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.