If you’re feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the prospect, you’re not alone. However, there are plenty of ways you can adapt your study methods and even your mindset to ensure you get the best possible results from your learning.
From setting realistic goals to learning to laugh at your own mistakes, here are 10 tips guaranteed to help you succeed.
1. Be clear about your goals
When you’re learning a new language—or beginning any project—it’s essential to have a clear idea of exactly what you’d like to achieve. Having an end goal can be an extremely effective tool to help you stay motivated and manage your time effectively.
Start by setting yourself realistic short-term objectives that you should easily be able to achieve. You could, for example. commit to spending a certain number of minutes on your lessons every day or to memorizing a certain number of new vocabulary words. Once you have built up some momentum, you can progress to more ambitious mid- and long-term goals.
Consider using a reward or event as a milestone in your learning. Perhaps you’d like to order a meal in Japanese on your next holiday in Tokyo or, in the longer-term, you could aim toward watching a foreign-language film without subtitles.
2. Prioritize commonly used vocabulary
Acquiring a language is like any project—it often makes sense to tackle the easiest wins first. By focusing on words and phrases that come up in conversation most often, you can quickly increase the number of situations in which you can communicate effectively. Consider how many everyday exchanges revolve around topics such as family, family, or hobbies.
Whatever language you’re learning, you should find a list of the most commonly used vocabulary online or in a textbook. Many apps and online platforms also begin their study programs with exercises designed to reinforce frequently used parts of speech.
Even if you’re not yet able to speak a language yourself, having a working knowledge of its basic vocabulary should help you understand what others are saying.
3. Review any material you learn
Whether you’re attending a language school or learning through an app, it can be difficult to find the time for reviewing any material you’ve covered in your lessons. This can be especially true if you’re working full time or looking after young children. However, putting in the time to review material you have already studied is essential if you’d like to properly commit this information to memory.
If you’re struggling to find the time to go over your course material, it can be useful to draw up a study plan at the beginning of each month. Be realistic about the amount of time you can commit and build chunks of review time into your schedule. These might be as short as 15 minutes. For many people, learning little and often can be more manageable than scheduling in slots of 1 or 2 hours.
4. Hone your conversation skills online
When you’re learning to speak a new language, there is no substitute for practicing with native speakers. While the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to meet these individuals in person, there are numerous ways you can engage with native speakers online.
Several language learning platforms, for example, allow you to schedule live classes with native speakers over conferencing software such as Zoom or Skype. Once you’ve signed up, your instructor can engage you in conversation and help you with pronunciation. Depending on the platform you choose, you can either schedule group sessions or personalized 1-to-1 classes.
Alternatively, you could take part in an online learning exchange. These programs allow you to find a partner who speaks the language you’d like to acquire and who wishes to learn your native tongue. You can then schedule regular sessions in which you can both practice your language skills and offer one another support.
5. Embrace the power of social media
While social media may divide opinion, it can be a fantastic learning resource when used correctly. Relatively simple measures such as following native speakers on Twitter or joining Facebook groups for language learners can be a great way to immerse yourself in a new language. What’s more, you can also get involved with a community of online learners who can offer help and support if you need it.
A number of well-established apps and online learning platforms also put a great deal of their content on channels such as YouTube for free. Even if you’re not learning via one of these platforms, it doesn’t hurt to check out what they have to offer.
6. Listen to radio and watch TV
When you’re learning a new language, it helps if you can hear the language being spoken as often as possible. Outside of any lessons you’re taking, try listening to or watching as many radio or TV broadcasts as you can in your language of choice. Thanks to the rise of streaming services, gaining access to foreign-language shows could be as simple as changing the settings on your Netflix or Disney Plus account.
Remember, these don’t need to be high-brow or educational shows. In fact, it’s probably best if they aren’t. By watching soap operas and reality TV in a foreign language, you can become familiar with rhythms of speech and the pieces of slang native speakers use most often.
7. Do some revision of your own language
Before you can get to grips with the grammar and vocabulary of another language, you’ll need a thorough grounding in the workings of your own. You speak your native tongue every day, but are there any points of grammar that have always puzzled you? If so, do your homework and find the answers to any questions you may have.
Since many languages share common roots and elements of vocabulary, having a clear understanding of your own language will place you in an excellent position when you’re trying to build proficiency in another.
8. Plan a trip
If you’re learning a new language, visiting the region where the language is spoken can be an excellent opportunity to meet locals and engage them in conversation.
Once you’re mixing with native speakers, you’ll have an opportunity to show off your skills, but you’ll also be able to identify gaps in your knowledge.
Having a trip to look forward to can also be a great way to motivate yourself in your studies, especially if your enthusiasm is waning. For many people, planning a holiday abroad could remind them of the reasons they started learning the language in the first place.
Even if Covid-19 restrictions or a tight budget mean an overseas trip is unlikely in the immediate future, having this as a long-term target could help you stay on track with your learning goals.
9. Give yourself rewards
While setting yourself goals can be invaluable when acquiring new skills, it’s also essential that you reward yourself when your goal is achieved. The level of reward will, of course, depend on your budget, and it doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. You could try buying yourself a bottle of your favorite wine or treating yourself to a box of chocolates in recognition of any milestones you’ve hit.
And remember to be vocal about your success. When you’ve accomplished something significant, share the news with your partner, colleagues, friends, and kids. If you’re a member of a class or Facebook group, tell others about your progress. Your success could motivate them in their learning.
10. Learn to laugh at your mistakes
No matter how dedicated you are, learning a new language is a big challenge. You’re bound to get plenty of things wrong at first. If you make a mistake, try to see the funny side.
Any slips of the tongue you make now could end up being a funny story you tell at dinner parties in years to come. Also, remember to be kind to other people who make mistakes. It happens to all of us.
As well as being an educational and empowering experience, learning a new language ought to be a fun one. But if you’re finding the process difficult, there are several things you can do to help yourself feel in control and bring back a sense of enjoyment. Remember, you’re far more likely to retain new information if you’re feeling relaxed and enjoying the learning process.
And finally, try to keep your end goals in mind. Learning a language can have its tricky moments, but the rewards will certainly be worth the effort if you land a big promotion or meet the love of your life while traveling in Rome.