The world is getting smaller with more opportunities every day to travel, live and work in a different country. The biggest barrier though for many people is language. Especially if you’re not a “languages person” (or think that you’re not), the concept of learning a totally new language can be pretty terrifying.
Six months ago, I moved to the Netherlands and knew approximately 10 words of Dutch. This week I finished my Dutch lessons (the first set at least). I have now completed 22 hours of study over the past 12 weeks with a private tutor and I now know a lot more than 10 words. As part of my formal education, I have taken more than 13 years of French lessons, 11 years of German lessons, 2 years of Italian lessons and have 3 GCSEs, 2 A-levels and a Diploma in these languages. I have also lived in Germany and Québec (the French-speaking part of Canada for anyone who didn’t know).
From my experiences in the classroom and through lots of other learning methods, I’ve compiled these tips on the best ways to learn a new language.
Formal learning alone isn’t going to make you fluent in a language but it will really help with giving you a good foundation to build from. I think lessons give you the basics – a basic understanding of grammar, a basic level of vocab, the basics to help you buy a train ticket, order some food or ask for directions.
I prefer private lessons but small groups can also be good if you all work at a similar pace. Find what works for you though – don’t sign up for a class with 30 people in and then sit there quietly and not learning anything; it’ll be a waste of time and money.
After my formal French learning stopped, I went to conversation classes just to keep up the level I could speak. I took these through Alliance Française and also through a local adult education service (both were paid-for options) but it’s often quite easy to find cheap or free language meet-ups as well – check social media, your local library or language centre, or websites such as Meetup. A bit of regular conversation around different topics helps in a big way to keep your vocab and spoken fluency fresh.
Use an app
I have tried out lots of different language-learning apps and computer programmes over the years, but as it stands, I really think Babbel have it sussed. The format and content is excellent and I like the variety in exercises, the range of topics and the review function.
You also don’t need a wifi connection once you’ve downloaded the topics within the app so it’s a really practical option wherever you are – I commute to work by train so have around an hour a day of focused time to use the app.
Babbel does require a paid-for subscription but it is very reasonable. I also used a discount code (found in an in-flight EasyJet magazine) that gave me 6 months for the price of 3 making it even more affordable.
At least once a week I try to sit in a meeting or spend time with friends where only Dutch is spoken. It isn’t easy but it gets easier every time. People are understanding of the situation and speak slower for me and it makes me realise just how much I have actually learnt in such a short period of time. I also set myself little challenges each week such as speaking only Dutch in every shop or restaurant I go to or by asking someone for directions (even though I could just check on my phone).
Immersion is definitely the process that takes your learning to a higher level so find ways to challenge yourself even if you aren’t living in the country where the language is spoken. Find blogs or news sites in that language and read them each week, find a radio station or podcasts in the language and commit to spending your commute to work or time spent travelling to listen to those, and there are loads of foreign language films and series on Netflix so turn the English subtitles off and get watching. Despite having learnt additional languages in one form or another since I was 7, it can still feel pretty scary to have to speak to someone in a language that isn’t your mother tongue. My tips on the best ways to learn a new language give you different methods which you should mix and match to find what works for you.
Don’t underestimate the power of stepping out of your comfort zone though as this is truly what makes the difference. The one thing I have experienced wherever I’ve been is that people are so supportive when they realise you are putting in the effort to speak their language. My friends and colleagues here are really encouraging which is lovely and actually pushes me to try harder to improve.
What are your favourite ways to learn a new language? Comment and let me know or get in touch through Twitter and Instagram where I can be found @amiilau