How to Learn a Language

If you're not living abroad...

Be excited!

Learning a language is fun actually. Speaking to other cultures in their language is like having the key to unlock the door into a new world. You aren't just an observer anymore. You are part of their world. So have fun with it. Don't worry that you sound like a hyped-up chipmunk or an alien from another planet. Just go with it and laugh at yourself.

Take a class!

If you pay the money, you'll see the results. You don't have to study four or more years. Just take enough classes to where you understand the basics of the language. Then, you can start studying on your own. Don't try to start from scratch all by yourself. You'll get discouraged faster than you can even learn how to say 'how are you?'

Find native speakers!

Not every native speaker will have the patience to endure your strange attempts to mimic their language, but some will! Find one of those people and be silly. Ask questions and try out new words and phrases. Go to different places and contexts and ask again. Make your language learning practical and efficient.

Try it first, grammar later!

Any language has grammar rules. There are certain ways to put words together that sound funny and other ways that sound natural. Of course there are lots of rules you can learn to memorize and make sure you understand the roots of the language. Don't worry about all that up front. First, just learn those easy phrases and start speaking. If you can't say anything, you'll be really discouraged trying to learn those grammar rules, but if you can say a few basic conversations already, those grammar rules will make more sense. A few phrases can go a long way in learning a new language.

Listen!

There are tons of free videos and audio programs where you can listen to basic conversations with translations. Read along as they speak and try to repeat after them. Listening to a language is really important to understanding people. Don't feel frustrated when you can't get anything they're saying. Your brain is wired to assume that language is nonsense and it doesn't even try to process it. Force yourself to listen in to every sound. Every one has meaning and when you focus on the words, you will find you're beginning to understand more and more.

Read!

Maybe you only want to learn speaking and listening, but one of the best ways to do this is to build your reading and writing skills. Reading helps build your sentence structure, grammar, practical phrases, and vocabulary. You can take your time dissecting an article or story and then analyze it. Writing helps you really ingrain those new words, phrases, and sentences into your mind. If you write it down, you'll be more likely to remember it. Don't skip out on writing and reading. They are the keys to solidifying your speaking and listening skills.

Mix and match!

Don't focus too much on one medium to learn a language. There isn't one textbook or website or teacher that can teach you a language. Even if they are the best, you'll get bored. So try out new books and programs and teachers. Learning a language is part of who we are. Don't take it lightly, but also believe you can do it. And most importantly, don't give up.

If you're living abroad...

Sorry, living abroad is not enough to learn a language. Most people who live abroad long-term stay within their own communities and hardly ever speak the language of the culture they're in. If you want to learn a language living abroad, there are a few sacrifices you'll have to make.

Find new friends!

You will experience culture shock, depression, and isolation, but if you make friends with the people of that culture, you will start to learn their language. Of course if they already speak your language, this won't be true, but be clear up front that you want to speak their language and keep searching for more people who don't speak your language. Conversations will be awkward at first, but you'll both want to communicate and you will find ways to do it. Remember the words and phrases that person spoke. Look them up later and learn them. Now you're already speaking like a local and you'll find they speak differently than your textbooks.

Don't stop using old tricks!

Studying is just as important living abroad as not living abroad. The difference is you can really use the vocabulary and phrases you're learning right away. Whenever you learn a new word, use it that day. If you use it, you'll keep it. Or you might find out they say it differently. Sort through all the words you're learning and keep using those practical ones every chance you can.

Ask questions!

This is really key. There will be many times you won't know how to say something and then slowly you'll find your listening skills are getting better than your speaking ones. Other people will start guessing at your meaning and you'll say, "Yes! That one!" You understand it, but you can't say it. So ask them to teach you how to say it, how to spell it, or how to write it. Have them write it for you and then learn it yourself. If you don't know how to say something, don't just resort to "this one" or "that one". Actually ask them what it's called or how to say it. Make the world your teacher and you'll have the best education anyone can offer.

Be encouraged!

When you implement these techniques, your language will improve, but you won't be able to see it at first. It will be gradual, happening over time. Look back at your old notes or textbooks and see how easy they seem now. You are learning the language and it's getting easier and easier. Talk with old friends you haven't seen in a while and watch at how amazed they'll be at your improvement. You can interact with the local population and really learn this language. Be excited, keep studying, have fun and most importantly, don't give up! You can do this!

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