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5 Useful Tips For Learning a New Language

Updated on June 19, 2013

So, you wanna learn a second language!

Awesome! Learning a new language is both an excellent workout for the brain, and of huge benefit in many careers - it will open the door to translator, journalism, travel, and teaching positions, and can even benefit you in lower level jobs - the more people you can communicate with, the bigger the asset you become. Beyond all that, though, it's just plain fun! This Hub will offer you a few tips on making learning a new language easier and more enjoyable.

1. Label everything!

The largest issue people encounter with language guides is that many of them are focused on travel. They will teach you how to say "where is the nearest hotel?", or "can you get me a taxi?", but are not all that helpful for everyday use. The average person isn't going to be flying all over the world exercising their new linguistic abilities. What most of us want to know is how to say the same things we say in our native languages - the everyday, normal conversations we engage in. One of the best ways to do this is to label everything. Look around your own home, and think about the things you say most often. In my house, it's things like "do you want a cup of coffee?", "hurry up! I need the bathroom!", "I'll be in my office", and so on. And so, when I began the challenge of learning German, I busted out a stack of paper and a Sharpie, and began posting notes all over the house. I started simple - basic vocabulary over complete sentences. "Kaffee" written in big letters above the coffee pot. "Badezimmer" posted on the bathroom door. "Musik Sammlung" above my record collection. Once I had those down, I began adding full sentences. "This is my office", "would you like a cup of coffee?", and "I need to use the bathroom" signs went up everywhere. And I forced myself to say these things out-loud before doing anything - if I wanted a coffee, I made myself ask for one in German. As I entered my office, I announced "das ist mein Büro" (this is my office). Seeing these sentences everyday, every time I did anything, made it much easier to absorb.

2. Find native speakers

Translation programs are notoriously inaccurate.

Well, okay, that's not fair. They are, perhaps, too accurate. Translator programs will translate, word for word, what you have typed in - but that's not how language works. Sentence structure varies from language to language; while we say "I like to read", Germans say "I reading like", the Spanish say "I like reading", and several other languages use "read, I like". If you translate it word for word, the result will not make sense to a native speaker. The best way to counter this problem is to find native speakers to help you. Join Facebook groups, or seek out people that speak the language fluently - most people are more than happy to correct your grammar and show you how sentence structure works in their language.

3. Music soothes the soul, and stimulates the brain!

Everyone loves music. At least, everyone I've ever encountered does. And music has been proven to stimulate parts of the brain. If you really want to immerse yourself in another language, finding music you enjoy written in that language is an excellent way to go about that. It may be a bit overwhelming at first - lyrics are often sung rather quickly, and lack enunciation - but just as with songs in your own language, listen to it enough times, and you will memorize the lyrics. Better still, you will begin to pick up on nuances in the language - picking up slang words, common colloquialisms, and oft-used references. Not only that, but groovin' to some tunes is a lot more fun that listening to a dull and dry lecture (though, that helps too, as #4 will explain).

4. Podcasts, online learning, and books

In this day and age, one has countless resources - iTunes has literally thousands of language podcasts available, Amazon, or your local book store, has access to innumerable books/ebooks, and the internet is overflowing with free language lessons. Take advantage of this fact! Try them all out, and choose the handful that work best for you. These sorts of lessons may seem a bit dull, but they are hugely beneficial in the end, as they hold your hand right from the basics, like the alphabet and counting to 10, to the much more advanced, like having a complete conversation with a native speaker. I think of it a bit like school - perhaps not a lot of fun, but would you have bothered learning algebra without it? Probably not. School serves its purpose, no matter how dryly it does it, and so do structured language lessons.

5. Watch movies, learn languages

It's happened to all of us: we find a cool sounding movie on Netflix or YouTube, and are quickly disappointed to find it is either in another language, or comes with ugly subtitles we cannot rid ourselves of. When one begins to learn a new language, however, this curse becomes a blessing. I'm now excited to find my chosen viewing for the evening comes with subtitles - this means I can either read or hear dialogue in the language I am trying to learn. And, because movies use a much more common lexicon than many language lessons will, one can absorb standard conversational phrases with much greater ease; a structured lesson may teach you how to say "hello kind sir, how are you doing today?", while a movie will teach you how to say the far more common "hey man, how's it goin'?". On top of that, it's nice to just sit back and relax now and then, while still moving towards your goal of fluency. No one wants to be stuck in a classroom 24/7, and likewise, learning a new language will not be much fun if all it consists of is dictionaries and lectures.

Just do it!

If you really want to learn another language, your biggest challenge is...just doing it. Many people are overwhelmed with where to start, how to become fluent, how to know they're learning the right things - the only way to overcome this is to just start! Even if you just learn to say "hi", "how are you?", and "my name is..." to begin with, you're well on your way. Just as a baby starts with "momma", "dada", and "bubba" (bottle, in baby-speak), you also must begin with the basics, and be prepared to make mistakes and sound like a bit of an idiot in the beginning. No one nails a language on their first try. That's okay. Just get out there and do it.

Good luck!


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