The struggle behind learning a foreign language can be tough. You might even want to quit at some point along the journey.
For all of you in alignment with this feeling, let us guide you through our overview of the most common learning techniques along with some much-needed advice to stick to.
There’s a plethora of ways to learn a foreign language, some of which are less and more worthwhile devoting your time to. You may have given some of them a try already, but it didn’t get you far. That, as some people tend to do, doesn’t have to leave you saying you’re simply not cut out for languages.
I believe there’s no need to talk long-windedly about the advantages of speaking multiple languages. Traveling, brightening up your career prospects, having wealth of information at your disposal, a diverse portfolio of opportunities to seize, being more confident, flexible… you name it.
According to the Eton Institute,
„Learning a new language means your brain has to cope with complexity as it makes sense of and absorbs new patterns. As our brains work out the meaning, endeavoring to communicate, we develop key learning skills such as cognitive thinking and problem-solving.“
Several researchers also found that learning a foreign language sharpens the mind, reinforces multitasking skills, or even strengthens one’s capacity for making decisions.
Although the advantages may be familiar to you, how do you transform your awareness into practical knowledge?
Maybe you’ve been coasting through your Spanish lessons, or on the contrary, maybe you’ve been toiling away at it for so long. Either way, do you still find yourself in the vicious circle of going back and forth from learning new vocabulary and grammar to not being able to actively use the language?
7 learning methods and how to get the most out of them
To kick it off with some boost of motivation, here’s how Mark Manson, the three-time #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, sums up his journey to mastering a new language:
„I’m not going to blow smoke up your a** and tell you it was easy or that there’s some shortcut or hack. I practiced my a** off. Honestly, I’ve seen the supposed “hacks” for learning a foreign language, and none of them worked for me. It took hours of study combined with stumbling through many, many conversations.“
Despite all the difficulties that inseparably come with it, learning languages can be taken under control. That’s why we’ve put up a list of a few study techniques to help you advance your language skills once and for all. However, it’s always you who needs to keep at it.
1. All-time favorite advice: learning English through movies and TV shows
Yup, the hint you’ve been looking for does in fact hold its place here. You’ve probably heard this piece of advice a thousand times. Have you treated it responsibly, though? You know exactly what I’m insinuating… Switch the language, add your native language subtitles, and enjoy the movie with friends — that’s that. Sadly, this is just not how it usually works out.
Yes, even passive listening to a foreign language makes a difference. Experts believe it’s crucial to immerse yourself in the language by any means, which does include watching a movie in a foreign language.
However, if you really want to strengthen your skills, you’ll need to dive in. Better yet, you’ll need to drown. Let yourself know that you’re not only enjoying your leisure time—you’re also actively soaking up the language. The smoothness of your film experience may be affected. You might need to pause a trillion times. You might need to have a dictionary right there in your hand. You might need to replay quite a few parts. Realize both your motivation and the sacrifice that needs to be made. And don’t expect outstanding results without putting a drop of sweat into it.
However, I still feel it’s important to clarify that you don’t need to stick to the all-or-nothing approach. Whichever activity that includes the foreign language of your preference in any way will work in your favor.
2. Mobile apps
Is it just me, or does everyone else come across a variety of innovative online learning apps daily? Nowadays, there’s literally an unlimited range of such products to choose from.
Although this kind of learning has many indisputable drawbacks, it does its job when implemented along with other tools.
You may have to go through the options yourself and try them out to see which one works best for you. Some people, for example, prefer motivational stimuli in their apps, whereas others would rather die than listen to such.
Since language learning mobile apps are on the upswing these days, it asks for a separate article so stay tuned! We try to make it as effortless as possible for you — it’s us doing the research. All you need to know about different online platforms and a major comparison between them based on many factors, namely: affordability, ease of use, visual environment, breadth of content, and number of languages available; that and more to be published soon.
3. Learning through reading
Subscribe to foreign public figures on social media and follow their posts. Read articles. Read illustrated books for kids. And once you have the courage, take it further and read a whole book.
Does it sound unfeasible to you? Don’t let your mind drive you away from such an amazing challenge!
Even with this method of learning, there is a bunch of solutions to take some of the burden off your shoulders (see below).
What if every third word you read is new to you? Well, that takes solid patience just to put all of them in a translator, let alone to write them down. Unless you buy a parallel text book, with your native language on the left page and your study language on the right! But hey, you know which page to stick to. It might be tempting to do it the other way around, but that’s not what you want.
Parallel text books are typically sorted out according to their level. Don’t be ashamed to go for the beginner one first, and only scale it up when you feel confident enough. Some of the books even include footnotes with some of the key new vocabulary and its translation or explanation.
Also, there are books made specifically for non-native readers, meaning that their original text is adapted for a smoother reading and easier understanding.
Yet, you don’t necessarily need to know every single term to understand the context.Therefore, don’t bother about it too much; only focus on vocabulary that seems to be interesting to you or that is crucial to the narrative.
4. Personal tutor
The range of options we have in terms of learning is immense and great, but in fact, no cutting-edge app nor exciting podcast can fill in for an actual person. You might find the lack of feedback and explanation way too limiting. Why not get yourself a tutor then?
According to Mark Manson,
… if you have the money, grabbing a solid tutor and sitting with him or her for a few hours every day is the fastest way to learn a foreign language that I’ve found.
Apart from having an immediate response when you need it, having a lecturer is also worthwhile when struggling with discipline. Once you pay for a lesson and set aside time for it, the chances of you canceling it and instead surfing the internet naturally get thinner.
„But it’s too time-consuming because the time spent on the way to class adds up“… For all the habitual excuse-makers, there is a remedy to lengthy logistics – online lessons. So enough of these, and go do it! Beware of the downsides of group sessions though: these are usually not worth it.
