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Like many people, I struggle with language learning. I start learning with good intentions, but often lack the willpower to stick with it when the going gets tough. If you’re going to commit to it, you need to pick a language that really interests you and a goal that motivates you to keep going.
Perhaps there’s a guy or girl you’re trying to impress or maybe you’re learning a language to further your career…whatever it is, being multi-lingual has many benefits. Once you’ve decided on the language, the next question is, HOW do you learn it?
There are so many ways to learn a language, it’s all about what works best for you. Here I’m going to give a rundown of the obvious and not-so-obvious ways to get yourself fluent in no time.
The most obvious on the list; take a class. If you struggle with motivation to learn a language, this can be a good way to get to grips with it. Attending a class forces you to get out of the house and take time out of your schedule to learn, which means you’re less likely to put it off like you might at home. Interacting with a tutor from a place like Takelessons and other language learners can help keep you motivated and put you in the right frame of mind. By doing a simple Google search you’ll be able to find many evening classes and courses in your area and you can also search for courses in the UK on the BBC Languages site. The downside is that classes cost money, so if you’re short on cash you might want to try some free methods.
You’ll find plenty of language learning tips for travelers online, through virtual classes, forums and courses.
Rosetta Stoneis one of the most popular software programs for language learning. With Rosetta Stone you learn by immersion, so there are no translations to your native language or memorisation. You are introduced to new words and concepts in a carefully designed sequence, and as you progress, you use the words and phrases you’ve already learnt to understand new vocabulary that’s introduced. Rather than learning by repetition, the sequence leads you to arrive at the right answers intuitively. The speech recognition software can identify what you’re saying, giving instant feedback. If you need more practice you can take part in online sessions with language coaches who are native speakers in the ‘Rosetta Studio’, or play games with other language-learners in ‘Rosetta World’. There’s a Complete Course available in CD-ROM and download, or the TOTALe online course which includes mobile apps, live online tutoring and interactive games. It’s quite expensive though, so it depends whether you have the money to spare.
The BBC Languages site offers free tools for learning languages. There are lots of resources including news, TV and radio links, vocabulary lists, grammar explanations, facts about the country, videos and phrases. The online courses are centred around various everyday topics, such as food and drink, asking for directions, buying a train ticket etc.
LiveMocha offers free online language lessons in 35 different languages. The site also features a Livemocha community where you can submit your practice exercises for review or practice conversations with a native speaker.
Busuu is a free online community that allows you to practice your skills with over 40 million native speakers. You can have live conversations through the integrated video chat application and complete learning units covering diverse topic areas.
Babbel provides interactive online courses to help improve your vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. The best thing about this system is that it can detect where your strengths and weaknesses lie and tailor the exercises accordingly. It also comes with mobile learning apps so you can learn any time and anywhere. You can sign up to Babbel with a monthly subscription- prices are cheapest if you pay for 12 months up front and there’s a 20-day money back guarantee.
Looking to learn Spanish? You can find a Spanish tutor online to help you brush up on your skills with the help of a professional.
This is without a doubt the most informative blog on the Internet for language learning. Benny the Irish Polyglot is vegetarian, doesn’t drink and travels the world learning different languages. He writes about his missions to learn languages and shares lots of language hacking tips to help you learn faster. Fluent in 3 Months Premium costs $97 and includes his 32,000-word language hacking guide along with plenty of videos and multimedia content. It highlights some of the things that keep most people from learning a language and guides you through the exact processes Benny uses to learn languages quickly and effectively. Best of all there’s a 60-day 100% money-back guarantee just in case you’re not happy with your purchase.
I personally like audio tapes because I can just pop my earphones in and learn a language on my iPod. This is a great option for learning a language outside of the house- while I’m bored on the train, while I’m sunbathing on the beach etc. The Michel Thomas audio tapes are particularly good and I have them in both French and Spanish. His unique method teaches you to learn a language with no homework, no books, no writing and no memorising. It’s a pretty pain-free way to learn a language and you pick it up by just absorbing. When you listen to the tapes you are basically overhearing a class with one or two students, taught by Michel Thomas (who actually died in 2005). He builds you up step by step so that you actually learn how to construct your own sentences, as opposed to learning specific phrases in a parrot-like fashion. Sometimes one of the students gets and answer wrong and it can be a little frustrating, but it also helps you understand the genuine mistakes that can be made. Michel taught many A-list celebrities and politicians throughout his career as a linguist and he is good at guiding you through the process.
Obviously the best way to learn a language is to visit the country itself. Just by hearing the locals speak their language you will begin to absorb some words and phrases. You’ll see the language written down on billboards, road signs and menus, which will help with your reading skills. Being in the country will also give you a chance to practice everyday conversation, like asking for directions, ordering meals and booking train tickets. Only by practicing it daily will you manage to become truly proficient at a language. You might feel a bit awkward at first and maybe even a little embarrassed that you’re getting the pronunciation wrong, but locals will appreciate the effort. With a little miming and pointing at things, you can usually get your point across!
This is a bit of an unusual one. It might be a bit frustrating and confusing at first, but changing the language settings on your computer, tablet or smartphone can help you pick up new vocabulary! You’ll already be slightly familiar with the positioning of icons and what certain buttons mean in English, so it should give you a rough idea of what they mean in another language! Read Benny the Irish Polyglot’s guide on making your computer multilingual.
