How to effectively learn a foreign language

How long do you think it would take you to learn a new language at a native level? In other words, the same proficiency as someone who speaks fluently; perfect accent, perfect tone, etc. Don’t get me wrong, learning a new language can be tough. True mastery of a language requires years of dedication. The good news is that you can become conversationally fluent much faster.

Fluency in conversations is the ability to have regular, everyday conversations with native speakers at a normal speed. It’s the end goal for all languages you study, whether it be Spanish, French, Tamil, etc. You’ll need these skills if your aim is to learn about foreign countries, their cultures, and be able to integrate successfully into them. Really, you should practice conversational fluency rather than having native fluency, unless this is critical to your workplace.

Polyglots have most likely always been considered superhuman to those who have met them. However, they’ll be the first to tell you they don’t possess any special powers. Language proficiency is, rather, a result of their principles. My goal in this post is to explain these principles here. Within 12 months of following these steps, you will be able to speak conversationally in your target language. Let’s get started.

1) Make language learning a daily habit

Often, people complain that they cannot learn a language due to difficulty or that they aren’t good at it. The truth is, people fail at learning a language because they do not practice it consistently. It is a must to develop these daily habits in order to achieve this consistency. The key to behavior change is to develop habits, because once they are formed, you don’t have to depend on motivation and willpower. It just comes to you naturally.

Using an online calendar or a scheduling program is a great way to set daily reminders for language learning. During your first lesson, introduce yourself to easy routines like opening your language app or reviewing five words from your last lesson. It may seem like these routines aren’t enough, but since they are so easy, you are virtually guaranteeing your success, and you may end up wanting to do a great deal more than you intended. Getting something special might be one way to reward your progress, but just noticing that you have made progress is often enough to reinforce the habit.

Maybe you’re thinking: this all sounds good, I like the idea, but I’m just too busy. Realistically, every day, all you need to make progress is 15 minutes. You can revise vocabulary or listen to podcasts in the foreign language during your commutes. Don’t make excuses, get started! We’ll discuss some of these habits in more detail later in this guide.

2) Make sure you learn the words correctly

Many people who are unable to learn a language attribute their poor memory to their inability to do so. However, in truth, it’s almost always their technique of studying, not that their memory can’t contain the information.

Below are 5 practical tips on improving your vocabulary:

Get familiar with cognates. A cognate is an almost identical word in a different language. Gratitud in Spanish is equated to gratitude in English, for instance. Hundreds of words in Spanish, French, and Italian are similar to those in English. Online lists of these cognates are readily available. To listen to how native speakers pronounce each word, visit Forvo, a free website that lets you hear the pronunciation of any specific word.

Get familiar with relevant words. Consider topics that are of interest to you or that are part of your daily life. It could be related to what you do at work or what you do during your free time. It’s more likely that you’ll actually use the words you learn in real life if you focus on relevant language. The words might also come to you easily; making it easier to memorize.

Educate with flashcards and spaced repetitions. The most effective method for memorizing languages is using flashcards. By applying a concept called spaced repetition, they determine which words/flashcards you should study first, so that you spend your time studying what you don’t know, rather than things you already know. Examples of such flashcard apps are Anki and Quizlet.

Become familiar with the most commonly used words. In order to learn a language at a native level, you would need to learn 50,000 words at least. The amount of vocabulary you need for conversational fluency is less than a third of that, about 2000 to 3000 words. Every language has a minority of words that make up most of the spoken language. Such lists are available online. As you speak or listen to the language, you will also come across them naturally. Don’t take the time to learn the complex words that you don’t hear so often, but write down the words you hear frequently.

Keep a notebook with you at all times. Keep a note of any relevant vocabulary you encounter. If you want to find translations online, you can use an online dictionary, but I recommend writing the words down instead of storing them on a device. Researchers have found that you can recall information more effectively when you write instead of typing. These findings are attributed to the slower speed of writing and deeper thought process involved in writing. However, if it isn’t practical in your situation, you may consider online note-taking apps.

