Few activities are as rewarding as learning a new language. Each language you have under your belt will let you express your thoughts in a different way, giving you a new perspective on reality. Your ability to connect with others will also grow as you learn more languages, making it easier to navigate the social world.
With all that being said, picking up a new language is nothing if not challenging, especially if you’re attempting to do it on your own. So in order to make things easier for prospective linguaphiles such as yourself, we wrote a short, practical guide on how to get started with independent language learning, which you can find in the remainder of this post.
Practice with a Textbook
The secret to becoming proficient in any language is getting the basics right. By mastering the essential building blocks of a language first, you will have an easier time understanding more complex structures down the line. In our experience, the best way to learn the basics is by picking up a textbook. Most language learning textbooks will cover the same topics early on, including pronunciation rules, basic sentence structures, and essential vocabulary. Follow the lectures until you get bored, and then move on to more interesting learning materials.
Once you’re comfortable with the basics, you can start diving deeper into the language properly. Immersion is crucial for this step. By exposing yourself to the language in question at every opportunity, you will start getting the hang of how it works in practice. Watching movies in your language of choice is especially useful in this regard. You will start to pick up on common speech patterns, intonation, and topics of interest. If you find a movie too difficult to follow, try watching it with subtitles in the same language. However, once you progress further, there’s a strong case for stopping watching films with subtitles.
Listen to the News
To practice your listening and comprehension further, start listening to more long-form content in the language you’re trying to learn. We recommend tuning in to a news radio station, or listening to a news podcast. Journalists are trained to use clear, unambiguous language and speak in a neutral tone of voice, which is perfect for practicing listening. The goal here is to pick up on commonly used words and sentence structures, as well as learn more about the culture surrounding the language.
Use Apps to Practice Vocabulary
Learning new words on a regular basis in integral for attaining language proficiency. In the days before computers, language learners tended to use flash-cards to practice their vocabulary. Each flash card had the word you were trying to memorise on one side, and a translation on the other, and you would flip through them, trying remember what each meant. Today, flash-cards have largely been replaced by dedicated learning apps such as Lingvist or Babbel, which offer the same kind of functionality in a more convenient package.
Read Poetry Aloud
Learning how to speak is usually the most difficult obstacle for language learners. This is because knowing the rules of pronunciation is one thing, and actually applying them in practice is an entirely different matter. Reading out loud is a good way to get a hang of how a language is supposed to sound while spoken, but if you limit yourself to reading textbook material, you will quickly get bored. What we would suggest instead is to pick up a book of poetry written in the language you’re learning, and start reciting on a regular basis.
Speak With Natives Online
After you get over the initial hurdle of learning how to speak, you should start to practice holding a dialogue. Speaking a language is almost always a reciprocal activity. The things you’re about to say are always dependent on a broader context, which includes other interlocutors. If you’re studying on your own, these can be hard to come by in real life, so the next best option is to look for speaking partners online. Nowadays you can use pretty much any platform with voice chat enabled, including Skype, Facebook Messenger, Discord, etc.
Learn While You Travel
If you’re set on practicing speaking in real life, your best bet is to travel abroad to the country of your target language. This will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the language, while learning more about the culture within which it originally sprung, further broadening your understanding. Another benefit of travelling for language learning is that you’re likely to come across people from around the world, which will expose you to additional languages. The pilgrims’ path of Camino de Santiago in Spain is the perfect example of such a travel destination. Conversing with fellow hikers on the road will allow you to pick up a language in record speed.
There is no shortcut to learning a language. You have to put in the effort, and maintain your resolve throughout the learning process. This is much easier to accomplish if you take a structured approach to language learning. And the best part is that you don’t need to go to an expensive language school to get results. Simply follow the steps we have outlined in this article, and you will be well on your way to mastering a new way of speaking.
Rebecca is a translator by day, and a traveler mostly at night. She is an expert on living with jet lag – and packing in tiny suitcases. You can read more of her exploits at RoughDraft.