Listening to foreign music will not only help you pick up new words, it will also get you acquainted with the country’s culture. It’s a light-hearted, fun way to learn and will help you pick up new vocabulary, phrases and slang terms. Many very famous songs have been translated and sung in other languages, so you can listen to a familiar song and have a rough idea what the lyrics mean. Songs stick in your memory a lot more- there are some German songs we sang at Oktoberfest that I can still recite to this day. Best of all you can listen to them wherever you go.
Next time you watch a movie, turn the subtitles on in your chosen language so you can read the translations while watching. You can rent foreign movies from your local library or check out the foreign films on Netflix or Showbox. If you just want to watch short movie clips, you can search for them on Youtube.
When I’m travelling I love to eat out in restaurants. Instead of asking for the menu in English, I try to decipher what the menu means in the foreign language. Of course you might run the risk of ordering something you don’t want, but you can always ask the waiter what it means! It’s amazing how quickly you can learn the names of food items and I find that menus in French, Spanish or Italian have many words that are similar to English.
Dictionaries and phrase books will obviously help with vocabulary and basic sentences, so they’re ideal to carry round as a reference. Lonely Planet phrase books are rather popular and you can see their full list on Amazon to find your required language. I also like Berlitz Phrasebooks as you can see in this picture of me when I was just a few years old!
If you need to find a buddy to practice with, The Mixerr connects learners from around the world over Skype. You can sign up, login and search for a partner, then send them a text chat on Skype asking them if they would like to do a language exchange. It’s recommended that you arrange when you’ll meet online and how long you’ll spend on each language.
iTalki helps you find an online teacher for personal language lessons, so you can have 1 on 1 time, personalised attention and customised lessons. It’s ideal if you want to learn from your own home and don’t fancy going out to a night class or studying abroad. There are lots of teachers to choose from, so you can choose someone to suit your style and budget.
There are lots of language learning apps and tools on the market for both Apple and Android. Here are some of the best language apps:
With Duolingo you can learn a language completely free. You also have the opportunity to translate real-world texts into the language you are learning, and in doing so, you’ll help them to translate the web into other languages.
Busuu features over 150 everyday topics containing over 3,000 words and phrases. It’s available for 11 languages and you can learn through a variety of activities including vocabulary and grammar lessons, audio dialogues and interactive tests. You can submit practice tests to the community for revision and test your knowledge with a fun quiz to see what you’ve learned.
Memrise let you learn languages, geography, history, science, pop culture and all sorts of topics through crowd-sourced imagination. You can use ‘mems’- fun and imaginative ways to remember a word or phrase- to learn whatever you like.
The iTranslate is a good translator app that can translate words, phrases and text in over 80 languages. The voice input in the premium version lets you speak instead of type, so your words can be transformed into text and translated into another language.
AnkiMobile Flashcards- $24.99
AnkiMobile is a flashcard app that is free, multi-platform and open-source. It’s quite a pricey app at $24.99 and the company says it’s because the sales of the app support the development of both the computer and mobile version.
The LingQ app is an extension of the online web learning system. There are currently 3 versions, the FREE version, the $10 per month Premium version and the $39 per month Premium Plus level and you can downgrade at any time.
Also note that Rosetta Stone and Michel Thomas courses also come with free downloadable apps so you can learn on-the-go.
Thailand based Ling app is a great choice for learning Thai and over 60 other languages. Short, themed lessons and games make for a convenient way to practice and learn on the go. the bite sized format, engaging lessons and the dancing master Ling are sure to help you level up your language skills from beginner to advanced.
If you’re studying for a degree and have the option to study abroad for a semester or two, this is a great way to broaden your horizons, experience a different culture and pick up a new language. Check out StudyAbroad.com for a comprehensive list of study abroad options available around the world.
Couchsurfing is a website where people advertise their couches for you to sleep on. The concept is quite simple; you sign up for free, create a profile and you can find a place to crash in the destination you’re visiting, without having to spend any money on accommodation! There’s clearly advantage for language learning here! As a host you can invite backpackers into your home from all over the world and learn various languages, without even needing to travel abroad. From the traveller’s perspective, you can stay with a native speaker who will show you around the local area and help you practice speaking in the local language.
Dating or trying to impress someone from another country is really good motivation to pick up a new language. Part of the reason that many of us give up so soon on learning a language is the lack of real motivation or interest. But when love depends on it and you desperately want to decipher what your new partner is trying to say, suddenly there’s a huge incentive to learn fast. Ordinary language learning can be boring, but with a lover you will associate it with positive moments and fun activities. You’ll also learn words and slang terms that you wouldn’t usually necessarily up in a class.
Another great method of learning is to listen to podcasts. Visit iTunes and go to Podcast—>Education—>Language Courses. If you don’t want language lessons and you just want to listen to podcasts in a foreign language, you can scroll to the bottom of iTunes, click on your country’s flag and change the settings to your target country. Here’s an extensive list of podcasts available both through iTunes and direct web link.
See what language exchange meetup groups are taking place in your area. The Meetup website lists various meetup groups across the globe- language-exchange.meetup.com
Look at the Yahoo Directory of radio stations and listen to the radio in your target language. You can listen to it intently or just go about your normal business with the radio on in the background. In the beginning it might all sound like gobbledegook but after a while you will begin to pick out repeated words and sounds. My aunt, who is French, says she picked up much of her English by listening to the radio.
Next time you’re in the airport, pick up a foreign language newspaper or magazine instead of one in your mother tongue. Reading foreign newspapers on the Internet can be really useful because they’re constantly updated and they cover a range of topics like current affairs and politics. Here’s a good list of foreign newspapers you can take a look at. Download your favourite Kindle books in foreign languages too. This will help your reading skills and identify how words are spelt, not just how they are spoken.