5 Tips to Master the Art of Learning a New Language

person_outline Floor Noordanus
May 3, 2018

folder_open Travel Advice

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Are you on the hunt for some great tips to help you learn the foreign tongue? Learning a new language can be frustrating, stressful and challenging, we get it. It’s a big scary world of puzzling grammar, impossible words and beautiful but incomprehensible accents, but you are not alone!

There are people out there speaking 10 different languages fluently, is that even possible? Or is learning languages just in their genes? Fact is, everybody can do it. It’s all about mastering the art of learning a language. Take a look at the following tips and get a hang of that awesome language you’ve always wanted to, and are now going to learn.

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1. What’s the plan, Stan?

Learning a new language can be rewarding, energising and worthwhile. The first step is very important and you need to do more than ‘just start’. Be specific & have a plan! Work out what exactly you want to accomplish and by when.

It’s not ideal to set yourself overly ambitious or vague goals like 'I will speak fluent Spanish with the locals by the time I go on my Teach trip next month'. You want to be as specific as you can and set your goals based on how much time you have and what exactly you want to realistically accomplish. What level are you looking to achieve & in what timeframe? Set up a timetable, decide on the hours you are going to put in per week, mark it down on your calendar and stick to it!

It might be useful to set ‘mini-goals’. These goals are relatively easy to accomplish within a few weeks or months. Some common ones include:

Everybody learns differently and is motivated in different ways, so try and find your own way of making sure that you stick to your plan. You can make a schedule, put up post-it notes, or set alarms, find people to practice your new language with. Stress the importance of consistency. Unfortunately, learning a new language is not the same as riding a bike. You will forget it if you don’t use it!

PRO TIP: Study a little bit each day. Linguists always stress that language cramming will get you nowhere!

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2. Understand the basics

Don’t get ahead of yourself! Kick your language learning journey off with the basics, you are going to need them a lot. Don’t get me wrong, jumping right in is a good way to start, but don't overdo it. When you’re new to a language it’s best to understand the core before you try anything too fancy.

Look at it as if you are starting a new job or course. They teach you the basics first and from there you will get to where you need to be. Basics can include verbs such as “to be” and “to have”, or the most common phrases and words for example. Find a good source that can teach you these, instead of one that will overwhelm you with tricky grammar and difficult words that you won’t end up using.

Most beginners start off with phrases like: "What’s your name?’’, ‘’Where are you from?’. Or, you can search for specific words and phrases that you think you are going to need.

It might surprise you how much you can already say by just knowing the basics. By knowing only a fair amount of common words and how to use them, you can already start making small sentences in your head.

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3. Conversation, conversation, conversation.

This is a real language learning hack: start racking up hours of awkward conversations with people who are better than you in that language. Accept that you are going to say a lot of stupid things. Language can be tricky and words can look or sound alike. However these weird situations are the best learning moments. Why? Language is something that needs to be processed through your brain. The more it hears and speaks new words, the more connections it makes allowing you to get better at that language. What better way to do that than to have an active conversation, where your brain is working and processing all words people say?

New words are more likely to stick when they are connected to a memory or a conversation. After learning the basics, conversation is a good way to proceed or to add to your learning. It might be the case that you have nobody around you speaking that language. The great language hackers are familiar with this problem as well, but they didn’t give up. Look up people online, join language groups, ask others in your network, watch foreign movies or videos. Be creative in your way of overcoming obstacles.

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4. Make it fun!

Studying the basics and having awkward conversations might not be the most exciting way to learn a new language. There will be times that you are feeling so frustrated that you are willing to give up. No worries, we feel you. Shake your learning up with the following fun-tips:

  • Watch shows or movies in the language that you want to learn. Nowadays Netflix has a great selection of foreign shows to watch. You might not understand what they are saying all the time, but you are unconsciously adjusting to the sound of the language. You might even pick some words out of it while reading the subtitles. Or you can turn it around and watch the show in English with subtitles in the language you want to learn. Doing this will allow you to link the language to something you enjoy doing or watching.
  • Music is your go-to! What better way than making learning fun by jamming to a good song. Study the lyrics and understand what they mean.
  • You’re living in the 21st so use your phone! Change the language settings. This way, every time you look at your phone you are associated with the language. It will get easier over time and you learn new words by just looking at your phone, how easy is that? Next to this, your phone constantly gives you access to apps that allow you to learn languages. DuoLingo is a good place to start.
  • Itchy Feet: You may have heard about it already. If you’re ever feeling frustrated or fed up with learning, go online and visit Itchy Feet. The site is filled with funny and recognizable language learning situations. Visiting Itchy Feet is a good moment for a studying break. It will help you turn your mood around and will show you that others share your frustrations in a comic way.
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5. Stop trying to motivate yourself and take action

Motivation is a concept you might want to rethink. If you’ve ever had to study for a test, you must be familiar with the concept of procrastination. While we are trying to motivate ourselves to do something, we lose heaps of time by procrastinating. Instead of trying to think of ways to motivate yourself, turn the whole concept around. Take action and find yourself getting motivated in the process. You’ll be surprised about how well it works.

Now, let’s face it. There are no more obstacles in your way of becoming a second-language expert. Start off with your game plan and get to it...

I’m ready to go!

Floor Noordanus

Floor Noordanus

Floor is a Dutch student and traveller working as a Marketing Intern at The Global Work & Travel Co. She has travelled as much as possible next to her studies, but still has a long bucket list of places to see! Her favourite destinations so far are Australia and Thailand.