Useful tips in learning a new language
Learning a new language can be a frightfully daunting task, yet an immensely rewarding achievement. Acquiring a new language, although best done during childhood or adolescence when the brain is still most plastic, is achievable at any age. Nonetheless, it takes no genius to infer that the earlier in life one begins to learn a new language, the more likely he or she is to attain a higher level of proficiency.
In this modern age, learning a new language is increasingly becoming both a need and a trend. Schools and universities make it compulsory to take up a foreign language; job requirements compel those in the working force to acquire an extra language or two; Japanese animes or foreign dramas make it fashionable and attractive to learn Japanese or languages associated with those dramas. Notwithstanding whatever reasons or motivations you might have in picking up a new language, here are 10 useful tips that can help make your language learning experience more effective and successful.
Which foreign language are you most interested in?
1. Have a strong motivation for learning the language
If you have decided upon a language to learn, ask yourself this simple question, "Why do I want to learn this language?" Take some time to sit down and do a bit of reflection. Is this language really necessary for you? Will mastering this language help you in any way to better yourself in your career, studies or personal development? What do you seek to gain from learning this language? What degree of fluency are you targeting for? Are there any particular fields for which you desire to learn the language (e.g. business, economics, science, politics/diplomacy, religion etc.) and if so, will you be satisfied with mastering your target language with regards to these fields only?
Let's face a fact: learning a new language is no easy feat. One of the most common reasons why many people give up learning a language after some time is because they often start off with a strong driving factor, but after realizing that speaking a new language is not as simple as it seems after all, they lose their motivation halfway through. Therefore, it is wise to make sure that you have a very strong need or motivation to pull you through as you take on this uphill task, and be prepared to face the difficulties that are bound to come with it.
2. Take up classes
If you have firmly decided to pick up a new language and have a strong motivation to do so (i.e. you have promised yourself not to give up no matter how tough the going goes), you have already completed at least a quarter of the journey! No, don't rejoice just yet. The next big leap to take is to find a good language class. Do some research and look up the best language classes that you can find around you. I'm not prejudiced against non-native speakers, but I feel that having native speakers as your teachers would be ideal, since they are the best people to convey not only the grammatical rules, vocabulary and proper pronunciations in a language, but also the cultural contexts behind every phrase, expression or idiom.
Some of you may wonder whether proper language classes are really necessary. While self-teaching may probably save you a considerable amount of time and money, by no means can it replace the quality of firsthand learning and practice that only interaction with native speakers and fellow learners can offer.
3. Allocate time to revise your lessons
Once you have begun attending classes, the next thing to do is to ensure that you revise what you have learnt from every lesson. This is a very important step, as repeated exposure to new knowledge helps to ensure that it sticks better in your brain. Ideally, it would be good to revise a new lesson within the same day after covering it in your classes, as research has shown that most people tend to retain more of whatever they have just learnt the sooner they revise it. It would also be a good idea to set aside a fixed amount of time daily to review your lessons, but if time is an inevitable constraint to you, reviewing your lessons once every few days would still be good, as long as you make it a point to do it on a regular basis.
4. Watch TV shows or videos in the language
Picking up a language from books and classes alone is clearly not enough if you wish to seek quicker progress. Make an effort to look for some TV shows or videos in your target language, be they dramas, soap operas, animations, variety shows or even short online video clips. Watching such shows and videos will expose you to how your target language is practically used in daily contexts, and this is even more important if you are seeking to pick up colloquial usages of the language, which will prove most useful when striking everyday conversations. On top of that, giving yourself repeated audio stimuli in the language, especially if they come in different life contexts and situations, helps your brain consolidate faster the grammatical rules and new vocabulary that you learn. Who knows, you may even pick up a new word or two each time you watch a TV show in the language!
Just remember to find TV shows or videos that contain subtitles in a language you understand, unless you want everything to sound like Latin to you.
5. Read materials in the language
As part of your "extra-curricular" learning of your target language, providing yourself with audio stimuli alone is clearly not enough. Seeking some "visual stimuli" in the form of written materials is another good idea to assist with your progress. Try obtaining reading materials in the language to read regularly, but be sure to get only materials which are suitable to your level of progress. You definitely will not want to start reading a newspaper when you cannot even go beyond saying formal greetings in the language. Having said that, I understand that finding simpler reading materials for beginners may not be an easy task, but my advice would be to go to your local bookstores or libraries, and seek out some children's books, primary school textbooks, graded readers' texts or any other special books tailored for the needs of new language learners that you can find. If all else fails, ask your language teacher to point out some good materials for you.
