Learning a new language is perhaps one of the most personal and exciting experiences one can have, for a variety of reasons. The thrill of learning languages lies in the challenge of the unknown, with each of us having different reasons to learn. At the same time, one must acknowledge that learning a foreign language is not easy, and requires time, patience and the right resources to study from. The good news is that there is no right or wrong way to go about it. With plenty of resources available online for free, basic vocabulary and grammar of a foreign language have never been more accessible. Again, the kind of tools you use depends a lot on your learning style as well as the language of your choice. For a generic, starter guide on learning new languages, read on:
Decide on a Language Goal
To begin with your learning it’s important to decide why you want to learn a language. Languages are helpful for a variety of reasons; it might be a professional or educational requirement for some and plain skill development and personality enhancement for others. Your decision to learn a language could be because you’re visiting a foreign country for professional reasons and need to be able to freely converse in the local language, or it could be because your educational institution has a certain language requirement, or it could also be because of a personal relationship. Whatever your motivation might be, it’s important that it is strong enough to keep you going. At the same time, which language is also essential. Your choice of language is of course determined by your reason to learn in the first place, however be prepared for it well in advance because not every language is easy to learn and if you have a time constraint to your learning, it does well to evaluate your options and decide on a course and research adequate resources required.
Having a language goal helps. Decide on your reasons, language and have a rough time frame in mind within which you’d like to achieve atleast a portion of your goal, example – to be able to converse freely in the next 6 months.
Find a Course and Requisite Resources
Once you have your language goal in mind, start researching possible arenas to begin. You might find yourself torn between taking classes at a language centre, or going for a reputed online course, but first evaluate your needs. If you need to learn the basics in a given time frame, there are plenty of intensive study courses available at language centres, while an online course has the disadvantage of having a tutor physically present to guide you. This is substituted with audio programs and virtual speech training, but the benefit of live conversation is absent. It’s also a good idea to take a look at discussion forums for online courses to see what people have to say about it. You could also take suggestions from people around you before you make a final decision. Take a look at the website of your nearest language learning centre or school and check the courses they offer, along with the fee details and number of hours devoted to learning every week.
A few people also opt for both options, wherein they enroll for classes and supplement their learning with free courses available online. A few great resources you can try if you’re looking to test your existing skills or want to form a base before you start classes:
Dedicated language websites such as studyspanish.com, frenchtutorial.com, deutsch-lernen.com are also good for starting on basic grammar and vocabulary.
Start with Vocabulary and get a Dictionary
Learning the right vocabulary, depending on the level of proficiency you wish to achieve is important. One can learn up an entire list of words in a foreign language, but without knowing how to use all that vocabulary, you cannot actually speak it. This is where the role of grammar comes in. The best way to begin learning a new language is focus on the 100 most common words used in conversation in that language, coupled with basic grammar to help you create sentences. Learn the words and practice making sentences with them over and over, again focusing on phrases that will get you through a comfortable conversation with someone. Phrases like “What is your name?”, “Where do you live?”, “How do you do?” etc. are all common in every part of the world and perhaps the easiest ones in any language too.
To make the learning process faster and more accessible in terms of being able to study almost anywhere, carry a pocket dictionary. If you’re learning Spanish, carry and English-Spanish dictionary with you, preferably one which has pronunciations given along with the words, and keep practicing with it. If you can find a mobile application which gives basic grammar and vocabulary in your choice of language, download it and keep it. Nothing works better than having an app on your phone which helps you to learn on the go.
Another trick worth trying is carrying audio lessons and audio books or podcasts with you, and listening to them in your free time. There are plenty of online audio lessons available for free which can be downloaded and added to your iTunes or Windows music library. The idea is to make your learning experience fun and engaging, going beyond a conventional language classroom.
Focus on Conversation
Start conversing from day one. Language is first and foremost a communication skill, and one cannot actually speak a language until one actually engages in conversation. If you have a friend who is already proficient in the language, converse with them on a daily basis and note the mistakes you make. One can always rely on audio programs and online lessons to figure out pronunciation patterns and practice saying basic sentences in the comfort of one’s home, but the point of language is conversation with a real person. If possible, sign up for classes with a friend, which will add additional motivation to the learning experience, make it fun and also help you converse with them as you learn. Studies show that the most common 100 words in any language make up almost 50% of spoken communication. Mastering even the most common 500 words over a period of 3 months will enable smooth conversation for you. If you’re visiting a foreign country with the most basic knowledge of the local language and wish to learn more on your trip, the most inexpensive way is to converse with locals.
One phrase that you must learn and use is “How do you say X?” where X is any word you are unsure of or cannot pronounce. Asking a local to help you learn a language is easy, and in most cases it is also a fun way to make new friends in a foreign land. Keep your options open and keep taking help from online resources to refine your skills.
Make Mistakes and Have Patience
When learning a new language, patience is the best gift you can give yourself. It is only natural that you will make mistakes, and at times will find yourself stuck or unable to learn something. Languages are not easy to learn and that is a fact, however what one requires to be able to pick them up is enthusiasm and a steady, solid source of motivation. There might come a phase where you feel like giving up because you are unable to catch hold of even the basics. If you’ve started with an online course and are not able to learn as fast as you’d like to, consider enrolling for classes at a language school. Assess the amount you are willing to spend on these classes or a tutor, and then make a decision.
It is also important to make your learning experience fun. If you are enrolled in a class, get to know the people around you by conversing with them in the language you are learning, go to events that are organized by either the language school or independently by organizations affiliated to it or based in the country where the language is spoken. Diplomatic missions and embassies also regularly organize local events which are a great place to meet people and exercise your conversational skills. Foreign language films and music are also a great way to engage yourself in the culture and history of the language you are learning.
If you want to extend your learning, you can also practice reading and writing it. If you’ve attained a fair level of proficiency in speech, this is relatively easy. At the end of the day, satisfaction and self-growth remain to be the most important products of a successful language learning experience.