If you’re reading this, you have probably heard of (or experienced!) the perks of learning another language. Besides the obvious — being able to communicate — you’ll discover many extra benefits! You can look forward to better job prospects, confidence while travelling, and a healthier brain, to name a few. Understanding a new language will also open up a part of the world to you, so to speak.
Anyone who has learned a new language can attest to the fact that language is tangled together with culture. It is more than mathematical memorization of words. To be able to express yourself in another culture requires a deep understanding of language.
Here are a few tips for those who are on their way to mastering a new language:
1. Fall in love with the people!
It’s nearly impossible to become proficient in a new language if you dislike the language’s culture. If you see the native speakers of the language as inferior to you, it will cripple your attempts at learning. Those who learn languages must care about being able to communicate with the people who speak them. After all, isn’t language a form of communication with other human beings?
2. Take advantage of resources around you. Here are some ideas:
‣Take a class at your local university or community center. Even though language software and self-study are becoming more popular every day, a classroom is still one of the most effective ways to learn. Some advantages are having a knowledgeable teacher and a setting where you are forced to set aside distractions. The internet cannot provide an environment where you can practice speaking out loud with fellow learners!
‣Memorize vocabulary and read about grammar rules. While this is not fun or flashy, it is necessary. No one (except for young children, perhaps) can become fluent just by listening to a language. Also, learning proper grammar from the beginning can prevent bad habits from forming.
‣Listen to music in the language you’re learning. Find a song you love in another language, print out the lyrics, and listen to it until you can sing along. This is especially helpful for learning common idioms or phrases that you may not learn in a textbook!
‣Read children’s books or short articles. You can do this loud in the privacy of your own room! Don’t worry about sounding silly, and try to imitate the accent of a native speaker. It often helps to do this as dramatically as possible!
‣Download language-learning apps on your phone. There are constantly new apps being released, so do your research and find one that’s enjoyable for you. You can also find ways to use your phone to chat with speakers of other languages. This is one of the most helpful ways to learn slang, a very important part of every spoken language!
3. Visit countries where the language is spoken.
Stay with local families if at all possible. Volunteer or study-abroad programs provide many opportunities to do this! While all forms of learning are helpful, it is impossible to become fluent without spending time with native speakers.
4. Teach your brain to be flexible!
Many times, you will come across a word you do not know how to say in the new language. Be creative and substitute a synonym if you do not remember a word. Think in a roundabout way and to find a way to express yourself even if you can’t say what you had intended.
5. Stretch yourself.
It’s hard to learn if you stay in your comfort zone! Search for opportunities to converse with someone who doesn’t speak your language. Present a short speech in the new language, or translate for someone else. Befriend an immigrant, host an international student, or shop at a grocery store in an international part of town. Offer to teach English to non-native speakers. Be creative and be brave as you learn!
Learning another language is a joy! If you work diligently, determined to become fluent both in language and culture, you will be well on your way to mastering your new language.