So, you’re learning a new language. You’re highly motivated at first but soon realize it isn’t as easy as you thought it would be. Slowly, you stop opening your language app, and the words you’ve learned in your target language begin to fade. Why does it have to be so difficult?!
Good news: although learning a new language is no walk in the park, there are ways to stay motivated and develop a well-rounded understanding of any language.
- Focus on basic conversational skills. How much does this cost? Where is the grocery store? At what time does the library close? You’d be surprised by how often all you need is a handful of verbs, some general vocabulary, and a decent pronunciation to get your message across.
- After you feel confident with general conversation, focus on adding nouns and verbs to your vocabulary. Native speakers will forgive you if you conjugate improperly or use a plural term instead of its singular form. But if you have the infinitive, you have enough to make a statement.
- Treat every time you learn a new word as a glorious opportunity to expand your knowledge. Came across the Russian word for “tools” while you worked on your laptop? Repeat it, fit it into a sentence, and make it your own. Suddenly, weeks later, you’re able to say, “Jeff stole the gardening tools”, leading to the petty thief’s capture.
- Keep a diary in your target language. Write about your day: what you learned, where you went, who you saw, etc. Practice using your general vocabulary and incorporating more recent words into your daily log. You may start off with something like “I go to school. I go home. I sleep.” But eventually, you’ll be able to elaborate—both verbally and on paper. Don’t forget to read in your target language! Books, Tweets, newspapers… anything you can get your hands on.
- Watch movies and listen to music. Nobody said learning a language must be just pens and paper! There’s no shortage of English films and shows on Netflix, or anywhere on the internet, really. Start with subtitles on in your native language. Slowly, you’ll find that you hardly need to look at them. Someday, you won’t have to use them at all. Meanwhile, listening to songs in your target language develops your ability to understand different accents and speeds of communication… plus, it’s fun!
- Make your language study more fun with activities. After listening to a German song a few times, try to write down all the words you recognize. Or, look up “fill in the blanks song lyrics” and use the worksheets and quizzes you find to fine-tune your grasp of the target language. Compete with your friends who are learning the same language or quiz each other on new vocabulary words.
- Practice every single day. Using language apps like Duolingo are good for this since they remind you to train daily and give you rewards when you do, thus increasing your motivation, but you can also just practice on your own. Talk to yourself aloud, describing your actions and thoughts. Tell your cat about your day in Polish. Explain your clothing choices in Mandarin. Ask your parents about their jobs in Turkish, even if they won’t understand. And never miss an opportunity to converse with a native speaker.
- Use language apps, but also go beyond their teachings. Duolingo is great for learning a bit at a time, but if you want to progress quickly, you need to do more than what that little green owl is asking. They aren’t fun, but verb conjugation sheets are an upfront way to memorize verb tenses. If you’re learning a romance language like French or Portuguese, verb charts are an indispensable tool. English conjugation is more straightforward but comprises many exceptions—charts can be useful here too.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. If you answer every second question your teacher asks, you’ll have a much higher chance of getting some right than if you never raise your hand at all. Learning a new language isn’t easy, and it takes courage to pronounce new words in front of an audience. Even if your answer is wrong, you’re learning. And the more you answer questions, the more you are practicing.
- Don’t expect learning a language to be easy. How many Americans take Spanish in high school and, a year later, can’t say anything more than “hola”? Languages aren’t meant to be learnt in a day. It takes effort, application, and patience to teach yourself to think and speak using a whole other set of words and rules, especially if you’re not a kid anymore. But as difficult as it gets, don’t give up. Knowing many languages is a distinct advantage for your education, career, social life, and more.
- Finally, don’t compare yourself to others too much. Although your classmates may serve as a general guideline to how much you should have learnt by a certain point, remember that not everyone progresses at the same speed. Tricks that work for one person might not for another. Work with your peers to share your combined knowledge but also develop your own strategies to get your best results possible.