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The Different Approaches to Learning a Language

Updated on October 10, 2017
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A massive fan of languages and language learners, being one myself.

1. The Grammar Oriented

Starting with grammar is a great approach for those who like logic and rules. Learning and consolidating the rules of grammar will help you feel that you have a grasp on how the language is structured and will provide a great base for further progress.

The main attribute of this method is that knowing the 'secrets' behind the composition of sentences and their contextual use in the language will eliminate the frustration that may come with just accepting things just because 'that's how things are'.

This approach is sometimes labelled as the 'textbook approach', and although they are a great resource, there's no reason why you should be restricted to only one medium. The same content can be found on websites, blogs, applications and even in video format! You just have to do your research to find the ideal medium for you.


2. The Vocab Mania

A wide range of vocabulary is an undeniable sign of a great grasp on the language. In fact, in certain situations, word choice might make the difference between a good speaker and a great one. This is what is so appealing about the vocabulary-oriented approach to learning a language.

It is particularly practical if your target language is from the same language family as a language that you already speak, because you will feel like you already have a basic knowledge of how this family of languages works. For instance, a Spanish speaker looking to learn Italian will find the vocabulary-oriented approach very productive and handy because they are already familiar with other aspects of their target language, such as grammar and sentence structure.

Tips:

  • This will be a comfortable method for those who love flashcards! Some good online resources that focus on building up vocabulary are Memrise and Tinycards.
  • It's a great idea to do some thorough research to find more specific vocabulary lists (possibly made by native speakers) that will take your knowledge to the next level and help you connect with the cultural aspect of your language learning.
  • Finding the right vocabulary lists can help you achieve that 'fluency' element, where you don't typically sound like a foreigner. Look for slang words, think of topics you would want to be able to talk about but never learned the correct words to do it (finance, environment, global issues, education, sciences...).
  • Learn idioms! Some of them may sound archaic to the native speakers, but countless ones are used more regularly than you think. Know the difference between the two, and learn to use them like a native.

3. The Full Immersion

This is the approach language learners take when they want to learn without feeling like they are putting effort in. In other words, they consume entertaining content in their target language instead of consuming textbooks. These language learners will do all they can to transform their daily interactions with language into language learning opportunities. The music, podcasts, TV shows, movies, videos, books, etc., that they expose themselves to will all likely have something to do with their target language.
Although it may not be the best option for beginner (because they are yet to acquire the grammatical knowledge that this approach somewhat disregards), it is a great method for intermediate or advanced learners who feel like they have reached a plateau in their target language. The obvious bonus that comes with this approach is the immediate ability to use what has been learned in daily life, without the risk of sounding like a foreigner (because you used too much of a formal phrase in an informal setting, for example). It is a noticeably remarkable way to learn loads of useful vocabulary in a fun way, without the hassle of flashcards, which some people dislike.

The Most Effective Way?

Determining the most effective method of learning a language depends firstly on your preferences and secondly on your level of knowledge of your target language.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Use your strengths to you advantage. If you are an auditory learner, you will respond better to content that requires the use of sound or listening, such as music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc. If you are a visual learner, use colorful notes, videos and movies. If you are more of a verbal learner, focus on the use of words in both speech and writing. Note: This is not to say that you should limit yourself only to a certain kind of content. However, focusing on the content that helps you learn in the most efficient way will certainly allow you to see progress faster. Tip: You can read more about styles of learning to identify the best approach you should take while studying your target language.
  • Beginners may underestimate the importance of grammar in their language learning journey. It's helpful to establish a sound grammatical knowledge in the beginning as this will open up new opportunities for growth. Note: In some languages, grammar is more important than in others. Get an idea of how the grammar in your target language functions so that you can direct your learning in the most efficient way.
  • If you've been learning your target language for a while but aren't yet sure of your proficiency, don't be afraid to explore opportunities outside of your textbooks. It may seem overwhelming at first, but you can always take it gradually. For example, you can use subtitles while watching movies in your target language, and then get rid of them once you feel more confident.
  • Try to make your learning journey all-encompassing. While you should give special care and attention to the elements of the language that you struggle with the most, try to regularly review your previous knowledge so that all you have ahead of yourself is progress.

© 2017 H Bakerley

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