When you ask most people what one thing they’d like to achieve before they die, learning a foreign language is a very common response, particularly for native English speakers. With the rise in language-learning methods, from night classes to online apps, more people than ever are making real efforts to achieve this goal. As such, it seems a good time to share some of the best ways to learn a language and improve fluency.
It goes without saying that one of the most obvious ways to learn another language is to receive professional instruction in it. Outside of an academic environment (schools or university), there are actually many language classes available for any potential linguist – it’s just a case of finding the right one. Things to take into account when finding a good class is your personal schedule, cost, travel, and your level in whatever language you’re learning (beginner, intermediate, etc.). Attending a class is a solid way to start if you’re a beginner, as you’ll be surrounded by other people in the same position and learning-level as yourself, with a teacher on hand to answer any queries, which will undoubtedly make the experience of learning a new language way less intimidating. Classes alone, however, are not enough when it comes to learning a language, as self-study and practice outside of the classroom are equally important for maintaining and improving fluency.
One of the easiest – and often cheapest – ways to learn and practice another language is via online apps. Everyone has heard of Duolingo and Babbel, but other programmes like Quizlet, Anki, and Memrise offer hundreds of ways to keep up with your language learning. Some apps will focus more on the ‘teaching’ aspect (Duolingo and Babbel) and others are a useful tool for compiling vocabulary and making flashcards to help with memorisation (Quizlet and Anki). Whatever your goals are, downloading an app to your phone is a quick and accessible way to keep on top of your language learning whilst managing your day-to-day responsibilities.
Language Exchange Groups
Although classes are a good way of meeting like-minded learners, they do not provide the opportunity to practice in a relaxed environment. Language-exchange groups – which involve meeting up in more relaxed venues (usually pubs or cafés) to speak in whatever common target language everyone has – are, however. Groups are usually made up of a mix of beginners and intermediate learners, with some higher-level speakers present. Although speaking is usually the aspect of mastering a foreign language that intimidates learners the most, it is also the aspect that improves the most with practice and becomes far easier as time goes on. Therefore, making friends with whom you can actually practice speaking makes the journey to fluency far easier and far less embarrassing. If you live in an area where there are no such groups, you should maybe set up your own, meeting up with others in your local pub, community centre, or even house, to simply sit and chat in the group’s shared target language(s).
Arguably the most entertaining way to learn or improve fluency in another language is by immersing yourself in your target language’s culture. This can be by watching foreign films with subtitles in the language itself (or not, depending on your level), reading books, and listening to music. These are effective ways to improve both listening and reading comprehension in a manner that is fairly passive. Streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime have a plethora of foreign-language films and TV shows for you to enjoy, and Spotify and Apple Music have thousands of playlists catered to lovers of non-English language music. As well as being a good way of improving language proficiency, immersing yourself in the cultural output of a language means you are far less likely to become bored with it. Some good foreign language TV shows include:
Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (South Korean)
Money Heist (Spanish)
Call My Agent! (French)
The Bridge (Swedish/Danish)
Alice in Borderland (Japanese)
The Platform (Arabic)
Immerse yourself into the culture
A language and its surrounding culture go hand in hand. When learning to speak a language it is essential to understand its relationship with culture. Without grasping the culture, the language simply becomes an assortment of words and sounds with little to no content whatsoever.
The simplest way to immerse yourself into a certain country’s culture is to travel there and spend some time living in the setting. By doing this, you are experiencing the culture first-hand, along with real life experience from the country’s citizens. Whether it be ordering in a restaurant or conversing with locals in the park- these authentic experiences will enable you to swiftly adapt to the cultural differences between your native and target languages.
Sometimes, it’s easier said than done to be able to travel to your desired destination. Perhaps you’re a student on a tight budget, or you simply cannot justify upping sticks and moving. It’s reassuring to know that there are other ways of experiencing culture immersion- some of which don’t even require leaving the house. For example, watching a foreign movie can aid your understanding more than you think. Whilst watching, you are absorbing the mannerisms and gestures of a language, experiencing the setting and what it looks like and simply taking in language whilst enjoying a good movie! The internet is littered with handy ways in which you can experience a different culture and get yourself geared up to mastering your chosen dialect.
Find a learning partner/study buddy
Studying alone can often seem overwhelming and stressful. Learning a new language should be a fun and rewarding experience; one that could be made better by sharing the journey with somebody else. When it comes to finding your ideal study buddy, the options can be endless. You could look closer to home, perhaps a family member or a close friend has the same intentions of language learning as you? Or if not, social networking platforms can offer prime opportunities to unite with like-minded individuals. If the social networking option is a route you decide to take, professional networking platforms such as LinkedIn can offer up tailored suggestions in regard to the type of person you are looking for.
Here are a few pointers to enable you and your language learning buddy to get the most out of your working relationship:
- Setting appropriate goals together- you both should decide what it is you are looking to achieve and in what time scale you wish to do it. For example, by this time next month we will both be able to confidentially recite the alphabet in our target language. By setting these small goals, you can keep track of your journey with ease.
- Arrange regular study times- When it comes to learning something, consistency is key. You should deliberate with your partner to decipher the times you will spend together learning and discussing progress. This could be one substantial session per week or a cluster of smaller ones. It may also be sensible to pre plan what you will do during this time- this will enable you to be as productive as possible during your learning sessions.
- Find somebody as committed as you are- Finding a fellow learner that is as passionate about the outcome as you are is vital. If you are both on the same page, your working relationship will run smoother. A huge dose of passion on both ends can pay dividends to the end result, with both parties motivating and supporting each other throughout.
Finding smart study techniques
It is no secret that everybody learns in different ways. No two learners are the same. So, it is important to devise a set of study techniques which aid your learning rather than hinder it. Below is a selection of techniques which may be of interest to a prospective language learner.
Flashcards and note making
This is not a technique that suits everyone, as words can often become congested and overwhelming, however if you are good with words this may be the option for you. You should go about making extensive notes whilst you are learning, which can then be turned into detailed flash cards. This technique comes into play when these cards are used and practiced regularly.
Keep a learning journal
By documenting your learning, you are keeping a great record of where you are at on your journey. Every time you study, you could make a note of what you have learnt today, what you found easy and what was difficult. This way, you can identify areas of weakness that may need more time spent on them. It also enables you to look back on the journey you have taken, with a firm record of everything you have learnt over time.
Smart use of pictures and colourful aids
A vast proportion of people are known as visual learners; therefore, the use of picture and colour can aid the learning greatly. Drawing pictures and symbols can help you to remember certain expressions and vocabularyFor example, you could create a series of picture cards with words on the back- these can be used for you to test yourself or for other people to test you. It is all about making learning fun, after all!
Read, read, and then read some more
Reading in any form can nourish the mind. Reading to learn is an incredibly rewarding activity. Sometimes, it can seem like a chore to read, but it doesn’t have to be this way when incorporating it into you learning plan. The days of reading long, repetitive texts are gone, as there are many other ways to read and learn. Although textbooks can be useful in learning a language, they aren’t always essential. Reading blogs written in your target language can be fun and useful. It will help you to see the language in context and may even aid your understanding of the culture too! Any passages, words or phrases that you don’t understand can then be taken away as an area of interest to you.
Language learning is an extremely fun and fruitful practice! Whether you are learning for a job, for a new life abroad or just for fun, learning a foreign language is incredibly beneficial. It is reassuring to know that not one technique is the same, and there are many ways for one to achieve success.