Tips on Learning a Language

If you are learning any foreign language, you will have to put a considerable amount of time and effort in it. Even the most linguistically gifted people need to work hard to learn a new language. Therefore it is crucial that you stay motivated, however it is not always easy to actually do so. I have collected some tips for learning a foreign language during the time when I was learning English, German and Dutch, that might be useful for all those trying to learn a foreign language.

Tip 1: Make the right choice

There are over 6,000 spoken languages, so you better chose a language that you either need to learn or really want to learn, because it will take you 10,000 hours to learn it. Unless learning foreign languages is your hobby, you should focus on the foreign language that in your situation makes the most sense. In some parts of the world English can be considered a “world language” but economical changes in Asia make Chinese also very interesting to know. Languages of the neighbouring countries can benefit you as well, since specially in the boarder regions the economical exchange makes it profitable to know each others languages. A decision on learning a language doesn’t have to be dictated by economy, it could also be your personal life. I have met quite a lot of people that want to learn the most strange languages because that’s the mother tongue of their spouse or their parents. Whatever your reason might be, make sure it’s something that will last all the time that you need to learn the language.

Tip 2: Decide how far you want to go

This is something no linguist will ever tell you, but it’s very important for you to decide on. Whatever course you are following, the assumption is always that at some point you will be using the language you are learning, just like the natives. In many cases that’s totally beyond the ambitions and needs of the student. If you are going for holidays to Italy or Spain, you don’t need to be able to read the literature in Italian or debate in Spanish. You need very simple grammar and very specific words. This means you will not actually be talking correct Italian but people will understand you and you will understand them, you have reached your goal! On the other hand if you want to be able to study in a foreign language, your intimacy with the language has to be way deeper. Just remember this is your choice!

Tip 3: Don’t over do it with the grammar

This is how I was taught at school. Grammar, grammar, grammar. At certain moment I could do German grammar exercises without understanding the sentences. But that’s not the point, now is it? On the other hand, I was watching lots of cartoons and movies in English, without that much of grammar lessons and my English during school was way better than English of my peers.

Tip 4: Make it a routine

Sure it’s not always a pleasure, specially in the beginning you just need to sit down and learn things. It’s the best to make it your daily or weekly routine. One hour of learning words or grammar exercises a day, will get you very far. Do it always at the same time of day and you’ll get used to it.

Tip 5: Live the language

In an ideal word you would be living in the country the language you are learning, like in my case of the Netherlands and Dutch. Then you can experience the language all day, every day. You pick up stuff almost from the air. If you combine it with lessons you’ll be talking the language in a no time. If you are not that lucky you can always go for holidays to the country where they speak the language you are learning. Just make sure you go alone. If you go with your friends or spouse, this is not going to work at all. If you are going for holidays take some short lessons during that time. It will help you to meet people that are also learning. This worked out perfect for me, when some time ago I went to London to practice my English. The classes that I took were not that relevant but I met few people during these classes or just at school and we were hanging out together for two weeks speaking only English. This is what you want, just talk with other people on different levels of advancement, no teachers so no one to correct or explain what you wanted to say, no fake topics to talk about.

Tip 6: Involve everyone around

If you are one of the lucky one’s and you do learn the language of the country you live in, make an advantage of everyone around you to learn and pick up stuff. When I have reached a certain level of confidence in my Dutch, I have informed everyone at work that starting from now on, I’ll be writing internal emails in Dutch. Then I have introduced a “Dutch day”. It was one and always the same day of the week that I was supposed to talk only Dutch and everyone was supposed to talk Dutch back to me. Only if it was totally unclear what I was saying, we were switching back to English. It was hard in the beginning, but people were happy and eager to help. Then after a while I had two, three, four and five “Dutch days” a week. Just be really firm in it. Not everyone will be aware of your “language day” so explain shortly the idea in the language you are learning.