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Language Learning, Linguitics

Learning a New Language

I just wanted to send a few recommendations your way about learning languages. I studied linguistics in university, and despite that, most of my tips come from experience in teaching English and learning languages. Here are my top five tips:

  1. Meet Someone – a new relationship with a native speaker in your new language can seem daunting but building communication is key in a relationship and language learning.
  2. Brush up on your English Grammar – Yes there are always parts of a language that cannot be directly translated, but there is an underlying structure to language. Comparisons stick with you, how this language is the same, how is it different. I find the “English Grammar for students of…” series wonderful. I have used it to help with my French, German and Japanese. It has simple explanations of grammar equivalences based on their functions in English and the target language. I’m sure there are other resources out there like it, this is the one I use. Brushing up on your English grammar sounds tedious but it really helped me keep associations about differences, especially in Japanese grammar.
  3. Know yourself – Each person learns differently and at a different pace, knows what works for you and what doesn’t. I took a Japanese class from the embassy and found the instruction too slow for me, studying on my own let me set the pace and the number of online one-on-one available means I can find an instructor and ask questions when I need help. Structured language classes aren’t for everyone, don’t be afraid to dive right in and try learning it yourself if that’s your style. There are lots of resources out there, LingQ and Before you know it are two great vocabulary building programs.
  4. Don’t be afraid to look stupid – Really, the biggest obstacle to language learning is really you. Accept that you will make mistakes, everyone does.
  5. Get out there! – Immersion is the best way to learn, try to avoid using your native language at all. Read, write, speak and even think in the new language. Yes even talking to yourself in the new language is helpful, albeit hard to start and a little weird if you take to doing it out loud on the bus after work as one German instructor had me doing … weird looks aside it worked. Practice is really the best way to learn.

Good luck and happy learning!


About Ruth Davy

I'm a social and public policy researcher my interests include language education, multilingual societies, digital democracy, and public engagement in policy. I'm also a newbie sailor and amateur kettlebell lifter.


2 thoughts on “Learning a New Language

  1. I agree with you on all of these and especially number 2. When I studied my first foreign language, French, one of the major problems I ran into was grammar. For example when the professor was talking about ‘direct and indirect object’, ‘past participle’ to something simple like the ‘subject’ of the sentence, much of the class gave the teacher a blank look. It’s not because the students are stupid, it’s just that the knowledge of these terms comes to people without thinking. Most of us are probably not ever going to have to use grammatical terms in everyday speech. However for someone who is interested in learning languages, knowing grammar in his or her own language will make it easier to learn another. Anyway, just wanted to share a little story on this. You have a great list of advice here 🙂

    Posted by nomenklatura89 | January 16, 2012, 3:50 pm
    • Thanks for the insights, I completely agree that most grammar is unconscious for native speakers. Learning language is so much easier when you make yourself aware of it. It’s not something most students think of when they start out learning a new language. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Posted by Ruth | January 18, 2012, 3:39 pm

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