Learning languages frightens people. Undoubtedly, developing skills in a second (or third, or fourth…) language is challenging. Knowing multiple languages in our global world is necessary in nearly every part of our life — school, business, travel, and more.
My first language is English, however I studied Spanish for three years in high school, attained conversational fluency in German at sixteen years old, and currently study Russian in Russia. I tutor German and Russian language students at my university and even advise tutors on how to tutor foreign languages.
Although I am not a polyglot (yet) or a professional foreign language instructor, I know a lot about learning languages and can now advise and help you on your journey to fluency.
Half of the challenge to learning a foreign language is overcoming mental blocks.
Do not say it is harder for you to learn foreign languages. My tutees often said they did not have the gift of learning foreign languages, which is ridiculous. Learning foreign languages is about changing your mindset. Since you successfully learned your native language, you can learn any language.
Do not revel in the difficulties. Learning to walk was difficult at first, but now you are a pro. Reading used to be a major challenge, but now you read books, magazines, and other texts for fun. Everything is difficult as a beginner. Learning a foreign language becomes easier over time.
Do not say you are too old. Researchers preach the best time to learn a foreign language is in childhood because a child’s brain is like a sponge. Learning a language later in life is still possible though! Your brain may initially require more time if it is out of practice of learning, but over time it will adjust to learning again.
Do not make excuses. Learning a foreign language requires time and energy. Wash away any doubts or excuses and simply begin!
Make a stop at your local bookstore to pick up a dictionary in your new language and a grammar book. Consider purchasing a textbook for a two-in-one book. Be sure you enjoy the design, layout, and teaching style.
Some dictionaries are alphabetical, and some dictionaries are thematized. Some grammar books give extensive explanations, whereas others give short clips and a thousand exercises.
Your dictionary and grammar book are the backbone of your language learning; spend time deciding what is best for you and your education.
Without any research or evidence, I have determined foreign language learning requires outside, human help. A teacher, professor, or tutor who is trained in the grammar will guide you to understanding the main components of any language. A helping hand is especially necessary if you have never studied languages before.
We had teachers for our first language — our parents. Parents correct children’s incorrect sentences. A foreign language instructor replaces the parent role to correct and guide you in your foreign language journey.
Learning independently is important because no information can be spoon fed to you, however it is important to have someone to correct and guide you.
Pick one to five words to learn every day for a week. Make flash cards and practice in spare time, like while waiting in lines. At the end of each week test your knowledge on the words. Add to the collection every day and each week, but continue to also test yourself on old words every week.
If you do not want to use flashcards, download the app Quizlet. These are virtual flashcards, which also have useful practice test functions.
Learning vocabulary words in pairs or opposites is most effective. For example, learn mom and dad together, hot and cold together, and to walk and to run together.
Download the free app Duolingo onto your smartphone. Duolingo develops basic vocabulary and some grammar through reading, writing, speaking, and listening exercises. A wide-range of languages are offered.
Although fluency can’t be attained through Duolingo alone, it is a good starting point for basic language learning. I enjoy completing the quick and easy Duolingo lessons while sitting on the metro or waiting in lines.
Practice Writing & Reading
You may find writing and reading as the easiest (though still difficult) parts of foreign language learning.
Writing allows you time to consider vocabulary and grammar as well as time to correct mistakes.
Cognates, foreign words which are similar in pronunciation and meaning to a word in your native language, are easier to recognize. One sentence can be read and reread to ensure understanding. Unfamiliar words can be quickly found in a dictionary or translator app.
To practice writing, consider purchasing a journal and journaling in your new language daily. This will force you to practice every day and learn new words. Entries don’t have to be extensive; a page or two about what you did that day suffices.
One of my friends created a free blog and wrote a post biweekly in his foreign language. He shared it with native speakers and they commented corrections and explanations on each post.
Journaling in whatever format may prove itself motivational. When language your foreign language feels unsuccessful, you are able to look back at your language learning progress and realize how much you’ve already learned.
To practice reading, consider reading books in the foreign language. Start with children’s books and work up in difficulty. Avoid classical literature in the foreign language because it will not be the modern spoken language. Poetry is a decent option because they are shorter and can help increase vocabulary and reading ability, however grammar is often misused in poetry to increase melody and tempo.
If you are looking for a form of interaction, download the app “HelloTalk” to your smartphone. HelloTalk is the Tinder for language learning. Choose from a variety of native speakers in your chosen foreign language to communicate with while helping foreigners learn your native language. Everything is over text, but if someone lives near you, and you feel it is safe and useful to meet, then you two could meet. I met a good Russian friend through HelloTalk!
Speaking and understanding are two very different ball games, but they require the same resources for practicing — human contact.
Look for conversation clubs in your community. The app MeetUp displays a variety of clubs in the local area, including conversation clubs. Search for one which interests you!
Research if any restaurants serving food from a country which speaks your foreign language is nearby. Many times these restaurants are managed by immigrants who are more than willing to help you learn their beloved, native language. I ate at a German restaurant in Jacksonville, Florida and chatted with the lovely store owner for a while.
Obviously, traveling to a country where the language is spoken is best to practice speaking and understanding. If people try to speak to English, as they often will, politely explain that you are learning the language and would like to speak and hear the foreign language.
Watching movies or listening to the news in the foreign language does not help your speaking, but it can help your understanding. This is another good way to improve your language abilities.
If you are frustrated by the lengthy process of language learning, then an accelerated program may be for you. These do not promise fluency (only practice can do that), but they do train the basics.
Rosetta Stone is an example of an accelerated learning program.
People either love or hate these programs. I have used Rosetta Stone for German and Spanish and only have good remarks on the program. Education is personal, therefore you must decide if an accelerated learning program seems like the right fit for you.
How to Become Fluent
Learning foreign languages is difficult. By learning a foreign language, you are altering the wires in your brain; this is no easy nor quick task. But learning a foreign language will be worth the time and effort. Commit and you will succeed.
What are your language learning tips?