My Personal Top 10 Tips for Learning a Language

Learning a foreign language: By many, especially English native speakers, seen as either a “hopeless endeavour” – since you’re not going to speak it like a native anyway, why even try –  or as “pointless”, be it because they don’t intend to live abroad anyway or because they believe nearly everyone speaks their language anyway. Personally, I sincerely enjoy learning languages, and find it very useful too (more concrete reasons why I love languages in a post to be followed…). By now, at age 21, I’m fluent in German (great, that) and English, and very good at both Spanish and French. In case you’re also aiming at improving one or more of your language, or learning one from scratch, I’d like to share some tips to you that have proven most useful over the years to improve. These are to be seen apart from very obvious things like taking a language class or buying a book that teaches you how to.

language1.) Read – but according to your level! 

You’re former language teacher at school might have told you this: Reading is great for improving a language, for increasing and consolidating your vocabulary, and improving your feel for the language. However, what teachers often miss out on, is that it’s indispensable to base the choice of your reading material on your personal level. It is no wonder that people feel resigned and frustrated when trying to digest some sort of sophisticated magazines after having learned the language only for a few months. It is much better to read books for children, for example, or books especially written for learners.

2.) Read out loud

While reading, it is also very to useful to actually read out loud. Once you have learnt how the consonants and vowels are pronounced, what you need is practice – and practicing in the safe environment of your room gives your mouth the opportunity of getting used to the new sounds.

3.) Write words you can’t remember on post its

It should be clear that it’s a good idea to write words you don’t know down – I’ve also found it really useful, however, to write those persistent words that keep reoccurring anywhere but in your mind on post its. Post them in front of your desk, on the door, the mirror, pretty much anywhere – if you keep looking at them, you will be bound to remember them (some day).

4.) Write a diary/story/blog in the language you’re learning

I guess this blog is the best example of how writing a diary/story/blog or whatever in the language you’re learning can help you. While my English hasn’t improved massively in the two weeks or so that I’m writing this blog, I do look up words every now and then or check the grammar, and that is after having learned it for 10 years! In the beginning phase, you’re most likely not going to feel confident enough to start a blog – write a diary instead! You will find yourself getting much more used to the language, learning more words and consolidating them straight away.

5.) Try thinking in the same language or inventing conversations in your mind

Quite similar is the idea of trying to think in a foreign language. It might seem like a strange idea, but it is possible if you remind yourself not to let your mind wander back to your own language. Again, look up words you don’t know in the dictionary, and try to write them down if they’re common. If you don’t know what to think about, just make up conservations in your mind. The good think is: It’s for free and you can very conveniently use it to kill some time in the tube or waiting or whatever.

6.) Watch movies with subtitles in the same language

Watching movies is probably one of the most enjoyable ways of learning/improving a language. However, many people make the mistake (in my opinion) of turning on subtitles in their own language. That way, you’re much more likely to read along the subtitles than actually listen to what’s being said. My advice: as soon as your level is at least intermediate, choose the subtitles in the original language!

7.) Actually live in a country where the language is spoken

This is probably the ultimate, and most obvious, tip for learning a language. While it is possible to bring your language up to quite a high level by using all the other tips, and taking language classes, really mastering a language is, in my opinion, only possible if you actually live in the country. That is, if you actually talk to locals and immerse yourself in the culture (see my older post: )

8.) Do a language exchange/meet-up

This is useful both if you do, and if you don’t live in the country where your aspired language is spoken. Language exchange, are one-to-one meetings, whereas in language “meet-up” people learning different languages can meet and practice. Both are great for practicing, and also a great way for meeting new people.

9.) Give yourself an incentive

Without incentive, why learn a language? Make sure you know why exactly you’re learning the language, and write down the main reason so that there are readily available to you as a reminder. If you can’t live in a country where the language is spoken, at least book a holiday to it so that you have a short-term incentive for learning it!

10.) Don’t give up!

Learning a language isn’t easy and takes a lot of time, but it’s a great feeling when you realize that you can actually watch a film and understand it, or have a conversation with a stranger when on holiday!

PS: Do you think these tips are useful? What are your tips for learning a language?


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