3) Spend time exploring free resources

With the advent of the internet, learning a language has never been easier. The internet offers a lot of free resources for reading, listening, and learning. You can use these resources every day to become more fluent in the language.

The ideal resource would be one level higher than your own. Comprehensible input is a linguistic term that describes resources at this level. That means that if you read or listen to something, you should at least be able to understand it. To be capable of understanding and interpreting new languages, you should go out of your comfort zone, but know just enough of the language to comprehend what you heard.

When you are at an intermediate level, radio and podcasts are great, but television and films are more appropriate in the beginning. Images assist in understanding language because they provide context. International news is something I highly recommend. Your chances of understanding news broadcasts are higher since news presenters speak clearly. In addition, you might be familiar with some of the news stories because of the international focus. Even if you are a beginner, you’ll be able to follow along and pick up new words because of the images, the clear voice, and your background knowledge.

Having access to radio and podcasts is convenient for those on the go. For example, a great podcast for learning French for beginners is Daily French Pod. Lessons alternate between narration by Louis and his conversations with other speakers. They are based on real-life situations that can be encountered in France. Louis speaks at a comfortable pace, slower when he addresses people directly.

4) Start speaking from day one

For improving your listening and reading skills, all you need is internet access. However, speaking with another human being is still the most effective way to learn. Here, you have three main choices. First, you can search for native speakers to converse with. Meetup.com, for example, has regular meetings for language exchange. Despite this, there is a downside as you have to travel to the meet-up and help with your native language during the meet-up.

Group classes are another option. The social aspect of these can be attractive, but if you plan to practice talking with others, they are not ideal due to the need to take turns with them. In addition, classes tend to move based on the pace of the slowest students. Therefore, taking 1-on-1 lessons is the most effective option. These types of lessons can be more expensive, but that isn’t always the case, especially if it’s done online. With an experienced, native tutor, you will be able to gain extensive speaking practice.

Feedback is an important aspect of mastering skills, according to educational research. It takes practice and accurate feedback for you to learn to make fewer mistakes and quickly improve your speaking skills. It is therefore essential to speak with someone who is a native speaker, as they can identify mistakes and provide you with accurate corrections. Exchange partners are able to offer some feedback, though they may not be able to provide detailed explanations since they only know their own language implicitly. You can effectively improve your skills in a foreign language by working with a personal tutor.

Beginners may read this section but wait several months before putting their speaking skills to the test. We understand that it’s not easy to learn a new language as it requires confidence. In contrast, if you are trying to reach a conversational level and speak at length, you should start practicing right away. Having made errors, you will be able to gain feedback more quickly. The tutor needs to create an inviting learning environment in which students feel safe making mistakes.

Last but not least, good language learners keep up their speaking practice by speaking to themselves from time to time in their target language. Consider taking it for a try to sharpen your pronunciation and boost your confidence. You might be considered a little crazy if you yell at the top of your lungs in a crowded place, however.

5) Have fun learning a new language

I previously discussed why it is typically more beneficial to focus on becoming fluent in conversations rather than native fluency. The reason for this is that most people need only this, and it can be achieved in just one year through a course of immersive learning. The journey to conversational fluency will require consistent motivation whether it takes you 12 months or longer.

Studying boring textbooks and relying on willpower to keep going is way too often what leads people to give up learning a language. Willpower isn’t enough when it comes to learning a language. It’s vital to have fun along the way. The more fun you have, the more likely you are to practice each day. Instead, find something that interests you and do things you enjoy instead of obsessing over grammar.

Thank you for reading this guide. We hope that you will put your new knowledge into action. Get into the habit of learning every day. Take each step toward your goal with enthusiasm, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Leave a comment below if you would have anything to add; let’s make language acquisition easy for all!

“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”

– Flora Lewis

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