This week, I thought I would address how to learn a new language. As a lifelong language learner and French tutor, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to learn a language and I wanted to provide you with some tips for language learning! Also, there’s been a lot of chat recently about using lockdown to learn something new and while we are (hopefully) coming to the end of full lockdown, there’s still time to get learning!
- Choose your language wisely
First of all, you need to pick a language. You might have a set reason for learning a particular language (e.g. because you are studying it at school/uni or you need to learn it for work), but if you don’t, choose your language wisely. Think about why and when you’d like to be able to use the language; for example, do you visit a particular country often on family holidays or is there a particular country you would like to visit in the future, once lockdown is over? If you don’t have a specific reason for choosing a language, then pick one you think will be interesting and relatively easy to learn. If you don’t find the language interesting, it makes the language learning process much less enjoyable and more difficult. Think about which languages you already know that are similar to your new language and will make it easier to learn and the knowledge you already have about how languages work. For instance, if you’ve never learnt a language with cases, then Polish or Russian (which have seven and six cases respectively), might be a bit of a stretch.
2. Use the internet
There are loads of sites out there that can help you learn a language. While I wouldn’t recommend using these on their own, as they tend to favour vocabulary rather than grammar (which I believe is the building blocks of a language), they can be a useful tool in addition to other methods. For free sites to quickly learn some vocabulary, you could try memrise.com or duolingo.com, where many different languages are available, particularly if you speak English.
3. Consider following a course online
There are lots of courses out there, both free and paid, for a variety of languages that you could follow. For example, for German, you can go on Deutsche Welle and follow the Nicos Weg course for free to improve your German. You can even take a placement test so you don’t have to start right at the beginning. If you’re willing to invest a bit of money, you could use a site such as babbel.com, though personally I have never used it, so I would research some reviews first. These courses are designed to teach you vocabulary and grammar, whilst also practicing your listening and reading skills. While they do occasionally include writing and speaking, as you are working with a computer and not another human, it is hard to check your work. You could even see if a local university is offering online courses at the moment, which may offer more resources for writing and speaking skills.
4. Up your exposure
In other circumstances, I would totally recommend going to a country that speaks the language to learn a new language, so that you up your exposure to the new language as much as possible. That is not currently possible (and possibly may not be something you could afford anyway, especially as it really takes several months for this kind of exposure to have a good effect), so with that in mind, here are some tips for upping your exposure from home.
Listen to podcasts. Try to find podcasts in your target language. This is particularly great, as you can put them on while you’re doing something else, such as walking or cleaning, and passively learn. Or you could actively listen and try to write down what you hear. Most podcast providers also allow you to slow down the podcast to make it easier to understand. Some of my favourites for French and Arabic are Vieille Branche, L’Esprit public and Religion and the State.
Watch TV and films. This is another great way to practice your listening skills. If you’re an absolute beginner, you can put on subtitles in your native language, but if you’re a bit more advanced, I’d recommend avoiding this, if you can. If you really feel the need for subtitles, try putting them on in your target language. Netflix has a great selection of foreign language films and TV shows, including The Writer (Arabic) and Casa de Papal (Spanish). If you’re interested in more films and TV series in Spanish, you can check out Katie Uniacke’s blogpost on that here. Some of my favourite French films are: Coco Avant Chanel, Thérèse Desqueyroux and Gemma Bovery (which is actually in a mix of French and English, so great for real beginners!)
Chat to native speakers. If you have native speaker friends, then set up a Whatsapp or Skype call with them where you only speak in your target language – try to do this once a week! If you don’t have any friends that speak your target language, there are lots of apps and websites out there that could help you, such as Tandem, HelloTalk and conversationexchange.com. As always though, exercise caution when talking to strangers over the internet. Don’t give out personal details or agree to meet up in person.
Read! It doesn’t really matter what you read, as long as you read a lot! I would recommend at least one hour a week. If a newspaper article or full novel seems a bit too advanced for you, then try a novel you’re familiar with translated into your target language (for example, I’m currently reading the first Harry Potter book in German) or try a book aimed at children! The familiarity and/or simplistic language will help you to move through it quicker and feel like you’re making progress.
5. Use flashcards to learn vocab
Vocab learning is the bane of any language-learner’s existence. Personally, it’s my least favourite part of learning a language and reminds me of learning lines for a play. I’ve tried many different ways to learn vocabulary, including the aforementioned Memrise and Duolingo, but my favourite wya by far is to use flashcards. Now these can be actual, physical flashcards, or you could use an app like Anki (which I believe actually has some language flashcard sets already on it). I, personally, favour real flashcards and have even shared my particular technique with you here.
6. Hire a tutor!
If you’re struggling to stay motivated by yourself, then hiring a tutor could really help you. A good tutor will be able to tailor lessons to your exact level and needs, and having a regular learning slot will boost your motivation! There are even online tutors, so you don’t need to worry about not being able to see your tutor in this lockdown situation!
So those are some tips for learning a new language! If you are interested in engaging a French tutor, I currently have availability. For a free quote, get in touch with my via my contact page, social media or you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.