Germany, anyway ;)

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