How to Approach Learning a Foreign Language

Cómo estás? Comment ça va? Wie geht es dir? If you’re taking a foreign language in school, you probably understand at least one of these phrases. Then again, being that these are the most common languages to study and they all mean some version of “How’s it going,” it’s likely that you can recognize them all anyway. With most schools requiring a foreign language study, it’s extremely common for students to begin learning their chosen language in late junior high. Nobody said grasping a foreign language was going to be easy, however. It takes a lot of discipline, thorough review, and determination.

Although Spanish and French tend to be the most popular options, other languages like German and Latin are typically available as well. It ultimately depends on the school you attend, but other languages may be offered as well, such as Greek, Italian, Arabic, Chinese, and more – this span usually widens once you arrive at the college selection of courses.

It is first important that you select a language you feel excited about. If you genuinely want to learn it, you’ll have an easier time doing so. Sure, this may seem like common sense that applies to all studies, but learning how to speak a language is more than just completing a task for a class. This is a skill that could really affect your life in the long-term. You’ll acquire a better understanding of foreign culture, comprehend things about the English language you weren’t even aware existed, and be more motivated to visit a foreign country one day so you can apply your impressive talents. Truly grasping a foreign language will make you more worldly in ways you didn’t even know possible. Here are 5 tips for learning a foreign language that you may find helpful.

Since learning a foreign language can be, in fact, such a challenge, here are some tips for getting through it as painlessly as possible:

Nail down the basic grammar: If you continue to go higher and higher up on the learning ladder but still don’t understand the key building blocks of all of these words and phrases, you’re never really going to understand the language. Just like you wouldn’t be able to naturally put together English sentences if you struggled with its basic grammar rules, don’t expect to be able to coast your way through French or Italian without an accurate comprehension of the way their sentences are supposed to be structured. Schools typically incorporate these building blocks in the beginning of the curriculum, and rightfully so, which means some of the most crucial lessons you need to absorb are going to take place right away. Write them down in a page of your notebook you will savor, organize them onto flashcards – do whatever it takes to make this information readily accessible to you and simple to review at any time. Once these rules are strongly set in your mind, you’ll be prepared to take over this language properly. You may also want to consider consulting a foreign language tutor to help you.

Think the language in your head: When you only leave the language to your classroom practice periods, you are greatly limiting yourself. Even more so, if you only practice the language by speaking out loud, absorbing the material is going to take significantly longer. One of the reasons you are so familiar with the English language is because you hear it all the time, meaning in your head as well as aloud. Given that you are trying to learn a foreign language while surrounded by a society that mostly speaks English, you will not have the benefit of hearing it aloud as frequently as you’d like (outside of your classroom, of course). To counter this, and to make it feel more natural to you, train yourself to think in that language. Pause your thoughts and try to make them out in the foreign language you are studying. Nothing is more natural than the words spoken in your brain, so translating those will highly increase your comfort level with the language in question.

Have a pocket dictionary and/or translator website easily available: Our world’s vocabulary is endless. There are many words you don’t even know in English, so how can you expect to immediately memorize them all in Spanish? Or German? Or Latin? Nothing will slow you down more than missing out on key vocabulary just because you don’t instantly have the resources to look it up. By carrying an easy translation material on you at all times, an unknown word is just a page turn or click away. It’s near impossible to think up every word you could ever want to know in one sitting, so instead of driving yourself crazy trying to make your own list and memorize it at one time, look up words as they come to you. You’re more likely to remember them when they are terms you genuinely want to use in the moment.

Get familiar with the culture: Foreign language teachers make this a part of their program for a reason. Whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, understanding American culture significantly contributes to your understanding of the English language. Becoming familiar with the details of a specific culture helps you attain an honest awareness of the way its language is used and approached. This will ensure you really perceive the language in an authentic way rather than just attempting to memorize every aspect of it unnaturally. Plus, you’ll learn some pretty interesting things along the way that will give you a better appreciation for world culture differences.

Have as many conversations as possible: This will easily be covered in your class sessions – take advantage of it. Do not blow off these opportunities to practice your language in the most convenient way possible. Similar to thinking the language in your head, using it in conversation after conversation will make you much more relaxed with it. Practicing phrases to yourself is one thing, but having another person’s unexpected statements to respond to is another. When you are able to bounce off of your conversation partner’s use of the language, you will be better trained in saying a wider span of things. You can’t plan for the words you will need to say every day, so get as much practice in unscripted conversation as possible.

Speak your language whenever you can. Even if you are at home with your family or roommate who don’t speak it and you just want to test yourself, go right ahead. The point is to sincerely want fluency in a second language and you will be sure to achieve it with that kind of genuine desire. Get yourself both a good grade and a life-skill to benefit from. You may also want to check out this information on the rise of foreign language enrollment.