6. Join a local language exchange
With the recent proliferation of social-based and language exchange-related websites such as Meetup.com, Couchsurfing and MyLanguageExchange, finding a language exchange meetup has now become one of the modern language learner's most basic necessities. Nothing compares with meeting in person native speakers or fellow learners of your target language and sitting down with them over a meal or a cup of coffee to chat about everything under the sun. Not only does this help you put your new language skills to practical use through lively conversations, it also gives you an opportunity to teach your first language to others, not to mention making new friends and doing some social networking in the process. Therefore, do consider Googling or searching in these websites a language exchange meetup near you, and if you cannot find any, perhaps it is time to start one yourself!
7. Find a local enclave of native speakers
No doubt, language exchange meetups may possibly have one downside - you cannot absolutely predict the types of people who turn up at such meetups. Some may not be native speakers, some may be advanced learners, some may possess only a mediocre command of the language, and some may even just be out there for the fun of it, even without knowing a single word in the language!
If that was the case in the meetups that you have participated in, or if you simply want to meet only native speakers, then I suggest going for the next best option - finding a local enclave of native speakers near you. This may not sound simple, but it nonetheless guarantees you opportunities to exclusively meet native speakers. There is no assurance of success in finding one in the first place, but your best bet would be to look up and consider joining some cultural clubs related to your language of interest within your university or neighbourhood. Alternatively, find out if there are any restaurants or similar hotspots within your reach where many native speakers of your target language gather, then consider paying such places a visit and try your luck in making a new friend or two to speak with you. Or else, if you had the luck of befriending a native speaker in one of your previous language exchanges, then by all means contact him/her for coffee or dinner again, and ask him/her to kindly introduce his/her friends to you as well.
8. Take up a job that requires using the language
Working hard, literally, can actually help you pick up a language faster. Consider getting yourself involved in a job that compels you to use your target language on a regular basis. This may be a simple part-time job such as a waiter in a restaurant frequented by native speakers or a receptionist in an office that deals with many customers who are native speakers, or a long-term job that requires dealing with clients and patrons who speak your target language. When you are pressured into utilizing the language as your job necessitates it, that is when you are likely to make further leaps in your language skills.
9. Stay long-term in a country associated with the language
It does not take a genius to figure out that the most effective and essential way to master a new language is, above all, by immersing oneself wholly into the culture associated with the language. Living in a country where its people speak your target language provides you with ample opportunities everyday and everywhere to utilize all that you have picked up in the language. Besides, it gives you that invaluable experience of understanding your target language through its culture - something that your home country is most probably unable to offer. On top of that, you would not need to worry about befriending native speakers to practice your language skills with, because they are everywhere!
Make a proactive effort to search for any opportunities that may allow you this once-in-a-lifetime privilege. If you are a student, there may be foreign exchange programmes in your school or university which you can consider applying for. If you are already working, be on the lookout for any opportunities to work in your desired country that your company may offer. Otherwise, consider taking up any jobs that may require you to work in your desired country for a short stint. But bear in mind that it would be better if you have at least an average command in your target language before going to your desired country, in order to optimize your cultural experience.
10. Write/blog about your experiences in the language
Lastly, do not forget to write or blog about your experiences! Through all the above tips, you would have trained yourself to speak, listen and read in your target language. Nonetheless, let us not forget the last component of language learning - writing. It is a good idea to practice writing in your newly-learnt language, and what better subjects to write on than your very own experiences in the country you have chosen to stay in or your experiences in learning the language! You can also start your own blog or website and begin writing about your life experiences, interests, travels and much more in your new language. Perhaps you can even get some of your friends who are native speakers to read your writings at their leisure, and provide you with constructive feedback on how you are progressing in your journey of mastering your target language.
Whatever it is that is motivating you to pick up your language of interest, always remember that the most vital ingredients to success are determination and a willingness to learn, be corrected and improve. Above all, take charge of your own learning, and never forget that those who ultimately make the fastest progress are those who are always proactively seeking opportunities to learn and practice, and are not afraid to make even the silliest of mistakes.
© 2013 James