Tips To Keep You Learning That New Language

You’ve decided to learn a new language. You’ve bought a book. After the initial excitement of exploring this new world begins to fade, page by page, you may begin to wonder what you’ve got yourself into.

Fear not, it always starts that way. It’s new, it’s foreign, and it’s confusing.

I’m from a country that has 11 national languages. Being bilingual is not an option but a requirement. After learning three additional languages, I can tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can get to the point of actually understanding and speaking a new language. You just have to set yourself up for success.

Take Your Time

Language learning takes time and, in all honesty, never really ends. Without scaring you off, you’ve embarked on a long haul journey that may well last a lifetime. You don’t one day suddenly become proficient; you gradually improve as you put in the time. So don’t rush it, savour it. It’s like travelling — it’s a cultural experience learning a language.

Start with Personal Pronouns

Have a look at what people call themselves in this new world. Learn what to call yourself. Knowing the I’s, You’s, and We’s of a language is the perfect place to start because our sentences start with them. Another great reason to start here is to learn the intricacies of addressing people appropriately right off the bat. Knowing what to call people based on your level of intimacy with them and their age is important because it shows respect and you avoid awkwardness.

Look at the Verb System

Also known as conjugation, have a look at how verbs in the new language change according to the subject. As English speakers we’re used to just two verb forms in conjugation, like: I walk, she walks. Other languages, like the popular romance languages, have a different verb conjugation system. Getting a handle on verb conjugation in languages like Spanish and French is essential. I highly recommend listing the personal pronouns one below the other and writing the associated verb form next to each one. This way you can quickly see the verb change patterns and apply them to new words.

On to Articles and Prepositions

The articles (the, a, an) are another point of difference between languages. They also help us build simple sentences, which is what we’ll need to start doing. You’ll also need to know a few simple prepositions (to, in, on, at) to build those sentences.

Build a Basic Vocabulary

Now, you need a notebook. You’ve got to build a repertoire of words and it’s helpful not only to record them in one place for later perusal but also because the act of writing the word will help you remember it. Start with a few common nouns so you can build some sentences. At this point, you’ll be able to say, “I sing in the shower”. Fabulous!

Now You Read

The awesome thing about learning a new language in the age of the internet is that you have access to reading material in foreign languages that isn’t as tough to read as One Hundred Years of Solitude in its original Spanish.

Go online and read magazine articles — they’re a great place to start because the language is much easier and you’ll be catching a glimpse into the way people really speak the language in everyday life.

You won’t understand much at first. Try to spot words you’ve learnt, look up new words, and try to understand what you’re reading by doing simple translations. Write your new vocabulary in your notebook and jot down any phrases you notice, as this will help you build more complex sentences of your own.

From here on out you’ll spend time reading and building your vocabulary. This is where you’ll have to put in the time to improve but I assure you it’s all worth it when you can read a few paragraphs and understand them.

Listen to the Radio

Another fabulous aspect of the age of the internet: you don’t have to live in a foreign country to listen to foreign language radio. Listen to the radio to get used to hearing the language, the flow, and the accentuation. I guarantee you won’t understand anything at first but that’s ok because understanding word for word isn’t the goal. You’ve just got to get used to hearing it and, hey, there’ll be music too. Keep at it and eventually you’ll pick out a word here and there, then a sentence here and there, until eventually, you’ll be following along without problems.

Learning a new language can be tough but it’s incredibly rewarding as well as a very desirable addition to your skill set. Keep at it and enjoy it.

Learning a Romance Language? 6 Tips on Where to Focus First

There has never been a better time to learn languages.  The world has become much smaller with the internet connecting us to eachother and so we are coming into closer contact with content in other languages.  There are a number of reasons people choose to learn another language; whether for business or for personal growth the challenge remains the same.  It can be daunting trying to figure out where to start especially if you are learning mostly on your own.  I’ve taught at a well known English language school and I’ve also attended language courses for my own language studies.  From my experience both teaching and learning I know that a huge part of becoming proficient in a language DSC_0077web compresshas to do with the work you put into it personally on your own.  It can be the make or break factor. After Chinese and English, the romance languages, particularly Spanish, Portuguese, and French are popular languages to learn.  Not only is a lot of business conducted in these languages but there is also a wealth of literature that can be enjoyed if we are able to read in them.  Once we’ve made the decision to dedicate time to learning one of the romance languages you may wonder where to start or, if you’ve attended a beginner course, where to focus for improvement.

