A good starting point is to write down your top motivations for studying this language. This is important because it will help you to stay interested later down the road and it will also make it easier to decide what level of fluency you should be aiming for. If it’s just for casual conversation maybe there’s no need to hire a private teacher or join a language class. On the other hand if you will be using the language for professional work then it might be a good idea to start out strong and book a private language tutor for a few hours every week.
Needless to say living in a country where they speak the language natively will make the process a lot smoother, as you’ll be exposed to it every day. Most people don’t have this option however so you’d have to rely on talking online, watching movies and other methods. This article will list some of our favourite tricks for making language-learning as easy and fun as possible.
Reading and listening
Learn the alphabet and vowels ASAP
Although it's not the most exciting part of learning a new language, it is really important to get this one out of the way as quickly as possible. This opens up possibilities like reading menus, blogs, books and chatting with friends online. Learning vocabulary also goes a lot better in the original script instead of some kind transcription to your language, for example.
Find the 200 most common words
Most languages consist of tens of thousands of words. Ranging from very simple and common ones like ‘this’ and ‘that’ to rather lesser knows ones like ‘colporteur’. Many studies have shown however that as many as 80% of the language used in common literature and communication consists of as little as 20% of the total vocabulary of a language.
This essentially means that you only need to memorize and understand about 200 words, in order to be able to understand every day conversations. Isn't that amazing?
These days there are plenty of websites online offering such lists for common languages. One of my personal favourites is called Quizlet. Not only are there already many pre-made word-lists but they also make it dead easy to create your own and share them with friends. They also feature several games for practicing on the new vocab.
Learn and understand phrases that you can quickly integrate into every day conversations
One of the most common reasons we give up learning is that sometimes it feels like we are not making any progress anymore. Given that most people only get to learn static sentences from a text book maybe this is not too surprising, as it doesn't give you any rewards for improvements. However when you try to communicate with a native speaker and he/she understands what you are trying to say and even replies in a correct way then you immediately get the feeling of having accomplished something and that in turn might make you eager to try talking about other, maybe more complex topics.
Writing down and trying to create new sentences will also help a lot with remembering new vocabulary. Try composing a new sentence with every new word you learn and you might be surprised by how easy it was to make it stick!
Practice writing / reading with friends (instant feedback, motivation)
If you are lucky enough to have friends who speak the language you’re learning or maybe you've already moved to the country, then why not take the opportunity to practice with them. Try to use phrases you’ve recently learned in real life situations and see if you can make yourself understood. This is great for your confidence and you’ll also see a strong boost in motivation to keep on studying.
Watch movies & Read books
Try to find media that are suitable for your current level. Even as a complete beginner, to get a feeling for the language, it can be useful to watch some shows targeting very young people. Cartoons and children books can be a good starting point!
I often find it useful to read books that have been translated from English. Put both books next to each other and study how the translation was made.
For certain languages this can be a much bigger problem than for others. Especially for tonal languages where one word can have multiple meanings based on (for the untrained ear) small variations in the way it's pronounced. This quickly becomes a major obstacle for improving, once you try to compose more complex sentences where it’s impossible for the locals to guess what you are trying to say.
To tackle this I've come to rely on mainly two techniques.
A really nice online initiative where you can listen to native speakers that have uploaded recordings of certain words and phrases. There’s also a map showing which region they come from and what their accent sounds like.
Download a simple recording app for your phone and use this for words that you are not feeling confident about saying out loud. Then compare that to for example the Forvo recordings or to a native speaker if there is one around.
This can be incredibly revealing and you’ll probably end up surprised by how different it sounds compared to how you thought it sounded in your head.
You can learn it – what are you waiting for?
It’s important to realize that it takes time to learn a new language. Some days you’ll be making good progress and other times you’ll be asking yourself why you’re even trying.
It will get easier in time though and you’ll just have to trust in the learning process, try to stay on course and eventually things will become easier.
I really can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep on trying to communicate with local speakers, as this will give you great feedback and a very clear view of how far you’ve progressed.