Have you always wanted to learn a new language? You’re not alone. According to Duolingo, 30 million people attempted to learn a new language in 2020.
If you’re like many people around the world, this goal may be one you’ve been telling yourself you’ll start working towards for a long time now – but it can be a daunting task if you don’t know where to start. And even once you do get started, keeping up that momentum may be difficult.
While many of us were required to take language courses in school, learning a new language on your own, for example, translating English into French, takes motivation, dedication, and determination. Sometimes, though, you just need a little push!
That’s why we’ve put together this guide filled with language-learning strategies, tools, and tips to help you navigate the long (but rewarding!) language-learning journey.
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The Benefits of Learning a Second Language
If learning a second– or third, or fourth –language is a goal of yours, you’ve chosen a great goal. The process of studying a new language is extremely rewarding in more ways than one.
Below are just a few of the benefits of learning a second language:
Access to More Information
Have you ever struggled to pay attention to a foreign film due to the subtitles? Do you wonder about all of the books and other pieces of literature out there that you may never be able to read or understand because they’re in another language? Even globally-loved series, such as Harry Potter, take time to be released in other languages. If you spoke more than one language, you’d never have to wait for the English translation!
Learning even just one additional language will open up a whole new world of information for you. Speaking more than one language grants you access to information from all sorts of media that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to understand. It’s a great way to expand your mind and experiences.
Improved Long and Short Term Memory
If you have trouble recalling information, it turns out that learning a new language could be useful. That’s because language learning helps to improve both your long-term and short-term memory functions.
One study found that people were able to remember the names of new acquaintances 28％ better after taking a ten-month language course. Additionally, research showed that studying a new language helped develop areas of the brain that are directly related to memory. This means studying a new language can be a huge game-changer for those who struggle with memory!
Improved Creative and Critical Thinking
It’s always helpful to flex your creative and critical thinking muscles. Creativity and critical thinking are two vital skills that can take you far both in your career and your personal life–and luckily, learning a new language can help in this area!
Learning a new language allows you to grow your brain’s ability to categorize and access information. That means your mind will be able to work faster on its toes and assess situations with increased agility, making you more creative and critical in your thinking!
Better Cultural Understanding
It’s important to experience cultural diversity; you don’t want to be in a bubble of your own culture for your whole life! Acquiring a new language is one of the best ways to learn about a new culture and, in turn, gain a better, wider understanding of the world around you. For example, in many nordic languages like Swedish, Norwegian, or Finnish, they don’t have a word for “please” like English. The social mentality in these countries allows them to say other words in a respectful tone to convey politeness.
Languages are driven by culture. When you study a new language, it’s practically impossible to not study social behaviors and cues too. The specific words you learn will give you insight into the values and customs of the culture – and, of course, you’ll be motivated to consume the prominent media, food, and art that comes with that culture. Perhaps, you’ll even want to travel to a country that speaks the language for hands-on cultural experiences!
How to Choose a Language to Learn
Sometimes, the language you learn will be a clear choice. Maybe you have to meet a requirement for work or school. However, if you’re learning a new language for personal interest, it may be difficult to choose one. There are over 6,000 dialects, after all!
Below are a few factors to consider as you choose which language to study.
This is a huge one: if you have no interest in a language or the culture from which it is derived, you’re not going to have the motivation to take the time to learn it.
Speaking a new language will take practice and dedication. You may think of the language you’re learning in the same way you would of learning to play a musical instrument. You’re going to be investing a good amount of time and money into this skill, so you want to choose a language you’re sure you’ll be motivated to stick with. Otherwise, all of those language learning books and resources could become as useless as an abandoned clarinet, drum set, or tuba collecting dust.
To get a better feel for which languages may interest you, take time to do some research. Pay attention to how different languages look and sound, which countries speak them, and the art, culture, and food of their countries of origin. Follow what piques your interest and go from there!
One major reason to learn a new language is the fact that it can open practically endless doors for you career-wise. A second language is a huge plus on your resume, giving you a major advantage over other candidates.
Consider which languages are the most widely spoken, as these will be the most helpful in your career. Mandarin Chinese, for example, has the most native speakers, while English is the top-spoken language overall. In addition to Mandarin and English, Hindi, Spanish, and French make up the remainder of the top 5 languages spoken across the world.
It’s important to choose a language that you will be able to stick to learning for years to come. Like we said before, practice makes perfect, so you must sustain your learning process to be successful in your language journey!
Consider how much time and effort you will realistically be able to dedicate to a particular language as you navigate your daily life, your workload, and your other responsibilities. If you have a lot on your plate, a language that’s closer to your native language may be a more realistic choice than one with an entirely different alphabet.
Having access to proper resources is an essential part of learning a new language. Accessibility is a substantial factor to keep in mind when choosing which new language you’ll acquire.
While niche languages can be fun and exciting, popular and widely spoken languages will have more resources available online. It will also be easier to find learning partners and native speakers to practice with.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t take the leap to learn Icelandic if that’s where your heart is; just make sure you’ll be able to get all the resources you need to learn it properly!
Do you have dreams of moving to France? Do you want to meet new friends who speak Chinese? Is a portion of your company based in Mexico? These all serve as great motivation to learn a particular language.
If you have plans to travel, work, or live in another country, or any other number of motives, your choice will likely be a simple one. These are some of the best reasons to take the leap and learn a new language because it will directly affect your path in life – and what’s more exciting than that?
Using Effective Language Learning Strategies
Once you’ve chosen a language you’d like to learn, the next crucial step is getting your language learning strategy in order. Below, we’ll dive into four helpful language learning strategies that will help you make the most out of your studies.
