Trying to learn a new language? Have been taking language classes in high school and university, yet whenever presented with a chance you never speak the given language because you’re scared? Losing motivation quickly and not knowing how to really start (and keep up) studying? I got your back.
What if I told you there is actually no such thing as a language gene? Did you notice English is not my first (nor second) language? Because it really is my third. How did I learn?
I have picked up a lot of tips along the way, learning languages in and out of school, and I also learnt some of them during my BA studies. I study translation and interpretation with a specialization on European institutions and economics, and I spent the first 3 years teaching English at a language school part-time. I shared my tips before in my language (Slovak) over at my blog. But don’t worry, if you cannot speak Slovak, I share most of my ideas and inspirational tips over at Instagram, too.
MY TOP 5 TIPS ON HOW TO LEARN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
TIP 1: HAVE A SYSTEM
Is this point even a surprise at this blog? Systematic studying is successful studying. To me, there are only 2 rules I follow:
Rule 1: Have a good book/video course/teacher or any other material that has a clear structure and you can follow it.
This material is ideally only in the target language, containing vocabulary with translations, but explaining everything else in one language only. There are many good books out there which are great for such use, but if you already have classes at your school or you’re taking private ones, you can totally use those materials to the fullest (and I’ll tell you how later).
Rule 2: Work regularly
Can you become a professional athlete by working out once a week? Are you healthy by eating one piece of veggie in a few days? I didn’t think so… With language, just like muscles, health or musicality, you need to work regularly to see results. Just like you create a study plan or set your goals, you also need to have a clearly set plan of attack for language learning.
The ideal is to invest a bit of your time every single day to a specific language over a longer period of time (let’s say, 3 months). This will help you dive in and later on, you can work on maintaining your level just by dedicating a few hours a week.
TIP 2: ENJOY THE PROCESS
Language learning is fun. Don’t turn it into a chore. Find activities you already enjoy doing (listening to podcasts, reading books, talking to friends, watching movies or even journaling) and turn those into opportunities to learn. Why not start a new bullet journal in Spanish? Why not try listening to that amazing Korean podcast in the original language?
Why not try and get your hands on a book you love in another language? By doing something you enjoy, you are learning without realizing it.
TIP 3: USE THE RESOURCES YOU ALREADY HAVE
There are millions of things you can do with a classic language textbook:
- Rewrite the stories in them
- Retell them to someone (or record yourself) and analyze your speaking errors,
- Create your own little dictionary with new vocabulary using the Goldlist method (more here)
- Take literally any story and create a similar one about your own life (traveling faux pas, dinner with a friend, packing for college, all those typical themes that occur in all textbooks).
Besides, YouTube is full of amazing inspirational videos, tutorials, explanations and podcasts.
TIP 4: FIND A STUDY BUDDY
Believe it or not, at the age of 14 I found a friend who was interested in English. We both had basics (meaning: Hello, my name is Timka. Yep, that was kinda it).
I loved reading in English, he loved playing games in English. One day we decided to only use English. It was painful. The first weeks were literally us flopping through dictionaries (oh, the old times of actual printed dictionaries). But we learnt so fast! A few months have passed, and we went from chatting online to also talking on the phone in English.
This friendship has lasted for 10 years now. We both study and work in English. We both taught English, too. We officially have a C2 level (for anyone outside the EU, C2 is basically the highest command of a language within the European Framework of Languages, it means the level is close to natives). And we still to this day communicate in English and English only. We use our first language in company (and only if necessary, meaning – with parents, but not with friends and partners that can speak English).
So, this is a real life tested advice. Find yourself a study buddy. You can chat, skype, talk face-to-face, you can send each other amazing content you found, you can share your joys and pick each other up if necessary.
There are many groups on Facebook focusing on a specific language, so you could even find a pen pal (or, keyboard pal?). The more you speak, the more you will be able to speak. That’s just how it is.
TIP 5: STOP TRANSLATING IN YOUR HEAD
It is not helpful. NO, you do not need it. It slows you down, it confuses your mind, it tempts you to give up. Push yourself – there are ways to do this:
- Use monolingual dictionaries, that explain words in the given language instead of translating them into English
- Listen to podcasts made for language learners, where the switching between languages is only done when necessary, you won’t be tempted to translate if you can just follow the podcast step by step
- Start journaling in your target language
- Talk to yourself in the target language, you know, those little talks we all have during the day, start consciously switching them into the new language (this one is ridiculous but REALLY helpful).
- Switch your socials, phone and computer into the new language (not all at once, and be sure you know how to switch back!)
TIP 6: SHARE YOUR PROGRESS WITH LIKEMINDED PEOPLE
There are millions of people learning languages in the world. Actually, if we count all the people who speak English as a second language or as a foreign language, there are more L2 speakers than natives in the world! So, it is absolutely normal, natural and achievable to learn one! Once you get into the language learning community, you will be inspired every single day and you will realize one beautiful thing: language barriers don’t exist. It’s only people not trying to take a step forward.
MY GO-TO RESOURCES FOR LEARNING LANGUAGE
1. TED TALKS
These are two of the best TED talks about languages that I have ever heard! The first one is a young lady from my country, who is now learning her 9th (!) language. She usually learns a language in about two years and in the video below, she explains how exactly she does that (and why haven’t you done it yet):
These two young guys made a decision similar to mine: they only spoke their target language. Look where it got them to!
For Spanish learners, these are the resources I am obsessed with right now!
2. TV SHOWS
Spanish from Spain, both available on Netflix:
- Las Chicas del Cable
- La Casa de Papel
Learn Spanish with Coffee Break: list to it here.
SpanishPod101.com is an amazing website and YouTube videos, they do have a subscription plan but many of the resources are for free!)
4. YOUTUBE CHANNELS
Nekojitablog (https://www.youtube.com/user/macaroneru) a Japanese-Spanish married couple vlogs their life in Japan.
Now, there is obviously so much more to say about language learning, but this article is long enough without it! You can always send you questions to me over at Instagram.
I hope you found these tips useful, que tengáis un día fenomenal,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hey guys! I’m Timka, I’m a 23 year old proud Hufflepuff and I’m passionate about blogging, languages, carbs and volunteering. I do my best to study smart and not hard, and I believe there is so much more you can get out of you school years than just a diploma.
**This post is part of a series of guest blog posts being featured on LTLL, to share info and insights with you from different people in the studying community. If you’re interested in writing a post please message me privately!