Friday, 4 July 2014

How to learn a language

Lots of people tell me how they "would have loved" to have learned a second language. But now they're in their 30s, or now they've just started A levels, or now they're no longer a pre-lingual infant, it would be much more difficult to pick up another language, right?

Not as much as you'd think. It still takes babies a good few years to be able to string together a coherent sentence, after all! I'm sure we could manage that in a few hours.

What I would advise is to forget any bad experiences you've had with languages and focus on new, different ways of exploring the topic:

Classes: There are always language classes at school and local colleges, but have you thought about learning online? I've had experience with MyPLT, a company which offers 1 to 1 lessons over Skype, and I found that I learned new information much quicker and more efficiently than sitting in a class of 30. If you have a good internet connection, then why not at least try the free trial lesson?

Games: For those who are more visual and creative, games in a foreign language might make a bigger impression. Changing the settings on your favourite games could give you passive recognition of words in a context you already understand, or even better, you could choose games that are purpose-made, like Duolingo. It's a free game where you pick a language to learn and as you progress and become more competent, you earn coins. You can even compete with others and check how well your friends are doing, so it can really keep you entertained while you learn!

Music: This is what really got me interested in German, back when I started learning age 12 or 13! The teacher wasn't too engaging, and like many people, I failed to see the relevance of using a foreign language to explain the contents of my pencil case. The first band that really grabbed me was Rammstein (example song, yes it's safe for work!), but if you're not a big fan of metal, you might prefer to try Die Ärzte , or Superbus if French is more your area. I've found music really vital for keeping the language relevant and making it so you really want to know what's being said.

Teach yourself courses: For more advanced learning, you'll probably need a self-teaching book like Teach Yourself or the Colloquial Language series, which you can get for about a fiver on Amazon, or you could even get an immersion course like Rosetta Stone. (A word of warning - make sure you're suited to the learning style before you pay full price for it!) Long courses may seem a bit daunting at first but well worth it if you stick at it.

And most importantly - make sure you're learning the right language! Endless people proclaim that they are "no good" at languages, after trying one, briefly, and not getting anywhere. It might be that you're more suited to romance languages, or Slavic ones, or obscure African click languages - if you want to see the full range of possibilities, check Omniglot for a language or a script which really catches your eye. After all, if you're not engaged and interested, you won't progress as fast as you are capable!

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