If learning a new language has been on your list of “Things I’d like to do in life,” go for it. You can become a fluent speaker of a foreign language at any age.
Benefits of Learning a Language
There are tremendous benefits to learning a second language. Many studies have shown an increased cognitive function, improved memory, better decision-making skills, and a boost in confidence and creativity. Learning a new language rewires your brain, creating new neural connections that allow your brain to function more efficiently. Years of study aren’t necessary either for the changes to take place. Even six months of routine learning will yield results of increased neural activity. Still not convinced? Becoming bilingual could make you a better, more empathetic person by helping you become more attuned to other people’s mental states. Getting on board seems like a no-brainer to me.
Bonus: Older adults should have more fun when it comes to learning a new language. Why? As adults, we strive for perfection when it may be better to let down our guard and go with the flow. Our developed prefrontal cortex, the brain area that allows us to act like grown-ups, can get in the way of primary forms of learning. While this may present challenges, it’s not hard to overcome, especially with the numerous methods available to learn a new language. So finding the way you like to learn and keeping it interesting is vital.
No matter how exciting it is to start something new, learning is learning, which can be challenging. All those grammar rules and ways of saying things differently from your native tongue can drive you crazy if you don’t know where to start. Our advice is to stay positive, keep going, and remember why you started this journey. To make it easier, we’ve rounded up 12 ways to get you started and keep you motivated:
1. Use Apps
One of the most popular ways to learn a new language is to use language-learning apps. Here are six worth exploring:
- Duolingo offers over 90 lessons in over 30 languages using a self-paced approach. This language app teaches you languages through listening, reading, and speaking. You learn it independently, but it doesn’t feel like opening a textbook and going through all the boring lessons. Think of it like a game where you will learn the language of your choice in bite-sized bits. You can even invite your friends and compete on the weekly leaderboard. Currently, over 300 million people are learning different languages through Duolingo.
- Drops has over 40 languages, including American Sign Language and languages with their characters (think Korean Hangul, Hindi Devanagari, Chinese Hanzi, and more). Through visual cues and mnemonic games, Drops aims to make learning feel like a fun game instead of a chore, and language learners play word games by dragging the word they are learning to the associated image or vice versa.
- Rosetta Stone follows a more structured approach to reading, writing, and speaking a new language by associating words with actions, objects, and ideas. Pictures help learners associate words with meanings. Grammar, syntax, and vocabulary are all taught through real-life examples.
- Busuu has over 100 million users worldwide, learning 12 different languages. They cover the four language skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) from beginner to upper-intermediate. Lessons are grouped according to focus (how to introduce yourself, how to order at a restaurant, etc.), and the learner can submit writing exercises native speakers of the language can correct.
- Memrise teaches languages in a way opposite to textbook language learning. They have thousands of video clips from native speakers designed to help the student learn the language in a conversational, communicative way. Over 50 million students from 189 countries are learning 22 different languages.
- Babbel teaches you the language of your choice through real-life dialogue and approaching language learning the way native speakers would. They offer individualized learning paths that are centered on how the student learns (whether they are visual or auditory). Babbel also helps students refine their pronunciation by listening to the actual voices of native speakers with different accents.
2. Engage in Language Groups
One of the best ways to learn a language is to find people who are also learning the language. In the age of social media, the options are limitless. For example, you can find Facebook groups or Reddit communities dedicated to helping beginners learn languages. Sometimes, out of those groups, Zoom calls and WhatsApp/Telegram chat groups spring forth for those looking to study languages with a smaller, more focused group. Other websites have forums where students can submit posts for others to comment on or ask questions about topics they don’t understand.
Some online communities you can check out:
3. Write to a Pen Pal
If you want to learn a language well and learn more about a country’s culture, there’s no better way than to learn it from a native speaker. Websites like Interpals are built to connect language learners. Other sites or apps will let you connect with native language speakers, such as italki and Speaky. HiNative enables you to ask language-related questions to native speakers, and Slowly is a pen pal letter app that allows you to send messages back and forth with people from around the world within the time frame of snail mail letters (isn’t that fun?).
4. Watch Movies and TV shows
What better way to learn languages than while doing something fun like chilling and watching movies? Some language learners start by watching foreign films and TV series with subtitles in their language and then eventually watch them with subtitles of the language they are learning. There’s an excellent way to do both through the Google Chrome extension Language Reactor. You must install the extension, log in to your Netflix account, and watch the movie in your native language and the language you’re learning.
5. Go on YouTube
It’s no big secret that YouTube has resources for thousands of things, including languages. Native speakers and polyglots provide countless tips and tricks for learning languages, from pronunciation to grammar rules to sentence structures. You can check out Easy Languages, The Travel Linguist, and The Language Pod.
6. Listen to Songs
If you love listening to songs, why not boost your knowledge by singing songs in the language you’re learning? It’s a fun way to remember words and phrases, especially colloquial terms that might not appear in grammar books. Learn the song, memorize it, and understand what it means.
7. Listen to Podcasts
Listening to podcasts will rapidly expand your vocabulary and familiarize you with the rhythm of the language. Some podcasts try the slow approach to learning (word by word, phrase by phrase), while others use current news so you can quickly become familiar with conversational sentences. Some podcasts include The Fluent Show (available on iTunes and Spotify), The Actual Fluency Podcast, and more!
8. Read Blogs
Learning from native language speakers or learners already well-versed in the language you’re studying is a great idea. Some bloggers detail their language-learning experiences, while others review language-learning courses, apps, and other products.
Blogs you can check out:
9. Do Some Role-Playing
It’s always best to be prepared for any situation, especially in a foreign country. One way to master the words and sentences of the language you’re learning is by imagining yourself in various situations. Pretend you are in that foreign country and conversing with a native speaker.
Here are some scenarios you can try out:
- Introducing yourself
- Ordering from a restaurant
- Booking a hotel
- Buying a house (including some furniture!)
- Attending a job interview
10. Keep a Journal
You know you have mastered a language when you start thinking about it, without having to translate from your native tongue and back. One way to practice this is by writing journal entries in the language you’re learning at the end of the day. You don’t have to write long diary entries that take about ten pages. Starting with ten sentences a day will do. Write what you learned and what you did. Doing that will help you remember the words you learned for the day and will help you string together words to form sentences.
11. Read Children’s Books
Reading children’s picture books when learning a new language is an excellent way to become familiar with simple words and terms. Because picture books are easy to follow, you can easily pick up a few sentences without going through your language dictionary or a translator.
12. Travel Abroad
The best way to practice a foreign language is to go where they speak it. Go to the market, the grocery, and the library. Meet the locals and interact with them in their language. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t be shy to ask questions. It may be challenging at first, but you’ll adapt and enjoy it as you keep hearing and speaking the language along the road.
Learn It, Your Way
There’s no one way to learn a new language. Sometimes, it’s a mix of two or three tips. You’ll need to change it up depending on your level of mastery. The important thing is to find what’s best for you and take your time as you explore the wonders of learning a new language. Au revoir!