22 May It’s All Greek to Me: Best Ways to Learn a New Language
By Tara of Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa
Learning a new language is often a great way to exercise the brain whilst learning an imperative new skill. There are plenty of excellent reasons to learn a new language which can help you develop confidence, discover a new culture and become a better learner. Whatever your reasons for learning a new language may be, there are many great resources out there.
Sometimes it can be difficult to siphon through all of the different language materials out there, so I’ve narrowed down my favorites. Having learned two languages outside my native tongue, and currently learning a third, I feel that I’m a great position to share my experience.
Here are 7 ways to learn a new language:
Get a decent dictionary and use it
Having an English-(insert language you’re learning here) dictionary will be one of your handiest companions while learning a new language. It’s fun to flip through and start learning a few words. Trying to learn at least 3-5 new words a day and then using them in a sentence, will help so that the word sticks. While that may not seem like a lot of words, every little bit helps, and if you’re just starting out, it’s best to start in small steps.
I also have a notebook that I carry to go along with my dictionary. I like to break down my notebook into topics and find words that relate to that topic. Start with things about you, for example, where you’re from. Find words to describe where you’re from and refer back to that when you’re having a conversation. As you get more advanced in your language learning you can move onto more advanced topics such as current events, politics human rights. However, keeping it nice and simple is a great place to start.
Another great feature of most dictionaries is the phonetics guide at the front. Learning how to properly say the words and how each translates will make your learning experience a lot easier. It’s also convenient to have to show others who already speak the language. When I was learning Thai, for example, the alphabet was very different than the one that we use so passing my dictionary along to a Thai speaker for them to lookup and translate what they were saying was a priceless tool.
This may seem obvious, but it’s important that you’re practicing what you learn. Even if it’s just for a few minutes a day, every little bit can help. Now, if you’re learning a new language in a place that doesn’t speak the language, such as learning Russian in the USA, this can prove to be a little tricky. However nowadays, with the aid of technology, speaking with strangers in other countries is easier than ever.
For one, there’s Skype. Maybe you have a friend from Russia or a friend of a friend from Russia. If you do, try to connect with them via Skype or even Facetime. These digital ways to interact make it easier than ever and are free! It’s a great way to reach out to someone across the world and practice a new language.
There are also dozens of websites out there that can connect you to people so that you can chat with strangers. You can do this by either having a conversation or simply typing. You can have one-on-one sessions or do group chats, the sky is the limit. My favorite website for this is GoSpeaky. GoSpeaky is set up similar to Facebook and shows you who is online, what language they speak and where they are from. The layout of the website is user-friendly and the people are fun and really do want to help you. If chatting isn’t your thing, you can also communicate with people via text or messaging, but if the alphabet isn’t the same, that can be a little more difficult.
Use the media
When I’m learning a new language, I love completely immersing myself in the language. A great way to do that is to listen and watch everything in that language. Listening to the radio and songs can be of tremendous help. Recently I discovered that a lot of terrible songs from the 90s have been dubbed in Spanish. Because I grew up with 90s music, the lyrics have stuck with me, and when I’m hearing the Spanish version of them, I can understand what’s being spoken even though it’s not English..
Other excellent tools are movies and television. Watching movies in the language your learning with subtitles will show you how the language is spoken and in a way that’s entertaining for you. What’s nice about that, is that the way in which they speak is usually less formal which can sometimes be more applicable. Television shows are also helpful and I’ve found that watching children’s programming is sometimes the most helpful. With kids shows, they often speak slower and more clearly thus making it easier to understand.
Books are also helpful. Depending on what language you’re learning and where you are in the language you might be able to pick up a book and understand the general gist of something. If you’re just starting out, again, children’s books are a great start or young adult literature. If you’d prefer more adult material, scanning through online newspapers or blogs can be helpful, especially if you have a digital translator of some sort. Google translate is an easy tool to use, while not always perfect, it can be helpful.
