Welcome to the final segment of our 3 part summer series on learning a new language! Part 3 puts together everything you learned in parts 1 and 2, and includes more tips for mastering the basics. Like parts 1 and 2, this guide was written by our guest, David Anthony. I hope you enjoyed our summer series!
(Catch up with part 1 and part 2)
So now you’ve got a language to learn, and the resources to learn it. Great! How do you go about putting it all together? Well, that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today. If you only take away one thing from this article, it needs to be this: You can’t learn to speak a language without speaking it.
I know, it sounds very intuitive. Many people put off speaking for as long as possible, and this isn’t going to get you very far. Don’t be nervous, just go out and speak. Speak as much and as often as possible.
The very first thing you need to do when you start out is start to learn the most useful vocabulary first. Ignore grammar, ignore learning the writing, just sit down with a phrasebook and learn how to say greetings. Learn how to ask about prices, learn some numbers, learn any culturally relevant phrases. This gives you the bedrock that you’ll build on. By ignoring grammar in the beginning, you can get to speaking sooner and learn some whole sentences. Once you move on to learning grammar, knowing these sentences will reinforce the grammar concepts. As you get more familiar with the general structure and sounds, start to incorporate more grammar and vocab into your study. Here’s a list of the 625 most common words in everyday communication. This is a good place to start, as it gives you the most bang for your buck vocabulary wise. When used in conjunction with a good overview of useful grammar, you’ll make fast language gains and quickly find yourself being able to make whole sentences easily.
As you move past the simple vocab and grammar into more intermediate territory, it’s time to get a little more creative. This is also the more fun part of studying a language, as you can understand much more than you could at the beginning. Now’s the time to start really getting into some more higher order vocabulary and grammar. I like to use news articles, tv, music, and any other media in your target language. Find something that’s interesting to you, and start reading or listening. When you find a word or phrase you don’t understand, look it up and try to make a note of it so you can work it into your study rotation.
There’s a widespread misconception that young children learn languages better than adults. This is false. The reason it seems that way is because children constantly practice, and they get a lot of repetition. To apply this to us as adult learners, this means that you need consistency and intensity. Consistency is the most important study tool you can use. Try to study every single day. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes before you go to sleep. A few minutes every day is better than 5 hours a day once a week.
The other half is intensity. Although 20 minutes a day is better than nothing, becoming fluent with that little study is virtually impossible. That’s why many people have “studied” a language for years, and never make it past the most basic phrases. To reach a B2 on CEFR, which I personally think is the lowest level one could claim fluency at, you need anywhere from 600-1800 hours of study, depending on the language you’re learning. Basically, you need to be willing to put in the time if you ever want to reach fluency. Don’t let it discourage you, you just have to be willing to put in the work. People who learn languages quickly don’t do it because they’re doing anything differently, they’re just studying consistently and speaking as much as possible. There’s nothing wrong with dabbling in a language. Plenty of people just want to know a few words, and couldn’t care less about fluency. I’m not telling you to not do that, just be aware of what your goals and aspirations with the language are.
The last thing you need to do is push yourself. Find things that are challenging to read or listen to. Try to express a controversial opinion in conversation. Discuss politics and religion, even if you don’t feel ready. Learning a language is like exercising. You need to push yourself to see results.
All of this might be a little discouraging, but it’s not meant to be. In fact, it’s quite empowering. All you need to do is put in the work and practice as much as you can. The rest will fall into place. Study every day, speak as often as you possibly can, and push yourself. You’d be surprised by how quickly you can become conversational in a language just by doing some hard work. There’s a million other things out there that are much more in depth than this article. If you want to get more detail about how you should go about studying, I would check out Gabriel Wyner’s book Fluent Forever. He goes into much more detail about some study techniques and tools that I personally found very useful. He’s also the guy who put together that useful 625 list! I hope this article helped you out. Feel free to contact me with any questions you have about language learning.
Thanks for reading! Are you multilingual? What are some of tips for learning a language? Tell us about it in the comments below! Did you enjoy this post? Share it via Facebook or Twitter. And, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!
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