I love learning new languages, but lack of progress can be a bit demotivating. No need to worry, there are many ways to optimize your learning! I’m not an expert by any means, but all those years of language courses and stressful exams have definitely helped me find a few life hacks to speed up my learning process. Here are 7 helpful tricks for learning a new language:
1. Keep your Vocabulary Active
This is my one golden piece of advice: Keep your vocabulary active. It may sound self-evident, but it is the best strategy to achieve fluency. If you do not regularly use your words, your language skills will fade away. You have to try to keep up with your daily practice, otherwise you neglect all of the precious progress you’ve already made. It will take a lot of time to get back to your previous level, which can be hugely demotivating. The absolute best trick to keep your vocabulary active is to practice conversation every day. If you have trouble finding someone to talk to (online or offline), your best alternative is to use free language learning apps like Duolingo or Memrise.
Another way to make a lot of progress is to focus on mnemonics. A mnemonic is an information learning technique that makes optimal use of human memory. In other words: you think of an easy trick to remember the meaning of a word. For example, ‘el cuento’ in Spanish (‘the story’) can be easily remembered by relating the word to an eloquent person, somebody who should be pretty good at telling stories. The Chinese character for cow looks like it has horns, so when you see the character, the horns will remind you of a cow. Help yourself remember.
Cognates, on the other hand, are words in two different languages that already share a similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation. For example: the English word ‘situation’ translates into ‘situation’ (French), ‘situación’ (Spanish), and ‘situatie’ (Dutch). These words are already rooted in your native vocabulary and will be much easier to remember. Unfortunately, cognate methods do not work with every language. French and Spanish will share a lot of similar words, but Chinese and English will have virtually none. Still, cognates will truly help you to start using a new language, especially if you are a beginner.
4. Watch TV Series and Films
A fun trick to immerse yourself in a new language and culture is to find some great TV series and regularly watch films in your target language. The best thing about finding an addictive series is how you get to practice your language skills on a regular basis. You will effortlessly improve you skills without even noticing. You’ll learn new, everyday vocabulary (slang) that you probably won’t find in your textbook either. If you are struggling with finding good series or films in your target language, you can always consider watching a dubbed version of your favorite Friends episode.
5. Listen to Music
Another entertaining way to maximize your exposure to a new language is to find some really great songs in your target language. Try to find a few bands or artists you like and download their albums. Pick the songs you love and listen to them on a regular basis. Listening to music will significantly improve your auditory understanding of the language. Music will also help you to grasp the pronunciation on a phonetic level. Sure, you won’t always know the actual meaning of the words you’re singing along to, but it helps you get a grip on the general ‘feeling’ of a language much faster.
6. Don’t Focus Too Much on Grammar
Don’t be mistaken, a sound understanding of grammar is absolutely vital to get to a respectable skill level, EVENTUALLY. The problem with grammar is that it simply takes time. When you are only a beginner, you just need to get yourself out there and actually use the language. Don’t be embarrassed about using the wrong tenses, especially when speaking. You are a student and you are allowed to make mistakes (which you definitely will). People are usually very supportive when you try to talk to them in their own language.
7. Lower your Expectations
Finally, I genuinely advise you to lower your expectations. One of my biggest personal hurdles is the high standard I set for myself. I want to do everything right on the first try. The thing is; when you hold yourself to impossible standards, you are going to be disappointed and get frustrated. This will make you want to quit. In order to keep up your progress, you need encourage and motivate yourself. Even if you only learned one new word today, good job! You are still keeping up and moving forward. Be patient with yourself. Lowering your expectations will help you learn a new language in the long run.
* This post was adapted from the original article on Roselinde.me