Tips for Learning a New Language

The header might sound silly in this era of WWW and easy access to tons of information but people often ask me how I managed to master 2 foreign languages, not forget my own and stay on track to learn 2 more. So in this article, I’ll try to summarise the tips that helped me to get through all this and also give some useful advices that I myself found very useful when I was just starting.

So… Here it goes:

  1. If you want to start learning a new language but you’re scared of the whole idea and not really confident in your success – my advice is… don’t be! Because every new thing we experience on a day-to-day basis always seems scary at first but once you’ve started and got to know it better, it doesn’t seem that scary anymore. In fact, you might really enjoy it and end up spending all your spare time doing this thing (whatever it should be).
  2. Once you get determined about your new goal, start it right away. Don’t wait until tomorrow, next week, next month… And sure, don’t make it your New Year’s resolution! Because we never keep our NY resolutions – we all know that. It’s like a diet – if you want to start it on Monday it won’t work in 99% of cases, but if you want to get to it right away – just throw away your burger and go to the gym. Like now.
  3. Now, getting to the most interesting part… Learning. At school, learning was compulsory so many of us didn’t enjoy it much; but now you have to realise that it’s your personal choice and you don’t have to complete hundreds of assignments to get an “A”. Try to get an “A” for yourself – it’s much more fun, believe me.
  4. Getting to the practical information… Slowly. OK, you’ve made your choice on the language you want to learn, you’re really excited about it, and… You started downloading free eBooks from all the possible torrent trackers and buying some paper books in store as well. DON’T! My first practical advice will be: spend some time searching for advice on the best materials online, look through forums, view some videos on Youtube. Then, keeping in mind all that information, start searching through the torrent trackers BUT try to download materials with the greatest number of seeders – they are usually the best and most useful ones. Don’t forget to check that they are for beginners – you don’t want to download gigabytes of stuff you don’t need at the moment.
  5. When I first started learning English, it was all about the theory. We had to learn grammar rules and irregular verbs; and it went on and on for ages. There was no practice involved, we didn’t get to hear native English speech, we were basically all just robots repeating all the same information on and on again. If at that point somebody asked me a simple question in English, I’m not sure I would be able to reply. Anyway, my point is – less theory, more practice. Throw away all your grammar books (just like that burger) – and start practicing! P.S. Well, not all of them. Leave just one – the best one – and by saying “the best” I don’t mean the book that received the highest ranking on the Internet, but the one you find the easiest to use. You should get familiar with the language basic rules at first, anyway; and the best way to do it is to use a comprehensible book rather than some brain-damaging guide that would be only suitable for Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory” – if you know what I’m talking about. I’m not saying that grammar shouldn’t be involved at all – but you should use it more like a reference guide – for example, when you hear something you don’t understand. Just search the guide, go through the new rule, and it will stay in your brain forever – believe me; rather than learning that rule by heart but being unable to use it in real life.

Best Resources to Use

  1. Smartphone/iPad Apps. There are so many of them these days! What you can expect: interactive and user-friendly interface, vocabulary lessons, conversational tips, travel phrases, grammar rules and many more. Features vary from app to app, the same with the prices. A lot of them are absolutely free! Some of the apps I can personally recommend: Duolingo, Memrise, Busuu, HelloTalk.
  2. Movies and TV shows should become your best friends. And yes, you should forget about your own language for a while and start watching TV in the language you want to learn. Funny thing – I never really enjoyed “Friends” in Russian but when I first watched it in English it immediately became my favourite TV show. I guess, some jokes can’t be translated into another language – that’s where comes the advantage of being bi-/tri-/whatever-lingual. Movies are very important! Just pick your favourite genre, download/buy favourite movies, enable subtitles – and here you go! All set up and ready to learn. P.S. When I first started watching movies in English, I watched them with Russian subtitles. This way, I could get immediate translation of the words I didn’t know and those words stayed in my memory for a long time. I switched to English subtitles in a year’s time, and in one more year I finally switched them off – because I didn’t need them anymore.
  3. Books. This one is tricky because not all of us enjoy reading and some of us just don’t have time for that. But if you’re a book lover like me and you’ve got couple of spare hours during the weekend, reading should become your second best friend for sure! The most useful thing about it is that when you watch TV you’re trying to perceive the language by ear, but when you read a book you’re able to SEE how all the sentences appear in writing, so in future you can re-create the structures just from your visual memory. Combination of watching movies and reading books in foreign language will make you bilingual in no time, believe me.
  4. News. I’m talking about news from the Web at the moment but if you have a chance to buy newspapers/magazines in the language you’re learning, that will be a great advantage. Anyway, this tip is really simple – just set up your favourite RSS reader on your PC or download a similar app on your phone. There’s a lot of them, it’s more about personal choice and preferences. I use Feedly on all my gadgets, and I enjoy it a lot. You can find and set up news from almost anywhere in the world, they will appear in local languages, of course; so you have no choice but to read them as they are.
  5. Communication. This one is tricky as well BUT if you have any opportunities to talk to native speakers to practice the language, you should use all of them. There are also quite a few language exchange apps for smartphones these days; the way it works is you specify a language you’re learning and your mother tongue, and people from the other side of the world interested in learning your language will contact you and offer to exchange some language lessons.
  6. Mastering your accent. Communication may be useful in this case but you can master your accent in some other (and very good) ways as well. Now, just 2 words: TV + radio. Yep, that’s correct. If you’re determined and ready to spend at least half an hour everyday to either watch TV/listen to radio (not that hard, huh?) in the local language, you will succeed in sounding like a native speaker in no time, believe me. BUT!!! Don’t just watch it/listen to it, try to repeat as well! As many times as possible. In this case, practice is everything.

    P.S. I invented my own method to practice Kiwi accent – I downloaded the local TV app on my iPad; and while watching news in the morning I used to record them on my phone. Then, on my way to school and back I listened to those recordings and tried to repeat everything I heard. Result = Time Saving + Great Accent Practice!

  7. Create a blog! Not in your own language, but in the language you want to learn. If you’re just a beginner, you can publish posts about grammar/vocabulary/pronunciation difficulties, and people will help you with them! Usually, when you ask for advice, you always get one, so don’t be scared 🙂

    If you’re a confident speaker but still want to improve your writing skills – create a blog! This way, you can master your skills by just expressing your thoughts in writing – and you can also visually see what mistakes you’re making and try to avoid them in the future.

    There’s a lot of little things you can use to make your learning much easier and more fun – for example, using pinned translations everywhere you can in the house or keeping a diary of what you’ve learnt today. Be creative, find the things that excite you most and try to adjust them to your learning – believe me, it works! Don’t get stuck in one place, try to make your learning as much fun as possible; otherwise you’ll end up being buried in the routine.

    Some qualities that will help you to succeed: persistence, self-confidence and enthusiasm.

    Shall we start?.. 🙂

     

    gamified-language-learning-duolingo.png

    © Alisha Menshchikova, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alisha Menshchikova with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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