Here are my 6 tips for moving beyond beginner level in the romance languages:

  • Get used to the idea of all nouns being either feminine or masculine
  • Know your definite & indefinite articles (the, a , an)
  • Master a few common nouns to build your vocabulary
  • Study the verbs like a demon
  • Keep a vocabulary notebook
  • Love your dictionary

All nouns in the romance languages are either feminine or masculine so they will generally end in either an ‘a’ for feminine or ‘o’ for masculine.  There are exceptions to the rule but there really aren’t that many.

Next you’ll want to get to know your articles (the, a, an).  Because of the gender of nouns you’ll have noticed that there are also both feminine and masculine versions of the definite and indefinite articles to match the nouns.  I have found it a good idea to learn new words together with their definite article to help you remember gender.  For example: la casa, el gato in Spanish or a casa, o gato in Portuguese.crop 1 webcompress

An incredibly valuable resource for your learning journey is your vocabulary notebook.  Be vigilant about writing down every new word you come across and writing its English equivalent next to it.  This notebook will become your bible.  The process of writing down the new word and looking up its translation is in itself helping you to solidify this new information in your mind.  Later, it is the place you return to to recap your vocabulary and also serves as a fantastic reminder of how far you’ve come.  I highly recommend studying using a vocabulary notebook.

You will obviously need to look up the meanings of all these new words so a good dictionary is essential.  While I was teaching there was debate about how much or how little beginner students should use dictionaries.  My opinion is that you should get one and use it regularly.  I say this simply because when I was a beginner my dictionary was my best friend.  I’m all for immersion but you won’t get anywhere in the beginning without being able to look up the words you are hearing and seeing around you.

The next big hurdle that must be overcome are the verbs.  They look scary to English speakers because of their many forms but fear not!  To begin let’s talk about why each verb in each tense has so many forms compared to English.  For this let’s take a look at our personal pronouns to see all the different perspectives crop2web compressfrom which action takes place.  There is ‘I’ 1st person singular, ‘You’ 2nd person singular, ‘He, She, It’ 3rd person singular, ‘We’ 1st person plural, ‘You’ 2nd person plural, and ‘They’ 3rd person plural.  In English the form of our verb only changes in the 3rd person singular:  I walk, you walk, she walks, they walk. Easy.  The only difference in the romance languages is that for every person the verb changes.  It does initially seem like a lot to remember but look closely and you’ll see there is a pattern to those changes that you can learn by heart.  And herein lies the important advice I give to beginners who truly want to be proficient.  Don’t shy away from learning those verbs.  Take the bull by the horns and write them out, study the endings for the pattern of change, and keep doing it until you know those verbs inside out.  Start with the present simple tense and when you know those by heart move on to the past tenses.  The most important verbs to learn to conjugate at first are: ser, estar, tener, and ir which are your ‘to be’, ‘to have’, and ‘to go’ verbs in Spanish.  All stem verbs in Spanish and Portuguese end in ‘-ar’, ‘-er’, or ‘-ir’.  Each one of these stem verb endings has its own pattern which dictates how the verb will change to match the personal pronouns I mentioned above.  So choose one verb for each of the endings (hablarto speak, comerto eat, salirto go out) and learn the pattern of the verb changes for each and then apply those to other verbs with the same ending.  In addition to dictionaries you can also buy dedicated verb books which take verb by verb and give you all the changes in all the tenses.  A super reference tool! What has been your experience with beginning language learning?

Appreciating Portuguese Literature – A Reading List

Do you know Portuguese? If so, and you are interested in diving into the Literature from this culture, take a look at the reading list below.  These lists come from the Princeton and Brown Universities and sometimes recommend specific novels or pieces to read but mostly list the authors whose work you can choose from to enjoy Portuguese literature.  If you know any other languages please follow the links after the lists to view the literature reading lists for other languages.  Enjoy!