5. Self-learning textbooks
If I had to choose one way of learning that is the most common yet the least effective, it would be through self-learning textbooks. Why, though? Sometimes people just tend to think they should lean toward the conventional. That nothing can go wrong with it. Only that it doesn’t necessarily mean it goes well either. Therein lies the rub!
When aiming to level up your command of a language, self-learning textbooks require a portion of determination and concentration. And self-reflection. And SO MUCH MORE!. Good luck if you still want to stick with it.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not my goal to defame any of the learning techniques whatsoever, particularly this one. It can be a great grammar reference or serve as an explanatory booklet. Yet, it might needlessly bore you and discourage you from making further efforts for improvements. You should never consider self-learning textbooks the mainstay of your development.
Here’s yet another fantastic way to learn language in a fun and engaging way. Just like movies, listening to podcasts gives you the freedom to choose whatever topic you find exciting. On top of that, you can use it to pass the time on your way to work, when cleaning up your place, or you can set it on your background whenever doing something that doesn’t require much of your concentration.
Besides classical podcast channels, there are also others that are specifically made to be educational resources, so if you’re worried about not understanding the podcasts of your choice, start with the lesson-based ones first.
It’s not in our power to name the best podcasts for learning every single language on Earth, but here are a few examples in case your spotlight is English.
Let’s start with a podcast for all the beginners out there – podcastsinenglish. The episodes never exceed five minutes in duration, so no excuses are accepted! What makes it even better is that for certain lessons, there are also worksheets that serve as a comprehensive aid and make the listening practice more engaging and complex.
For those of you with an intermediate level of English, 6 minute English from BBC Radio could become your go-to. This podcast covers day-to-day situations and the latest topics, releasing a new episode every Thursday. Mere 6 minutes in a day can bring value whereas it’s just a fraction of your time; win-win!
Another fantastic and even less time-consuming alternative produced by BBC is a podcast titled The English We Speak. This time, the content is aimed exclusively at phrases, expressions and idioms commonly used by native speakers. Let’s see if you know what the all three followings mean: „twiddle your thumbs“, „willy-nilly“, „thereby hangs a tale“… What’s your score?
If you consider yourself an advanced speaker and seek some challenging native English podcasts, your pool of choices is infinite. Anyway, for those looking for inspiration, here’s my personal favorite: Crime Junkie might not be for everyone since it revolves around nothing but crime, but if you’re obsessed with real-life stories, this one’s for you! I can assure you that Ashley Flowers, the host of the show, will cause you everything from shivers, grief, anger to thrills.
7. The core of your progress: real conversations
Every time you find yourself in the country that is the native land of your desired language, get out of your comfort zone and speak. Talk. Chat. Converse. And speak again. The more the better.
None of the learning means listed above go as far as an actual conversation with a native does. I don’t advise you to evoke drawn-out, complicated discussions with passersby, but I do advise you to seek out opportunities. Or, more accurately, to be open to them when they appear. For instance, ask the locals for help if needed.
Brendan Richard Lewis, an Irish author, blogger, and the creator of Language Hacking techniques who speaks seven languages fluently, states:
The biggest barrier in the beginning is the lack of confidence,” said Lewis. “That got better and better for me [as I spoke].
Having experience speaking with natives is exactly the boost you need to build confidence and, therefore, go on and polish up your skills.
I get you. What if traveling to a country of your preference happens to be rare in your case? Let’s talk about the alternatives, such as getting an online language buddy. Dozens of people want to speak YOUR language, so why don’t you make a deal? In exchange for your natural knowledge, the person on the other end shares theirs. Is it still a bargain even if it’s free?
Above all, you’ll get to experience the language in its natural habitat. You’ll hear the way it’s really spoken, whereas it’s not within the power of any sort of textbook to cater to that. To top it all, you’ll get to know how well you catch on and whether it is in speaking or listening that you are lagging.
The essentials to wrap it up
Mastering a foreign language is a complex task, and it comes as no surprise that each learner has to find his or her own models and approaches that resonate with them the most.
However, we would like to mention six more rules that we consider far too relevant to leave out.
6. Let yourself make mistakes
If it’s the fear of saying something wrong that’s holding you back, do yourself a favor and just forget it.
Otherwise, this attitude will lead you to a deadlock. Every single one of us has started somewhere, and it’s absolutely human to err. Rarely do you encounter someone who would laugh at your mistakes, and once you do, you know who’s to blame.
So do not overthink your errors, do not overthink grammar; just talk! You’ll be surprised at how much progress you’ve made once you apply this basic principle.
5. Immerse in the language
Expose yourself to the language on a daily basis, combining all your senses.
The more you are used to it, the easier it gets for you to find the right words when you need them.
4. Know your motivation and set goals
As with any other activity, there’s no chance you’ll pick up your language skills without having your motivation and goals defined.
3. Speak as much as possible
Speaking is the principal key to your dreamed-of mastery. Speak up wherever and whenever possible.
2. Turn it into your daily habit
Once you implement your study language into your day-to-day life at any given form, it quite organically becomes your routine.
And what happens if you disrupt it? Well, your day will end up fairly incomplete! And that’s exactly what we want right here – incorporate it into your daily functioning so that it feels wrong to miss it out.
1. Do not rely on just one learning method
And last but by far not the least, don’t forget to include all of these study tools in your school bag, along with a few more.
None of these will work as a stand-alone solution.
What has your experience with learning a new language been like? What do you find the most challenging? Are there any other ways that helped you succeed?
We’d love to hear your thoughts! Let’s get the discussion started in the comments section below.
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