5 Tips for Learning a New Language
Learning a new language can be fun and adventurous, but also very challenging. Having learned Italian and French I have a few tips that helped me accelerate the learning process.
Languages are great to have when you are traveling. If you are considering going on a trip somewhere where they speak a different language, take some time to learn a bit before you go. It will make your adventure that much more enjoyable!
1. Read, and Read Out Loud
When I was first learning Italian I would read a few pages of a book or magazine out loud every day. I found this a great way to train my mouth to make the proper sounds and become accustomed to moving in a new way. I remember my mouth getting tired very quickly at the beginning but over time those muscles got use to moving differently and the fatigue stopped. Reading aloud with someone who already speaks your target language is great because they can help you with words you get stuck on, or letter combinations you have never seen. When reading by yourself, you’ll come across letter combinations you don’t know how to pronounce, look it up or ask someone. It is important to try to avoid bad pronunciation habits early on. That being said, do not hesitate to try it before you look it up.
Reading is also a great way to increase your vocabulary. Have a dictionary handy to look up words you do not know. I found there were many words I was able to understand just by the context of the story. When I was first learning I had to decide whether I was focusing on my pronunciation or vocabulary expansion each time I read. This is because stopping every sentence to look up a new word really put a damper on trying to focus on pronunciation, so I would pick one or the other. Later on when my pronunciation got better and my vocabulary had grown I was able to do both because they did not each need the dominant focus.
There are books you can buy that have one language on one side of the page and another language on the other. This makes learning new words and phrases really easy. Many of them are children’s or young reader’s books but they are still very useful to new learners of any age. I have also used books by "Lire en Français Facile". They are classic novels simplified for learners of that language. They also come with an audio CD so you can listen to someone read the words and you can follow along. This was great for helping me learn how to pronounce words. I will list a few of these books at the bottom of the article.
2. Listen to Music and Podcasts
Listening and getting the sounds, words, and phrases in your head of your target language can help immensely. There are many podcasts you can download and listen to on your commute to work, while cooking dinner, on your coffee break (such as the “Coffee Break” language learning series), or while you are taking your dog for a walk. Podcasts are so readily available and come for learners of any level that it would be a shame not to use them. There are podcasts specific for verbs, for vocabulary, and for different circumstances. I now listen to French and Italian news and culture podcasts. It is a great way to learn new vocabulary and hear different accents. Many languages have many different accents depending on where the speaker comes from so exposing yourself to different accents early on is a good thing.
Music, though harder to understand at times, is still a great tool to get the target language flowing in your head. If you’re like me, then you like singing to your music while in the car. If you start listening to music in your target language, then you will be singing in it in no time. You may not understand all the lyrics right away but it’s a great way to begin to separate words and work on your pronunciation lyrical style. I love listening to Andrea Bocelli, and I can remember the first time I actually understood the lyrics to one of his songs. I was so excited. Not only was it now helping me learn, it acted as a great motivator and concrete stepping stone in my learning process. I could finally see some fruits to my labors. Listen to music. If you can only pick out a few words at the beginning, that’s great! You’ll be able to learn a lot and feel the joy when you finally understand the whole song!
3. Accept that You Will Make Mistakes
This can be the hardest thing of all. We all have a bit of pride and don’t like to mess up. But when you are learning something new, you’re going to make mistakes. This is the fun of it though. When learning, you’re allowed to make mistakes! Most people just appreciate the effort you are putting in to learn their language. So be brave, and try to speak whenever you can. You may stumble, or not know some words, but you wouldn’t have realized you didn’t know those words, or how to say a certain phrase, if you didn’t just try to speak in the first place. Take note of these words or phrases while speaking so you can either ask someone how to say them, or look them up later. If you are speaking with a native speaker and don’t know a word, try to describe it to them so they can help you figure it out. Being able to describe what you want to say is a great skill to learn.
At times though, making mistakes is frustrating and discouraging. There were days while learning both Italian and French in which I never wanted to hear either of those languages again. If that happens to you, don’t worry about it! Take the evening off if you have to, or even the next day. Allow yourself to reset and do something fun in your target language to restart that feeling of excitement about learning again. Whatever you do, don’t give up!
4. Set Goals and Celebrate When Completed
If you haven’t already figured it out by now, learning a language doesn’t happen over a day, a week, or even a month. So it’s important to set goals to keep yourself on track. Make sure your goal isn’t just “Learn ______ (insert language here). Make short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals. Examples of short terms goal can include things like reading a page out loud in your target language each day, or writing a paragraph in your target language each day. Mid-term goals could include things such as learning a new grammar principle each week and practicing it, or learning the vocabulary for a certain topic of interest and then using it in conversation. Long-term goals can be more general. Learning all the verb tenses before a certain date (hopefully the date that you are going to that location where they speak that language).
No matter what the goal, the most important thing to do is reward yourself once you have reached it. You know best what motivates you, so pick something that will drive you to continue to learn and get better every day. Make learning a language fun so it is something you look forward to doing instead of it being a burden.
5. Immerse Yourself!
This is probably the most important tip. That’s why I saved it for last. Nothing can beat actually travelling to a place where the native language is your target language. Textbooks, podcasts, and apps are all great helpers in learning a language, but I believe to become fully fluent you need to become immersed completely into it. A language is so much more than just vocabulary and grammar. It’s culture. How people express themselves directly relates to who they are as individuals and as nations.
When you first get to your destination you may be timid to speak because you’re just learning. However, the more you put yourself out there and speak, the quicker you will learn. People can correct your mistakes, you’ll get use to the speed of regular conversation, and you’ll get use to how different people speak. When I first got to Italy, I remember I would be mentally tired at the end of each day because I was trying to learn so much and each conversation took a lot of effort to focus on. Week after week however, I got more comfortable and confident in Italian, and it was taking less and less effort to understand and participate in conversations.
One great technique to help you learn is imitation. Listen to the native speakers and imitate phrases they use, how they say things, and their accent. Many areas have their own dialect, or ways of saying certain things. If you learn those words and phrases, and use them, they’ll love you for it. These are the types of things that you can’t learn in textbooks but make you truly fluent.
I hope you make learning a language fun. It is such an adventure and helps broaden your outlook on how thinking and processing works. There are certain phrases now that I have to use in another language to truly express myself because it makes more sense than in English. And they say learning a new language decreases the probability of getting dementia, so who wouldn’t want that!
If you have any other tips or ways that helped you learn a language faster, feel free to put them in the comments!
Hey all, Brian here. Welcome to my travel blog. I have had experience traveling around Canada and in Italy so those will be my main topics of interest here. If you ever want to know more about a place, just send me a message and I'll write to you personally about it as well as make a more in depth blog post! Thanks for reading and go travel the world!