There are many good reasons to learn a new language. You might be interested in diversifying your skillset so you look better on resumes. You might be interested in traveling to a foreign location, and want to communicate more efficiently with the locals. Or you might just be interested in broadening your linguistic capabilities, or your exposure to other cultures.
Whatever your motivations, learning a new language can be challenging. If you want to learn the language comprehensively, and at a reasonable pace, it’s important that you have the right approach.
How to Learn a Language
Follow these steps if you want to learn a language as quickly and efficiently as possible:
- Choose the right language. First, you need to choose the right language. You might choose a language based on the number of people who currently speak it, the market demand for translators of that language, or your personal interest in the culture that speaks this language. You can use these factors as influences for your decision, but you should also keep in mind that language’s proximity to your own; languages in the same “family” are easier to learn than completely novel ones.
- Become familiar with the high points of the language. Before you get too far into the learning process, try to learn some of the high points of the language. For example, you can learn the basic sentence structures used in the language, the alphabet (if it’s different than yours), or the main differences between your language and the new one you’re trying to learn. This will make it easier for you to learn your first few lessons.
- Get a good translation app. Next, get a translation app that will help you translate whole phrases between multiple languages. While you shouldn’t rely on this for every interaction you have with your new language, it’s good to have it on hand for when you aren’t sure how to translate a specific phrase, or when you’re interested in learning something new.
- Learn the basics. Next, learn the basics of the language. You can do this any way you choose—with an app, with a tutor, in a class setting, or with written lessons online or in a book. There are many viable ways to learn, so choose the one that best fits your learning style, personality, and availability. Most classes will start you off with the basics of the language, including the alphabet and pronunciation rules, along with key phrases like greetings, how to ask for directions, and the names of basic household items. You’ll spend significant time at this step, so don’t rush it—the goal is to learn and retain this knowledge.
- Immerse yourself. Now comes the fun part; you need to immerse yourself if you’re going to learn the language properly. That means allowing yourself to be exposed to the language in a natural environment, and forcing yourself to try and comprehend it—even if you don’t get everything right away. Depending on what’s available to you, this could mean spending time in a foreign country, having full conversations with a native speaker, or watching TV shows and movies in a foreign language (without translated captions). This will be very challenging when you start, but the more time you spend immersed, the easier it will be to translate.
- Practice consistently. It’s vital that you practice on a consistent basis, or you won’t be able to reinforce the key lessons you’ve learned. Ideally, you’ll be able to practice for at least 15 minutes a day. At a minimum, you should be practicing once a week. And since there are many ways to practice, such as listening to a podcast or watching a show in another language, you should be able to find time to get that practice in.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Finally, work on getting out of your comfort zone. If you’re used to watching shows in a language, try reading books. If you’re used to one conversational partner in your new language, try to branch out to new native speakers. If you rely on the same strategies and lessons for too long, you’ll stop progressing, so it’s important to routinely challenge yourself.
Retaining the Language
Learning the language isn’t necessarily like riding a bike; the longer you go without speaking, hearing, reading, or writing the language, the harder it will be for you to use. If you want to retain your linguistic capabilities, so you can use them indefinitely, you’ll need to practice on a regular basis—long after you feel comfortable with your level of fluency. Don’t get complacent and fall out of practice, or you’ll regret it.