We all know what it’s like to have a great idea for a project and have absolutely no idea where or how to begin. Not unlike other projects; it can be hard to pin down the best place to start learning a new language.
I hear complaints all the time from people who want to start learning a new language, but who still struggle to really get the ball rolling. Perhaps you’ve wanted to learn German or Japanese for several years, but for what ever reason the time wasn’t right.
Regardless, you have to start somewhere so lets take a look at a few simple steps to get you headed in the right direction.
Why do you want to learn a new language? There has to be a reason, otherwise you wouldn’t bother.
Rather than simply focusing on the overall goal of attaining fluency; think about using multiple, shorter goals along the way.
Break your project into manageable pieces and feel a greater sense of accomplishment when you achieve these victories.
Write these goals down and put them somewhere that you will see often. You want to remind yourself of what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Even the act of creating goals can improve your motivation, and that, my friend, is key!
This one is huge. So huge in fact that I wrote a separate post devoted entirely to goal setting and the importance of creating goals that fit the “SMART” model. So be sure to check that out! I really can’t emphasize just how important it is to know what it is you’re after.
2) Prior Knowledge
If English is your first language you must be aware of the impact other languages have had on it throughout its history. French in particular, if you’ve never studied it, would amaze you with the number of words it has managed to impart on the English language over the centuries. Chances are you already know something of the new language you’re planning to learn, even if you weren’t aware of it before. So sit down with a pad of paper and write down as many words as you can think of in that language. Perhaps you don’t know any. I don’t really know any Swahili words, so this phase, for me, would be rather short if I were learning Swahili. And that’s okay!
It doesn’t have to take a long time, just a few minutes, but it allows you to get your head in gear; thinking about the sounds and word structures. Don’t stress yourself out racking your brain either, it’s really just a nice way to create a foundation upon which to build.
3) How Do You Learn?
Do you know how you learn best? Think back to high school or college/university. Are you a note-taker? Do you absorb more material just sitting there and listening? What about reading? Various techniques work differently for different people, and it’s important when learning a new language, or any new skill, to play to your strengths.
Numbers 3 and 4 go hand in hand. Once you’ve figured out how you prefer to learn, think about how you’d like to go about learning this particular language.
If this isn’t your first time learning a 2nd language you may already have experience with methods that work as well as methods that don’t. If this is your first time try to keep this diagram in mind when selecting methods to help you learn.
Any polyglot, linguist or teacher will tell you that the best way to learn a language is going to be immersion. You *need* to get out in the world (or on the Internet) and actually talk to real people. Native speakers, other learners, it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re speaking and hearing your language. But that’s not going to be enough most of the time and a plethora of other learning materials exist.
So keeping step #3 in mind; how do you learn best? If you’re an auditory learner try to find programs that allow you to hear the language spoken, frequently. Methods like The Pimsleur Approach are good for this.
You should also be trying to watch videos online as well as movies and music. We offer a compilation of some of our favorite polyglots and linguists’ YouTube channels and podcasts here. Be sure to check that out!
If you’re a visual learner there are tons of games and books and other resources, most of which can be found online. And remember – you shouldn’t be spending a lot of money. There are ample resources floating around the web that are free or at least inexpensive. Look for these. Plenty of free online language courses and tools are at your disposal!
5) The Power of Friends
Nobody wants to learn alone if they don’t have to. Try to find a friend or family member who is willing to learn with you. Another learner means another person to speak to, which is an invaluable resource. A friend can help keep you motivated and on track in pursuit of your goals.
Don’t have friends who are into learning languages? You need new friends! But in all seriousness that isn’t a big problem. The world is teeming with people interested in learning with you, all you have to do is know where to look and ask.
Check out your favorite social media pages and groups. The language learning community online is extremely tolerant to new learners, helpful and enthusiastic about working with others, so don’t be shy!
6) Just Do It!
You know that anxious feeling moments before you jump into a swimming pool or the ocean? You know it’s going to be cold as hell, and for a few moments it’s going to suck the air right out of your lungs.
That shocking, biting feeling goes away pretty quickly, but when you’re standing on the edge of the pool getting ready, you know it isn’t going to be as bad as you think, but that’s not much comfort in the moment.
Taking the first steps to learning your new language can feel similar for some people. Perhaps you’ve been wanting to do this for years, but haven’t really built up the nerve, or convinced yourself the time was always wrong. Told yourself you didn’t have time or the “language gene” (Pro tip – there’s no language gene).
So this last one seems a bit obvious but it’s worth mentioning.
Dive right in! Just like that swimming pool you know that once you’re in the air over the water, you’ve committed, there’s no turning back, and it might be frustrating at first but it gets easier. Don’t give up, just wait out the cold. You’ll get used to it pretty fast and be well on your way to learning a new language in no time at all.
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