“With languages, you are at home anywhere.” – Edward De Waal
Speaking another language is a great skill for so many reasons. You can get to know people from different cultures and it pushes you out of your comfort zone.
However, even though it’s fun, learning a language is no easy task: it takes dedication and commitment.
Having studied French and Russian for 7 years I have picked up a few things which have helped me improve – here are my top 8 tips:
1. Know your reason
When learning a language, it’s all too easy to lose motivation and give up.
This is why it is essential to know why you are actually putting in all the effort. Do you want to live or work abroad? Do you want to make new friends?
Whatever the reason, if you ever lose momentum on your language learning journey, think back to this and focus on achieving your goal.
2. Immerse yourself
When first learning a new language it will most likely sound very unfamiliar and strange. This is why I think it is important to expose yourself as much as possible to hearing native speakers. Watching YouTube videos, variety shows, films, or listening to music in your language of study can help you become more comfortable with new words and their pronunciation. You can even change the voice settings on Netflix and watch your favourite movies/series in a different language! Even if you don’t understand everything, you will find that over time you will become more familiar with the feel, flow and nuance of the language which will help you immensely as you study.
3. Be organised
Make a commitment to dedicate a certain amount of time everyday to studying. Whether it’s 30 minutes or 2 hours, it’s important to be organised and consistent if you really want to see an improvement. What you put in, is what you get out.
4. Be realistic
Don’t get ahead of yourself! You won’t be speaking like a native in just a couple of weeks. Always start with the basic and relevant material, taking time to review what you have learnt and to practice. Language learning takes time so it’s important not to overload yourself with information. It’s useful to set yourself realistic goals- maybe you’re aiming to be able to sustain a simple conversation after a month of studying?
There are some great language learning apps which are very useful for guiding you through this process. Duolingo is a language learning app (available for numerous languages) which I used to support my learning.
5. Speak, Speak, Speak!
Take every opportunity to speak in the language you’re learning, even if it is just by yourself. This will help you feel more comfortable and at ease when speaking.
There are many language exchange sites which allow you to speak with natives and get to know different people. For example, I have made many French and Russian friends through the language exchange site: Interpals. Once you’ve made some friends, you can set up a Skype call so you can practice your speaking and maybe one day even meet up!
6. Practice Writing
As you progress it’s good to practice your writing skills.
Try writing down your thoughts in whatever language you are learning.
Yes I know, this can be dangerous as you run the risk of directly translating English into another language – which is a big mistake!
But this is where the site Lang8 comes in handy. Lang8 allows you to post entries in different languages and native speakers can then correct your work. This is great practice as you can learn new phrases and how to sound more natural, not to mention you can also make some friends!
7. Overcome embarrassment and fear
It’s natural to feel uncomfortable when speaking another language for fear of sounding ‘silly’ or ‘foreign’ but don’t let this hinder your learning! No one will be annoyed or offended by you speaking in their native language. You can even ask others to correct your errors.
If you really want to improve you must accept that you will make mistakes – it’s completely natural!
8. Have fun!
Although it may be hard, language learning is great fun! You can make up songs, write stories, talk to new people and so much more. You can even find a friend or family member to learn with you and challenge and encourage each other along the way. Don’t see it as a struggle but rather, an exciting journey which gets easier and easier with time.