Princeton Literature Reading List



Brown PhD Literature Reading List


  • Poesia Trovadoresca (Cantigas de Amor, Cantigas de Amigo, Cantigas de Escárnio e Mal dizer)
  • Fernão Lopes
  • Gil Vicente
  • Luís de Camões
  • Antônio Vieira
  • Poetas Barrocos (selections from D. Francisco Manuel de Melo, António Barbosa e Sóror Violante do Céu)
  • Bocage
  • Almeida Garrett
  • Camilo Castelo Branco
  • Júlio Dinis
  • Eça de Queiroz
  • Cesário Verde
  • Antero de Quental
  • Camilo Pessanha
  • Florbela Espanca
  • Fernando Pessoa
  • José Régio
  • Miguel Torga
  • Manuel da Fonseca
  • Vergílio Ferreira
  • Agustina Bessa-Luís
  • Jorge de Sena
  • José Rodrigues Miguéis
  • Vitorino Nemésio
  • José Cardoso Pires
  • Eugénio de Andrade
  • Sophia de Mello Breyner
  • José Saramago
  • Lídia Jorge
  • António Lobo Antunes

Brazilian Portuguese

  • Gregório de Matos
  • Tomás Antônio Gonzaga
  • Basílio da Gama
  • Gonçalves Dias
  • Castro Alves
  • Manuel Antônio de Almeida
  • José de Alencar
  • Sousândrade
  • Aluísio Azevedo
  • Machado de Assis
  • Olavo Bilac
  • Cruz e Souza
  • Euclides da Cunha
  • Lima Barreto
  • Manuel Bandeira
  • Oswald de Andrade
  • Mário de Andrade
  • Graciliano Ramos
  • José Lins do Rego
  • Rachel de Queiroz
  • Carlos Drummond de Andrade
  • João Guimarães Rosa
  • Clarice Lispector
  • Jorge Amado
  • João Cabral de Melo Neto
  • Lygia Fagundes Telles
  • Nélida Piñon
  • João Ubaldo Ribeiro
  • Moacyr Scliar
  • Sérgio Sant’Anna


Appreciating Spanish Literature – A Reading List

Do you know Spanish? If so, and you are interested in diving into the Literature from this culture, take a look at the reading list below.  These lists come from the Princeton and Brown Universities and sometimes recommend specific novels or pieces to read but mostly list the authors whose work you can choose from to enjoy Spanish literature.  If you know any other languages please follow the links after the lists to view the literature reading lists for other languages.  Enjoy!

Princeton Literature Reading List


  • César Vallejo (espeically Los Heraldos Negros)
  • Federico Garcia Lorca
  • Juan de la Cruz
  • Juan Ruiz (especially Libro del Buen Amor)
  • Octavio Paz
  • Pablo Neruda
  • Rubén Dario (especially Azul)


  • Pedro Calderón de la Barca, La Vida es sueño


Brown PhD Literature Reading List

  • Cristóbal Colón
  • Garcilaso de la Vega
  • Santa Teresa de Jesús OR Fray Luis de León
  • Garcilaso de la Vega, El Inca
  • Miguel de Cervantes
  • Luís de Góngora
  • Lope de Vega
  • Francisco de Quevedo
  • Pedro Calderón de la Barca
  • Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
  • José Cadalso OR José Espronceda
  • Benito Perez Galdós
  • Domingo Faustino Sarmiento
  • Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda
  • José Martí
  • Miguel de Unamuno
  • Ruben Darío
  • Antonio Machado
  • José Ortega y Gasset
  • Federico García Lorca
  • Juan Goytisolo
  • Jorge Luis Borges
  • Selected poetry of the Latin American avante-garde, including a work by Vicente Huidobro, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, César Vallejo, Gabriela Mistral
  • Mariano Azuela
  • Foundations of “Magical Realism,” including a work by Alejo Carpentier, Miguel Ángel Asturias, Juan Rulfo
  • Gabriel García Márquez
  • Selected “Boom” fiction, including a work by Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Julio Cortázar (novel or short story collection), Manuel Puig
  • Selected recent fiction: post-1968, including a work by three of the following: Javier Marías, Carmen Martín Gaite, Esther Tusquets, Reinaldo Arenas, Diamela Eltit, Luis Rafael Sánchez