Along the same lines, there are excellent language learning apps and programs online for free. Currently, my favorite is DuoLingo. It’s a great learning tool that incorporates all four elements of learning; reading, writing, listening and speaking. You receive ‘lingots’ (essentially points) as you progress, and you can use those to make purchases to advance your learning. There’s also a marker that tells you how fluent you are in the language. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but it’s fun to see progress. It definitely feels less like learning and more like you’re playing a game. You strive to hit your goals and want to keep those streaks going.
Another free language learning site that I found extremely useful is the FSI language course. Developed by the United States government, these are the courses they use to teach government employees a foreign language. The range of languages is plentiful and the lessons are broken down in an easy-to-use way. Having personally experienced their immersion language training in Thailand, I know that these courses are extremely effective. They’re not something I would use if you’re just starting to learn a language, but definitely a great tool if you’re further along on your language journey.
And let’s not forget one of the more obvious free resources, YouTube. YouTube is host to a wide range of learning language videos. Some are situational while others are more traditional. Regardless, it’s definitely worth taking some time to browse through their collection to see what they offer in the language you’re learning.
Purchased language courses
There’s also always the option of finding a program for purchase as well. While these sometimes cost a pretty penny, it can be worthwhile. Depending on what language you’re learning, you’d want to do some research to see what program works best for you. For instance, when I was learning Mandarin, I found the Pimsleur Method to be most effective. With Pimsleur’s, it was a lot of speaking and repetition and perfect for hearing the different tones. I also liked that the lessons were only 30 minutes long, so I didn’t feel over or underwhelmed.
As for Spanish, I found the Michel Thomas Method extremely helpful. This is a listening course that doesn’t require notes or any reading material. Instead you listen and build upon what you’re learning, stringing sentences together in a matter of minutes. It’s a unique way to learn a language and can make you a confident speaker in a matter of hours.
Find a friend
Setting goals and having something to work towards is always better with company. Having another person to motivate you and keep you on track can help with the process. This works for learning another language as well. Having a friend who’s learning the same language will not only encourage you to learn more, but you can use each other as a tool. Taking the time to compare notes and even practice the language with each other.
Not learning the same language? That’s okay too! Having the same goal but a different outcome can still make you compatible learning partners. Right now I’m learning Spanish while my friend is learning Italian. Even though we’re practicing different languages, we still do daily check-ins to see how our progress is going. This keeps us on task and encourages us to continue learning. We also share different resources we’ve found on the internet, which gives us a wider range of educational materials.
Ask yourself “why“
Finally, it’s a good idea to set an intention for learning the language. Will you be traveling to the country where they speak that language? Living there? Or are you just learning a new language for the fun of it? Knowing what motivates you will determine what it is you study and how often you study it. If you’re learning a language just for fun, then maybe you don’t practice for 1 hour every day, but if you’re learning the language so you can interact with local people, then you’d probably kick your learning gear into full drive. Knowing why it is you’ve started to learn a new language will make your commitment to learning stronger and more concrete. It will also keep your more motivated as you progress further and further in your language journey.
Learning a new language should be fun! If you’re not having fun doing it, then you should reassess your motives. The less pleasure you get out of your learning, the more you set yourself up for failure. Approach learning a new language with an open mind and you’ll have amazing results. Learning a new language affords you new opportunities and can give you a different perspective on your own language.
Afterall, “those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own.” When developing a new language, you’ll have a deeper appreciation for your mother tongue while learning the unique ways in which language works. What have you got to lose?
Tara is an elementary school teacher, presently taking a much-needed break from teaching, and in turn dabbling in and out of different job roles. Her travels have taken her all over the world, previously living in Thailand, Taiwan and Cambodia. Currently, she’s a volunteer writer and yoga instructor at Blue Osa Yoga Retreat & Spa in Costa Rica. When she’s not busy at work, you can find her doing what she loves, which is included but not limited to: lazing about in hammocks, eating salad, watching sunsets and reading.