If you are reading this, it can only mean 3 things, a) you want to learn a language and you want to know how, b) you are learning a language and you want to know how you can improve or c) you're a friend of mine and you found this link in my social medias. Either way, you come to the right place! Well, I don't mean that in a way that make me sound like a language expert (because I am so sooo not) but at least I have experience in the said department and I want to share that with you! But if you came for neither of those reasons, well, let me tell you why you should read till the end and start picking up a new language!
Having an additional skill is always fun if not useful. Not only you can try to impress people with them (wink wink) but it also gives you something to do in your free time. If you are the kind of person who likes to interact with people, that additional skill might as well be learning a new language. You'll find yourself having friends from places you'd never thought of and learn new exciting cultures and behaviors. If you are not the type to go around meeting new people, I still recommend you to take up a new language because there are many many artistic materials out there that are created in other languages. Movies, songs, poems and the list goes on. You might be able to enjoy the beauty of it if you understand the language it was created in.
Another reason why I recommend you to do this is because it does something to your brain too. Good things. First of all, our brain networks will become better integrated, which means they'll become more flexible and it helps in faster and more efficient learning. Next, our brains' density in grey matter may increase and the white matter tissue also tends to strengthen. These grey matter are important for muscle control, memory formation, emotions, decision making and sensory perception while the white matter helps connect the grey matter regions together. Since I am not an expert on brains, I am not going to tell you what that means exactly. But one thing is for sure, learning a new language is like an exercise but for the brain.
So how do you start? Well, here is how I did it. (Note that all these tips are for verbal languages. Sign languages are languages too, I know. I use to learn sign language for a few months (I believe it was not more than 6 months) before I forgot everything. So as you can see, I failed terribly trying to learn sign language so you don't want advice from someone who failed doing something. If I find a way to learn ASL again and actually succeed, I will make a whole new blog post for that.)
1. Have a notebook
You start here. Keep a notebook that is just the right size to write words and sentences. I suggest an A5 spiral bound notebook but it is really up to you. If you open my book from the front, you can see that I write new words that I learn. I have 2 pages for different categories starting with frequently used words followed by verbs then nouns or adjectives also by categories (time, food, feelings, clothes etc). Yes, only 2 pages for each category because you can always do a part 2 on a new page. If you open my book from the back, you will see I have sentences and frequently used phrases in there. Divide your pages in half so it will look cleaner and it will be easier for you to read and look for the words. I suggest you put the words/sentences on the left and the translation on the right. Except if you are learning languages that read from right to left like Arabic. Then, you should do it the other way.
2. Download phone apps
We are constantly on that smart phone of ours so why not make the most out of it? Download the "most famous and talked about app at the moment" for new language learning users. DuoLingo. This app is not only free, it also creates a fun environment in learning new languages. It keeps track of your progress (you'd know if you are 5% fluent in Spanish), show you when you have to refresh certain words (because let's face it, we always forget what we have learned before when we learn something new) and constantly remind you to practice (the notification might get annoying but DuoLingo is only trying to help). The layout and the graphics of this app are also very clean so it is very soothing to the eyes and user friendly. In my opinion, this app is a good way to increase your vocabulary.
Another good application that I use is Memrise. However, I don't prefer this because I do not like the layout that much. It is a good app if you want to make sure you remember everything you learn and you want it to be planted in your memory. It has exercises that always repeat the words you have learned and translation exercises against time. Another reason why I recommend it is because it will start with common use words and phrases first compared to DuoLingo that will start with everyday things. However, Memrise has some features that will require you to pay. A cheap skate like me will skip the exercises that requires payment, of course. This app is also a good way to increase your vocabulary.
3. Visit websites
If you are in front of the computer, visit Language Zen. This website provides lessons that also start with commonly use words and phrases. You will be leveling up as you learn and translate sentences. If you know the words they are introducing, you do not have to go through the exercises made for that word. You can skip to new words that you haven't heard of or not familiar with. Besides learning vocabulary, these lessons are also a good platform to get some grammar knowledge because they even have articles that explains the rules. Language Zen also has a "Learn From Music" feature. In this feature, each song that they list will have a bar that will show how many percent of the lyrics that you actually know from your lessons. You can listen to the song and start learning the phrases starting with the ones that you should have known from your lessons. Language Zen also keep track of your strongest words, weakest words and accuracy in your translation. You will require to have a weekly goal and the website will keep track of that too. I actually highly recommend Language Zen. They even have Premium version (requires payment of course) that will give you unlimited learning. But the free version is not bad too.
You can also go to Google and just type "learn [insert language here]" to look for websites with articles and lessons on the language you want. However, these websites are usually a little dry because they use the read and learn approach but I still think it is worth mentioning. What other way to learn if not from reading? Which brings us to...
4. Borrow/Buy books
There are many books that is customized for beginners. I bought a "Spanish Lesson" box which included 2 books and and 4 CDs to help with my pronunciation. This is an addition to all those websites and apps you are using or as an alternative if you don't want or can't use technology to learn. Other than that, you can also start looking for kids books. Yes, those with pictures and pretty drawings. They use very simple sentences and since our language ability is the same as a little child at the moment, it is best that we read materials that suits our abilities.
5. Videos, movies and songs
So you are not the "book" kind? Big deal. There are other ways! You can watch movies in the language that you know with a subtitle of the language you are learning or the other way round. You can try looking for subtitles online for that movie you are about to watch on your laptop. You can also look for videos on YouTube that provides language lessons or children shows in the language you are learning. Yes, once again I am suggesting you to use materials for kids. Since I am learning Spanish, I watch Mundo Pocoyo. It really helps but it does get kind of boring sometimes. You can start checking out nursery rhymes too. My first Spanish nursery rhyme was "Arroz Con Leche" just because I know what the title meant at that time. Haha! If you get bored of humming to those kid songs, look for songs you know which was also sang in the other language. Many international artists do that for their songs that are very popular. For example, Beyoncé did "Irremplazable" for "Irreplaceable" and Selena did "Dices" for "Who Says". Usually it's not a direct translation so do find the direct meaning for the songs in the other language to learn more. Start paying attention to international artists that speaks your language of choice as their first language and look more into their work. I had always like Enrique Iglasias so I just had to look for his other songs and I hit the jackpot. He has so many good Spanish songs! Pay attention to the lyrics. These methods will help improve your pronunciation and mental translation (I call it mental translation, I don't know what it is really called when you translate things in your head).
Final step! It's time for you to start putting all those lessons to use. Look for a friend (or many friends) to practice with. Looking for a friend online can be difficult, believe me I was there but I highly suggest Coeffee.com. There, you will have a profile where they will ask for your native language and learning language. If you feel it is hard to find a friend on that website, here's how. You will see who are online in the "Language Exchange" page. You can use the filter to look for people. I suggest you use the filter to look for native speakers of the language you are learning who wants to learn your native language. This way, both of you will gain something out of the conversations and it helps when there are some things you do not know how to say in the language you are learning. You can just use your native language to keep the conversation going. If your friend use words you do not understand, you don't have to go to Google and ask the meaning. You can just right-click the word and the meaning will appear. It is that simple!
Oh, there's one thing left to do. MAKE MISTAKES. Don't be afraid to just talk to people and be wrong. Be bold and make those mistakes You learn through them because mistakes go away but what you gain through those mistakes stays forever.
So now that I have shared my methods of language learning, I hope you would give it a try. Never say there's nothing to do because this world is a very big and wonderful place for us to continue discovering. So why not have fun and give it a go. Good luck!