10 Tips to Learn A New Language

Every January 1st, thousands of Americans vow to learn a new language. Most never do. But in a world where just 5% of the population speaks English natively, polyglotism is a valuable professional and personal skill. Whether you want to update your résumé or have a better time on vacation, you can finally learn a new language with these tips.

1. Decide what learning a new language means to you.

Do you want to be able to read Candide in French, or just want to flirt in a Parisian bar? Decide how much of a new language you want to learn, and when you want to learn it by. Then, work backwards to schedule milestones you should hit, prioritizing anything that helps you achieve your goal. If you want to become well-versed in French literature, start reading children’s books as soon as possible.

2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

You will make mistakes, and panicking over them is the absolute worst thing you can do. Strive for a happy, Alpha brain state in which you’re relaxed, curious and eager to learn. When you do mess up, immediately repeat the sentence correctly. This reprograms your brain and prevents you from making the same mistake twice.

3. Listen to the language as much as possible.

To learn a new language, you must learn to recognize sounds that don’t exist in your native tongue. So listen to your target language as much as possible in a technique called ‘brain soaking.’ The meanings aren’t important; just familiarize yourself with different intonations, pacing and pronunciations. Try streaming an online radio station in your target language as you perform other tasks.

4. Decide how you want to learn the alphabet.

Have you ever noticed how confusing reading a language can be? Take English: though and thought look nearly identical but sound completely different. So some language experts recommend first studying a language phonetically, especially for languages like Japanese and Korean. But if you’re studying a language that also uses the Roman alphabet, recognizing different pronunciation patterns that are tied to different spellings can be incredibly helpful. Make an informed decision based on your target language and ultimate goal.

5. Learn vocabulary smartly.

The 1,000 most common words in a language are used in 90% of texts, and knowing 3,000 words will let you comprehend 95% of most conversations. So focus on learning them first. But don’t learn them by translating the word from your mother tongue, since you want to start thinking in the target language as soon as possible. Instead, use image association techniques as described here, or simply learn the word for ‘man’ by looking at a picture of a ‘man’ instead of the actual word. Once you have a basic knowledge of the language, look up words in a monolingual dictionary. And remember – an adult must use a word about 150 times to learn it properly. So memorize words using spaced repetition with an app like Anki.

6. Speak sooner than you think you can.

Do you remember any high school Spanish? If you said no, it’s likely because you never actually spoke Spanish. Speaking a language is a creative process, since you must take the building blocks of words and grammar and construct them into comprehensible sentences. Like any creative act, it can only be learned by doing. So speak with a native speaker as soon as possible, via travel or websites like Italki and MyLanguageExchange. You can also talk to yourself, acting out different scenarios (e.g. merchant and customer) in the shower. This prepares you for real conversations you might have and reveals any gaps in your knowledge.

7. Get different types of conversation buddies.

As you develop relationships with native speakers of your target language, look for two particular types of people. First, find a language parent. Like a real parent teaching their child to speak, a language parent provides a comfortable base from whom you can learn. A language parent doesn’t harshly correct you, but works to understand what you mean and introduces new words slowly at a comfortable pace. Once you are comfortable in your language, find a stickler, i.e. someone who isn’t afraid to constantly correct you when you make mistakes. A language parent and a stickler can be the same person – just not at the same time.

8. Realize that learning a new language is a physical process.

Did you know you have 43 muscles in your face? You can’t pronounce certain sounds in foreign languages because you’ve never learned how to manipulate your muscles in that way. While listening to the language and copying the sounds helps, you should also speak face-to-face with a native speaker so you can copy his/her facial movements. So get on Skype and start talking – if your face hurts after a few hours, you’re doing it right.

9. Keep talking.

It’s easy to stop studying a language once you reach your target goal. But if you read Candide in French and never read a French novel again, you’ll forget the language. Don’t let all your hard work go to waste. Make a point to keep talking or reading in the target language. The easiest way to do that is to maintain your friendship with your language parent or stickler.

10. Make it fun.

If you find learning a new language tedious, you’ll never reach your goal. So make it fun! Watch movies and travel. Go to ethnic restaurants and test your language skills with the staff, especially if you live in a racially diverse city. Dedicate a room into your house to speaking only this language. Check out more ideas here.

Do you speak more than one language? How did you learn it? Did we miss your best tips? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook, or Tweet us @SuperheroYou!

