World Wednesdays - Learning a Foreign Language
(5-7 minute read)
An introduction to what you need to get started on a useful skill.
Learning a new language besides your native one is truly one of the best things you can do in life. The benefits are easy to see, you will add a great skill to your resume, learn how to communicate with a different culture, and keep your mind sharp as you age. Although learning a new language is something many people do for school, work, or pleasure it is usually difficult to maintain a sustained interest in it without strong determination and proper goals.
Keeping that momentum going is crucial, because learning a language is like a knife it must be kept sharpen to be useful. Today I will introduce you to some basic tools and tips you can use to start learning a new language or restart one that you have forgotten.
The very first thing you may want to do is test yourself even if it is your first time learning that language. You can also test your native language to see how well you actually known the rules and structure of your native tongue. This is important since not understanding the grammar and syntax structure of how languages work will make learning a new one painfully harder.
The following website allows you take a very basic test on the major languages of the world. This is also good for those getting back into the language again as it can pinpoint your weak areas and show what you need to focus on.
Once you have an idea on where you are it is now time to decide what your strategy will be and what goals you want to accomplish.
Setting a goal will be based on what you want to do with the second (or thrid) language. Do you want to be at the conversational level to use with friends or family? Do you need to master the language for a potential relocation, or maybe just the basics for a vacation?
All these options also come with more in-depth questions about whether you want to focus on writing, speaking, listening or reading, ideally you want all of them but some will come easier to you and you may not have an equal need for others.
Designing a strategy to accomplish this goal will also depend on how much time you are able and willing to dedicate to this goal, financial resources you have, and mental fortitude to stick with it when you hit a wall.
You will need also need a lot of types of resources to help you keep the material interesting and engaging. Let’s look at the possible ideas on how to structure a plan and what to use.
There are dozens of apps available in digital stores that can offer plenty for little to no cost at all. The benefit of using these apps depends on how much time you spend on your phone or tablet. If you use public transportation then using an app on your commute is ideal as it is easy to practice a lot without scheduling in additional time during the day. The downside to using app based plans on the phone is that it is easy to get distracted and stay on it for extended periods of time. Ideally learning apps are best for staying sharp on what you currently known and adding new material at a slower pace.
Two well known and recommended apps are Duolingo and Memrise. Both are equally good and your preference will depend on your style of learning. Duolingo focuses a lot more on repetition and new vocabulary through a gamification focus, while Memrise places more emphasis on grammar uses a flashcard approach.
The next method of learning is passive learning. This is in instead of full immersion which can only obtained by being in the countries where the language is spoken. Passive learning is surrounding yourself with as much of the language as possible. This includes turning on subtitles to your movies and tv in the language of your choice. This is a great way of picking up new words and phrases and seeing the translation right away.
Word of caution though, some languages exist in different variants like Canadian French and are used in place of traditional French so pay attention to the option listed as it does make a difference.
If you like to binge watch shows on Netflix this is perfect since you can rewatch something you are already familiar with and quickly pickup phrases and words. Now Netflix original shows have also added audio options in many languages which makes it easier in this digital age instead of purposefully rewatching Blu-Rays and DVDs with audio tracks changed. This gives you plenty of options and varieties on programming to choose from.
This next tip is ideal for someone who feels comfortable challenging themselves in a new way. Change your device settings to your second language and you will quickly pick up new words that you may not encounter so often. This is a great motivational tool as reverting back to your old settings will feel like a step backwards. If you use an artificial intelligence assistant like Siri or Cortana using it with your second language is great as you will know whether or not you are speaking it correctly.
Another way of engaging yourself at a new level is playing video games. I specially recommend video games as most modern ones offer you the opportunity to experience the whole thing in different languages. This is great for those who are probably at the intermediate level and want to challenge themselves by accomplishing complex tasks and goals.
(I completed this whole game of approximately 72 hours entirely in French!)
This won’t teach you grammar or specific rules but it does help a lot with learning new words and phrases while also making you an active listener, practicing reading comprehension, and complex problem solving. If you have a favorite game you love replaying and the language option is available, going back and trying that is great a way to relive the experience.
This also helps a lot with a book series you love. Rereading it in a new language will allow you to experience it with a new perspective. One easy example (if you like them) is Harry Potter as it is available in 72 different languages and has 7 books of increasing complexity and length.
The goal of immersion learning is incorporating your second language to your live as much as possible. Finding specific topics and activities you like will help keep you engaged and learning as if you were in your target country.
Lastly of course is using a guided pathway which involves any type of academic environment as it offers a lot of structure and support. This includes taking community classes, private instruction, learning academies, and online platforms like Rosetta Stone. These are of course ideal for those who have more time available and can spend extended hours studying. This method is usually ideal for total beginners as it helps to have someone with experience guide you in the right direction without wasting time trying to know where to get started.
When looking for classes try and find reviews on the teachers so you can know what to expect. Some teachers/professors are very book based while others focus on group work and activities. Both have their pros and cons but ideally a class of 7-15 people is ideal to get both personal attention and practice with your classmates.
If you are doing this all on your own it will feel difficult and you will get stuck. This is especially true if you have no way of testing how much you are learning over time. To remedy this you will need to test yourself from time to time. Go back to the test above as often as you like and measure your progress. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself. One way you know you are on the right track is when you start dreaming in that language, that is when you know your brain is really absorbing what you are learning.