Learning a language has become very popular as international travel is now not limited to the elite. But most people are under the impression that in a few short weeks they will be chatting away to the cashier at the supermarket or making light conversation at the local pub.
Those of us who have learnt second languages know that this is not the case (for the majority). I started learning my second language when I was 28 and my first month was tough. I was studying full time and after that first month I felt my brain was overloading and I decided to have a week off to consolidate what I had learnt. It was the best thing I could have done.
Based on my experiences and those of others I’ve consulted, here are the top 7 ways to optimise your language learning.
1. Use resources that match your level
Avoid using material that is too easy, or even worse, too difficult. You will either be bored or lose confidence in your abilities.
2. Use the language as often as possible – it’s as simple as that!
Get yourself out there. If you are fortunate enough to be living or visiting a country that speaks the language you are learning, woohoo! You are going to absorb the language and you will feel yourself improving daily. If, like most, you don’t have this advantage you are going to have to be creative. Get online. Find out if there are any community groups, facebook groups, sports groups, etc, etc. Look for language exchanges. Get on the embassy website and look for links to other groups. There are film nights, traditional dancing groups, etc. It’s all out there, but you may have to get out of your comfort zones.
3. The best way to learn is the same way you learnt your native tongue – by speaking and copying
Immerse yourself in the language if possible but don’t get bogged down by the grammar. Sure, it’s an important part of a language but you will pick up a lot through repetition and mimicking.
4. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes
If you are worried about making a fool of yourself join a group where you don’t know anyone. And remember, we all make mistakes when we are learning – that’s how we learn! I made a million and no one ever laughed at me….well maybe once or twice.
5. Practice everyday (if possible)
It could be reading a book, listening to music, watching an episode of a series or taking part in a language exchange. Practicing one day month doesn’t get the same result as practicing 15 minutes a day.
6. Learn in a way that suits you
If you are great at memorising then go for it. But if you aren’t (like me), you need to look at ways that suit you. I’m a morning person so I usually studied in the morning and then tried to put it into practice in the afternoons. I left watching a film for the evening when I could use that time to wind down and relax. If you have to commute to work, use that time to listen to podcasts on the train or listen to the radio in the car. And if you have a decent level, avoid listening to language tutorials or grammar lessons (we don’t want you falling asleep!), and try listening to something you are passionate about. Do you like sports, the arts, international trade, singing unicorns? Whatever you are into, there is a podcast or YouTube video related to it. And don’t forget all the Tedx talks. They are less than 18 minutes long and you can put subtitles on if you need them! Here’s a link to the top 10 TedX Talks.
7. Stop making excuses. Just do it
Learning a language takes effort. If you aren’t willing to make changes, such as making time in your day to study, or take risks, such as doing an internship abroad, then now is not the time to start learning a language. You don’t necessarily need money but time is definitely something you need.
These are only some of the most important points to consider when learning a language and many other factors contribute to your learning experience. Everyone learns in different ways and at different speeds and only you know how best you learn. Trust yourself, put in the effort and you will be rewarded.