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

Written by Sasha Graffagna

Every January 1st, thousands of Americans vow to learn a new language. Most never do. But in a world where just 5% of the population speaks English natively, polyglotism is a valuable professional and personal skill. Whether you want to update your résumé or have a better time on vacation, you can finally learn a new language with these tips.

1. Decide what learning a new language means to you.

Do you want to be able to read Candide in French, or just want to flirt in a Parisian bar? Decide how much of a new language you want to learn, and when you want to learn it by. Then, work backwards to schedule milestones you should hit, prioritizing anything that helps you achieve your goal. If you want to become well-versed in French literature, start reading children’s books as soon as possible.

2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

You will make mistakes, and panicking over them is the absolute worst thing you can do. Strive for a happy, Alpha brain state in which you’re relaxed, curious and eager to learn. When you do mess up, immediately repeat the sentence correctly. This reprograms your brain and prevents you from making the same mistake twice.

3. Listen to the language as much as possible.

To learn a new language, you must learn to recognize sounds that don’t exist in your native tongue. So listen to your target language as much as possible in a technique called ‘brain soaking.’ The meanings aren’t important; just familiarize yourself with different intonations, pacing and pronunciations. Try streaming an online radio station in your target language as you perform other tasks.

4. Decide how you want to learn the alphabet.

Have you ever noticed how confusing reading a language can be? Take English: though and thought look nearly identical but sound completely different. So some language experts recommend first studying a language phonetically, especially for languages like Japanese and Korean. But if you’re studying a language that also uses the Roman alphabet, recognizing different pronunciation patterns that are tied to different spellings can be incredibly helpful. Make an informed decision based on your target language and ultimate goal.

5. Learn vocabulary smartly.

The 1,000 most common words in a language are used in 90% of texts, and knowing 3,000 words will let you comprehend 95% of most conversations. So focus on learning them first. But don’t learn them by translating the word from your mother tongue, since you want to start thinking in the target language as soon as possible. Instead, use image association techniques as described here, or simply learn the word for ‘man’ by looking at a picture of a ‘man’ instead of the actual word. Once you have a basic knowledge of the language, look up words in a monolingual dictionary. And remember – an adult must use a word about 150 times to learn it properly. So memorize words using spaced repetition with an app like Anki.

6. Speak sooner than you think you can.

Do you remember any high school Spanish? If you said no, it’s likely because you never actually spoke Spanish. Speaking a language is a creative process, since you must take the building blocks of words and grammar and construct them into comprehensible sentences. Like any creative act, it can only be learned by doing. So speak with a native speaker as soon as possible, via travel or websites like Italki and MyLanguageExchange. You can also talk to yourself, acting out different scenarios (e.g. merchant and customer) in the shower. This prepares you for real conversations you might have and reveals any gaps in your knowledge.

7. Get different types of conversation buddies.

As you develop relationships with native speakers of your target language, look for two particular types of people. First, find a language parent. Like a real parent teaching their child to speak, a language parent provides a comfortable base from whom you can learn. A language parent doesn’t harshly correct you, but works to understand what you mean and introduces new words slowly at a comfortable pace. Once you are comfortable in your language, find a stickler, i.e. someone who isn’t afraid to constantly correct you when you make mistakes. A language parent and a stickler can be the same person – just not at the same time.

8. Realize that learning a new language is a physical process.

Did you know you have 43 muscles in your face? You can’t pronounce certain sounds in foreign languages because you’ve never learned how to manipulate your muscles in that way. While listening to the language and copying the sounds helps, you should also speak face-to-face with a native speaker so you can copy his/her facial movements. So get on Skype and start talking – if your face hurts after a few hours, you’re doing it right.

9. Keep talking.

It’s easy to stop studying a language once you reach your target goal. But if you read Candide in French and never read a French novel again, you’ll forget the language. Don’t let all your hard work go to waste. Make a point to keep talking or reading in the target language. The easiest way to do that is to maintain your friendship with your language parent or stickler.

10. Make it fun.

If you find learning a new language tedious, you’ll never reach your goal. So make it fun! Watch movies and travel. Go to ethnic restaurants and test your language skills with the staff, especially if you live in a racially diverse city. Dedicate a room into your house to speaking only this language. Check out more ideas here.

Do you speak more than one language? How did you learn it? Did we miss your best tips? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook, or Tweet us @SuperheroYou!

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

Written by Sasha Graffagna

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