Learning a Language: My Experience
Hello everyone! Have you ever wanted to learn a language but don’t know where to begin? How can you stay motivated to continue learning? Learning a new language is incredible and fascinating, but it is completely understandable to feel overwhelmed in the beginning. Sometimes it’s hard to even know where to start. I have been in that same situation many times.
For the past couple months I have been delving into Spanish. I’ve always been interested in different cultures and languages, and I can remember attempting to learn Spanish multiple different times growing up. However, living in a small town in Montana, you aren’t exposed to much diversity. It is difficult to learn a language that you can’t immerse yourself in and actually put to use in your day to day life. That being said, it is certainly not impossible.
Now, however, I have plans to move to an area where I can actually put my Spanish to use! It is just that much more motivation to stick with it and truly grasp the Spanish language. I wanted to share some tips and ideas on language learning that I have developed over the past few months. I am sure that my language learning process will continue to develop constantly, especially since it is a goal of mine to continue to learn more languages.
First, a little disclaimer, these methods are not solely my own. I have done a lot of my own research on the best and most effective ways to learn languages and compiled those resources into my own routine, as well as incorporating things that I feel work for me. I am very much a beginner too, and this is not a fool proof method to become fluent in a language. But, I wanted to share my experience and hopefully it helps you some.
7 Steps to Learning a Language
1) Learn the alphabet, pronunciation, and phonetics. For me, I always thought that the most important thing when learning a new language was to cram my brain with as much vocabulary as I possibly could. While it is true that vocab is key in the language learning process, I have found that learning about the bones of your target language is beneficial as a first step.
Think about how we teach children to read, write, and speak their native language. They learn the alphabet and how to pronounce all the letters. Often we us the phrase “sound it out” when teaching children new words. The fact of the matter is, you can’t sound out a word if you don’t know the proper sounds for the letters. This is why I find it so important to learn that before jumping in to tons of vocab. Knowing how to pronounce new words that you are coming across is really important.
2) Okay, so now you have an understanding of the very basics of your target language. Its time to dive into vocabulary. I started by learning the 500 most common words in my target language-Spanish. I also, later on in my study of Spanish, found it beneficial to focus on the connecting words such as; and, but, also, too,etc. These are words that you will come across constantly and it is very helpful to have a firm grasp on what they mean to help you put sentences and concepts together. One resource I have found incredibly useful is a flashcard app called Anki. It is a very valuable resource in memorizing lots of vocabulary.
3) Immerse yourself in your target language by way of media. Many of us language enthusiasts don’t have the ability to live in an area where we would be surrounded by native speakers of our target language–but it is so important to immerse yourself in your target language.
So, how do we accomplish that? Read books and articles, listen to music and podcasts, and watch tv shows and movies in the language you are learning. TV and movies are especially helpful because often you can have subtitles, and not only that, but the visuals can help you with context so that you understand more. Whether you understand 5% or 95% of what you are hearing, you are still getting lots of exposure to your target language and that is very vital.
4) Think in your target language. This may seem very challenging at first but the more you do the first three steps the easier this becomes. Some great ways to force yourself to think in your target language are by taking notes and speaking out loud to yourself about whatever you want to.
5) Practice formulating sentences and learn sentence structure. Not all languages follow the same sentence structure. One way I have found that helps me to learn is by going to a translating app or website, (I really like iTranslate or just basic google translate) and typing out a sentence or paragraph in Spanish. Often, I can think of a word that I need in Spanish to convey my thought, and that shows up in the English translation. When I am finished I swap the translation.
What I mean by that is instead of my Spanish being translated to English, I will hit the button that flips it to English being translated to Spanish. This usually reveals to me small mistakes I had made, such as forgetting connecting words, incorrect sentence structure, or using the wrong tense of a word. While I may have been able to convey my main idea the original way I had typed it, it would have sounded very choppy–not smooth or fluent. Of course when you are learning that is bound to happen and it is completely okay! It is all part of the learning process.
6) Dedicate a notebook to your target language. If you are a note taker and journalist like me, this is going to be very important. I love to write things down–it’s a very key part of how I learn. I also like to make my notes pretty and take time on them. That may not help me learn necessarily, but it helps me to enjoy it even more so. This is one of those things that is really up to personal preference because so many people learn so differently. No matter what your preference though, I do recommend having a designated place to jot down important things you learn and want to remember when learning your target language.
7) Last but not least, don’t overwhelm yourself with countless random resources. There are sooo many language learning resources out there–and to be quite honest some of them are hit and miss. You can find really great ones, and also ones that will steer you in the WRONG direction. But, it’s not only important to be careful when choosing your resources. It’s also important to make sure you don’t overwhelm yourself with a bunch of different tools and resources.
Just like with anything, it takes time and effort to become skilled with a tool. So choose several reliable resources that work for you (I’ll talk about my favorites shortly) and stick with them. When you start tossing together all the random resources you find, you can end up going in circles. It is better to find a few that really work for you and make a plan on how you are going to use them to advance the learning of your target language.
Amazing Affordable Resources
1) Anki: a flash card system that uses space repetition to help you learn and memorize vocabulary. (A particularly valuable resource for language learners on a budget *me* because it is completely FREE!)
2) iTranslate:a very simple and easy to use language dictionary that not only translates words between languages but also gives the verb conjugation in different tenses. (FREE or PAID, personally I find the free version to be all that I really need currently.)
3) ReversoContext: a very helpful app to look up phrases and see how they would be said according to different contexts. This may not be as accurate as some other translators, but it is great for learning realistic phrases that you would actually use in your day to day conversation. (FREE and PAID, I am fairly new at using this app but have found it to be very helpful so far.)
4) LingQ: this is by far my favorite resource. It is a much more complex resource than any others I have listed. I do plan to write a post solely on how I use LingQ in my language learning. LingQ is based on reading and listening to stories/articles in your target language with translations and dictionaries right at your finger tips. You can mark down words that you do and don’t know, and it also has a built in flash card system. (PAID 12.99/month)
Language learning can be difficult and intimidating, but it is so worth it. I hope that this post helped you in your language learning endeavors. Let me know some of your language learning tips in the comments! Thank you so much for reading!