Language learning is a big deal. Research consistently shows that those who learnt multiple languages at a young age are better able to learn languages effectively later in life. Not only that, but those same people also appear to be better at learning in general, and take to new ideas more quickly and effectively than their monolingual counterparts.
Additionally, learning multiple languages also enables you to communicate with people from all around the world, effectively, and can deepen your understanding of different cultures, regions, and so on. When you speak multiple languages, you have much more freedom to move around, are much more able to enjoy the cultural and artistic expressions of different peoples, and will likely just have a more fulfilling life overall.
Of course, all of this leaves out one of the major benefits of language learning today; namely, that it is considered a major asset among many potential employers.
Companies these days are generally globally connected. Even if they do not currently have operations stretching around the world, they will inevitably view it as a plus, rather than a minus, if their staff are able to converse fluently in multiple different languages.
But what if you were never much of “a language person?” Some people naturally seem to take to languages, and excel as soon as they get the idea into their head to actually become multilingual. Other people, on the other hand, really struggle with this and need to go through a process of trial and error in order to make it work.
Fortunately, there are various techniques that might be effective in helping you to learn a new language, even if you have generally struggled with many of the conventional methods available.
Here are some tips and techniques for learning a new language.
Expose yourself to plenty of subtitled media in the language
There are a couple of interesting parallel phenomena that are worth considering when you are setting out to learn a language on your own.
The first of these is the phenomenon of people who spend years (usually at school) learning a language, only to become slightly fluent at best, and then who move overseas to a country where that language is spoken, and within a year or two are fully conversationally fluent.
The second of these phenomena is people who have never undergone any – or at least, not much – formal study of a particular language, but who have essentially “taught themselves” through exposure to foreign-language media. This usually happens in the case of people who learn English as a second language, as English is the ubiquitous language of much media around the world today.
There is a phenomenon known as “total immersion learning”, that is leveraged by certain companies such as Rosetta Stone, that explains why these things might happen. Essentially, when people are constantly exposed to a given language, they naturally begin to pick things up even just subconsciously.
After all, we all learned our native language – at least to a basic conversational level – without much formal language tutoring.
One of the best ways to leverage this in your own life, without venturing overseas for extended periods of time, is to begin engaging with foreign-language media on a regular basis. If you want to learn a particular language, it could be well worth your time to invest in a bunch of different films in that language, as well as TV shows and the like. Subtitle services exist to help to translate content that may not have subtitles of its own just yet.
When exposing yourself to foreign-language media in this way, you should not convince yourself that this is a lesson, and become very uptight and stressed in how you engage with the media.
Of course, you should try and pick up the sounds of the speech, and pair it with what you’re reading in the subtitles. (This will be especially useful if you have also been attending regular classes alongside this practice). As a rule, the point here is actually just to enjoy the media, and let the language, and its sounds, naturally “saturate” your awareness.
This should not by any means be your sole strategy in learning a new language, but as a complementary approach, you are likely to find that it yields great benefit.
Take advantage of the wealth of apps and digital tools available for language learning today
Once upon a time – not too long ago, in fact –language learning essentially only meant one thing. It meant sitting in a classroom, with a teacher in front of you, and going through tables of conjugations, memorising lists of vocabulary, and engaging with what might be called the “traditional classroom experience.”
These days, however, many new apps and digital tools have become available specifically in order to help you learn languages in a more intuitive, and effective manner.
Let’s face it; if you’re reading this guide, there’s a good chance that using traditional language classes as your sole form of learning has not been wildly effective for you in the past.
So, take advantage of the apps and tools that are available to streamline this process.
Duolingo is one service which is very popular these days, and allows you to go through short lessons whenever you have the opportunity throughout the day. These can include things like vocab lessons, grammatical lessons, and all the rest, but presented in a straightforward “gamified” format that generally only requires 15 minutes or so at a time.
Then again, you could also go for more comprehensive paid services such as Rosetta Stone, which seek to simulate the experience of being in a foreign country, from the comfort of your own living room.
Do frequent, shorter, rather than longer and more occasional lessons
Sometimes, especially when people are busy, they adopt an approach to language learning which pretty much depends on taking a class a couple of times a week, and then attending to other matters during the interim.
There are reasons to think that this is not a very effective system. When these things are studied, people naturally learn skills faster, when they practice them regularly.
For example, if you want to learn to ride a bicycle, would you go cycling once a week? If you would, you’d be cheating yourself. Cycling for 20 minutes a day would be far more effective.
Whether it’s in the form of entertainment media, or through tools such as Duolingo, aim to spend time each day learning. The sessions should be frequent, and they don’t have to be very long. But they are likely to be significantly effective.