How to (Actually) Learn a New Language
Confession: I really, really want to be a polyglot. The idea of traveling the globe, effortlessly transitioning from language to language and (at least sort of) blending in with the locals is my idea of a dream come true.
As of today I’m fluent in two languages, but I’ve made it a goal to add a third by the time I’m thirty. If you have similar ambitions, you’ll need to commit and take the goal seriously; it’s just about impossible to passively learn a language.
Here are some helpful tips (that actually work) to get the ball rolling:
1. Learn by immersion.
With work, family, and financial constraints, it’s not always possible to up and relocate to your foreign country of choice, even only for a few weeks. However, It would be remiss not to include this on the list because, of course, learning a language is infinitely easier when speakers of that language are all around you.
Even if you can’t travel long-term, a trip once or twice a year (with lots of studying in between) will do wonders. Sign up for immersion classes at a language school and make a point to communicate in that language as much as humanly possible while you’re there. I used this website to find my language school in Heidelberg, Germany. Many language schools will set you up with a host family at affordable rates.
Bonus! Many organizations (Like DAAD for Germany) are eager to set you up with scholarships for free language programs (room and board included). Though not all countries offer these services, it’s worth the Google search.
2. Bust out an app.
Duolingo, a free app you can download to your phone, is a surprisingly helpful way to begin learning a new language. Commit to using the app regularly to get a jump start on vocabulary and sentence structure so you can make the most out of your experience, whenever you have the chance to travel abroad.
3. Check community college and adult school courses in your area.
If you can’t move abroad but are still serious about learning, a classroom is the next best place to do it. Teachers will hold you accountable, and classroom experiences will give you real practice. Many community college teachers won’t mind if you ask to audit their course, so you may even be able to take the class for free.
4. Find a friend.
Reach out among your social circles to see if a friend might want to start learning as well. One of the best ways to really learn is by actively listening and speaking, putting your newfound vocabulary words to real use. Practice speaking together and set times when no English is allowed.
5. Commitment is key.
As I’ve mentioned before, you’ll never learn another language if you don’t make it a priority. It’s hard work, and that kind of learning doesn’t come easy. If you choose to pursue this challenging and rewarding goal, take a hard look at your schedule and set aside time daily to study and practice.
There are a million and one reasons to learn a second (or third or fourth) language. Not only are you adding a critical skill to your resume, you’re opening yourself up to an entire new world of experiences.