Set Up a Learning Plan and Goals
Planning out a learning schedule is extremely helpful to keep yourself on track as you learn a new language,
To stay motivated, you should include your plans to study your new language of choice in your daily to-do lists as well as in your personal calendar or planner. Seeing this task written out will help keep your language goals at the forefront of your mind.
And, speaking of goals, setting language goals will also allow for maximum motivation. In fact, setting goals is a great way to achieve any goal and measure success.
When it comes to language, goal-setting is a great way to track your progress and move forward with your studies. In addition to daily practice, consider taking regular proficiency tests and participating in language-based activities like reading a foreign novel or attending cultural events that will allow you to practice your skills.
Consistency Over Quantity
Just as with any skill, practice makes perfect as you learn a new language. Think of that old proverb: “It doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you do not stop.” This age-old adage means that as long as you dedicate yourself to strengthening your learning skills consistently – even if it takes baby steps – you shouldn’t get too caught up in how quickly you’re learning.
A steady study plan that’s easily incorporated into your daily routine will help you stay on track. You may want to rotate between reading, speaking, writing, and listening each day in order to cover all your language-learning bases.
At the end of the day, don’t worry too much about how many textbook chapters you’re flying through a week or how many vocabulary words you’ve memorized. Just keep practicing, and your fluency will come naturally over time.
Leverage Study Tools To Study Smarter!
Have you ever heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder” at any point in your life? The same goes for studying a new language: study better, not longer! Use the resources and tools you have to make the most of your study time.
Here are a few study tools that won’t break the bank:
NoteLedge is a multimedia note-taking tool to help you take the most helpful language notes as you study. The app grants you the ability to place multimedia material right into your notes, including audio messages, video recordings, or online videos from YouTube and Vimeo. With these tools, you can easily add pronunciation or video clips to your language notes and make it more interactive than ever.
Language-learning podcasts and videos are great resources to use as you study. Inspod can help you make the most out of these formats by allowing you to place timestamps as you stream podcasts or YouTube episodes.
The app lets you utilize note cards and review your notes along with original clips frequently to retain the language better. It’s a valuable tool that’s perfect for learning new vocabulary, phrases, and information pulled straight from language-learning media.
When soaking up digital reading resources like articles, essays, and ebooks, Markup’s extension will allow you to highlight and take notes to your heart’s desire. You can highlight the vocabulary that you don’t understand and note down the meaning afterward on its web app.
Duolingo is one of the most popular language-learning apps – and with good reason! This app makes it easy and fun to keep up your language studies. Plus, the interface is highly motivating with positive encouragement, so you’ll never want to give up!
Document Your Progress
The best way to learn a language as efficiently as possible is to figure out the language-learning strategies that work best for you. To pay attention to your habits and what’s most helpful to you, keeping a language journal is a great idea!
Your language journal will allow you to keep an eye on exactly how much progress you’re making and at what rate. Fill it with personal observations about your language-learning strategies and experiences, including problems you’ve encountered and the particular ways you’ve solved those problems. This method will help you get an idea of your most effective language-learning strategies and move forward efficiently.
You can also track vocabulary progress in your journal by noting exactly which new words and phrases you learn each day. No matter what you write in your language journal, your notations on paper or in digital print will serve as a highly helpful tool.
Read more about “How to Document Your Progress”
3 Useful Language Tips for Self-Learners
Now that you have your language-learning strategies and plans in order, it’s time to get started! Get excited – this is the best part!
If you’re self-learning a new language outside of a classroom, you may face some unique difficulties. It can be difficult to navigate language learning without a teacher, native speakers, or classmates with whom you can practice. Don’t worry though, it’s still possible!
Here are some of our top tips for learning a new language on your own:
Talk to Yourself
Okay, so maybe you don’t have classmates…that doesn’t mean you can’t still practice speaking your new language! In fact, speaking is one of the most crucial (as well as the most challenging) parts of language learning. That’s why talking to yourself is one of our major tips for learning a new language.
Even if it sounds silly, taking some time to speak your new language each day will be extremely beneficial. 10-20 minutes each day can make a huge difference.
You can talk about anything you’d like, from what activities you did during the day to what food you ate for meals to what people in your family you spend the most time with! Use the words you already know, and look up any words you don’t because this strategy is how you’ll naturally learn a new vocabulary.
If you feel silly speaking out loud or don’t want anyone to hear you, speaking in your head will help too, but we highly suggest talking out loud for the most benefit.
Combine Your Habits or Interests
Do you enjoy watching movies, listening to music or podcasts, or reading books? Great, these activities are all extremely helpful when learning a new language!
For example, next time you reach for your headphones to listen to a podcast on your morning walk, consider choosing one in the language you’re learning. It doesn’t matter if you understand everything. Especially when you’re just getting started, you may not understand much at all. What matters is immersing yourself in the language and getting used to the tone, sound, and cadence of the words. Immersion will help you learn and speak better, as your brain will pick up on what’s important.
You should be sure, though, to dedicate attention to these activities. Keep in mind that if you’re just listening to foreign music as background noise, the effects won’t be as beneficial. So, listen frequently, and listen intently!
Review, review, review!
While making consistent progress by continually learning new skills and vocabulary words is important, it’s also vital to review what you’ve learned in the past to keep a tight grip on all of your knowledge.
You don’t want to forget what words mean or how a particular sentence should be structured, so be sure to frequently look back on past lessons and resources to stay on top of things. Take some time to regularly review your language-learning diary. You can even go back as far as your first entry to ensure you don’t forget anything!
To Sum Up
At the end of the day, learning a new language can be challenging. However, this process is also extremely exciting and highly rewarding, and it may not be as hard as you originally thought!
While the prospect of acquiring an entirely new language may seem intimidating, the right amount of motivation and persistence, along with killer language-learning strategies, will keep you on the right track.
Just remember: practice makes perfect, so keep at it and you’ll be speaking like a native before you know it!