You’ve decided to learn a new language. You’ve bought a book. But after the initial excitement of exploring this new world begins to fade, page by page, you might wonder what you’ve got yourself into.
Fear not, it always starts that way. It’s new, it’s foreign, and it’s daunting.
After learning three languages, I can assure you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can achieve a basic level of fluency in a new language. You just have to set yourself up for success.
Take Your Time
Learning a language takes time and, to be honest, never really ends. Without scaring you off, you’ve embarked on a long-haul journey that will probably last a lifetime. You don’t become proficient in a day. You gradually improve as you put in the time. So don’t rush it, savour it. It’s like travelling, learning a language is a cultural experience.
Start with Personal Pronouns
Have a look at what people call themselves in this new world. Learn what to call yourself. Knowing the I’s, You’s, and We’s of a language is the perfect place to start because sentences start with them. Another great reason to start here is to learn the intricacies of addressing people appropriately from the start. Knowing what to call people based on your level of intimacy and their age is important because it’s a sign of respect and it helps you avoid awkwardness.
Look at the Verb System
Have a look at the conjugation or how verbs change according to the subject in the new language. As English speakers we’re used to just two verb forms in conjugation, for example; I walk, she walks. Other languages, like the popular romance languages, have a different verb conjugation system.
Getting acquainted with verb conjugation in languages like Spanish and French is essential. I highly recommend listing the personal pronouns one below the other and writing the associated verb form next to each one. This way you can quickly see the verb change patterns and apply them to new words.
On to Articles and Prepositions
The articles (the, a, an) are another point of difference between languages. They help us build simple sentences which is what we’ll need to start doing. You’ll also need to know a few simple prepositions (to, in, on, at). These are the building blocks of sentences.
Build a Basic Vocabulary
Keep a notebook for vocabulary. You’ve got to build a repertoire of words. It’s helpful to record all new words in one place for later use. Also, the act of writing the word will help you remember it. Start with a few common nouns so you can build some sentences. At this point, you’ll be able to say: “I sing in the shower”. Fabulous!
Read Like Crazy
The awesome thing about learning a new language in the internet age is that you have access to foreign language reading material that isn’t as tough to read as One Hundred Years of Solitude in its original Spanish.
Go online and read magazine articles. They’re a great place to start because the language is easier and you’ll see how people speak the language in everyday life. You won’t understand much at first, but don’t worry. Try to spot words you’ve learnt, look up new words, and try to understand what you’re reading by doing simple translations. Write your new vocabulary in your notebook and jot down any phrases you notice as this will help you build more complex sentences of your own.
From here on out you’ll spend time reading, building your vocabulary and getting a feel for the flow of the language. This is where you’ll have to put in the time to improve but, I assure you, it’s all worth it when you can read a few paragraphs and understand them.
Listen to the Radio
Another fabulous aspect of the internet: you don’t have to live in a foreign country to listen to foreign language radio. Stream radio to get used to hearing the language, the flow, and the pronunciation. I guarantee you won’t understand anything at first but, that’s ok because understanding every word isn’t the goal. You’ve just got to get used to hearing it and, bonus, there’ll be music. Keep at it and you’ll pick out a word here and there, then a sentence, until eventually, you’ll be following along without problems.
Learning a new language can be tough, but it’s incredibly rewarding. It’s also a very desirable skill. Language learning, much like life, is all about the journey, not the destination. So keep at it and enjoy it.