I’ve always wanted to learn a new language. As an American, I grew up speaking English and only English. During high school & college, I attempted to learn some Spanish, but it never stuck. I’ve always been in awe of Europeans or Asians that can speak 2, 3, or 4 languages. While being born a native English speaker has it’s many benefits, I’ve felt like I’ve been missing out by only being monolingual.
Most of the last year of my life has been consumed by learning a new language since my husband and I moved to Indonesia in 2015. Sticky notes of household vocabulary litter my house, flashcards turn up in various places, my brain is always working in overdrive, and confusion is a constant during the day. I’m not a teenager anymore, and attempting to learn a language in my 30’s is quite different than learning one as a child. It’s hard and frustrating, but it’s been a rewarding and enjoyable too! Most importantly, I’ve learned it’s possible.
Here’s a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way in my journey of language learning. I still think the best way to learn a new language is to live in a place that speaks that language, but it’s possible to learn while living in your native language too, you just gotta work harder.
Warning – in your quest to learn a new language, there are few certainties: you will mess up, you will say something wrong, and you will get laughed at. But if you wait until you can speak perfectly to speak…you will never speak. So laugh when they laugh at you. KEEP TRYING. Don’t get mad when native speakers correct you. Keep reminding yourself that you are a learner, in process, not yet perfect at this new skill. Just like a child putting together sentences for the first time, you are just beginning. The quickest way to lose a language helper is to make them feel like they can’t correct you.
Try Different Methods
I’m a firm believer that there’s no ONE WAY to learn a new language. I’ve tried TONS since I’ve lived here, and some even before moving here. Try some audio lessons, like Pimsleur. Try some apps, like Babbel. Try some websites, like Memrise. Try flashcards and labeling the items around you. Try watching movies or listening to music in that language. Try finding a friend to talk to, that’s not afraid to correct you. This can even be done with technology by HelloTalk or iTalki. Figure out what works best for your learning style and embrace it. But push yourself too! I learn better from memorizing and reading, and my husband learns better from conversation and listening. But he pushes himself to read to increase his vocabulary and I push myself to listen to increase my conversation skills.
Failing is Not Failure
Daily, you will fail in some area of language learning. Between trying to remember the right vocabulary with the right grammar and using the right pronunciation, you are bound to get something wrong. It’s easy to call yourself a failure at language learning and just give up. But failing while speaking during language learning is not failure. Because every time you make a mistake, get corrected or laughed at or both, you learn. You learn why that sentence sounded hilarious to a native speaker. You remember the word they corrected. You record their voice to capture their pronunciation. And you improve. You grow. And you excel.
Use Your New Language Everyday
If you are only studying with a 2 hour language class once a week, it’s going to be a lot harder to fully learn a new language. The best way to learn a new language to use it every day. Whether it’s a classroom, or with an app, or a conversation with a friend, try to use your new words everyday! When you are immersed in a new culture & new language, it’ll be easier to never take a day off. And it pushes you to get better faster. If you are learning from home, then you may have to schedule yourself even more to make it a daily goal. Be wise with your goal setting, which can either inspire you or frustrate you. This constant learning, using, and remembering cycle will help words & grammar stick in your brain faster. Remember why you are a learning a language, and that’ll inspire you to do the work everyday.
Real People, Real Conversation
Try as hard as you may, but learning a new language [to fluency] can’t be accomplished in a bubble. Eventually, you’ll have to talk to someone that speaks that language. If your goal is more than just rote memorization and a list of vocabulary words, you can’t pick up conversation skills from a book, website or app. You gotta talk to people. It’s in conversation that you learn the flow and feel of a language. It’s when you meet people speaking this new language you get the heart of a language. There’s a rush when you finally can meet someone new and only communicate in your new language. After a year of language learning, I have acquaintances & friends only with Indonesian language. It’s wild, but true. Get out there. Expand your borders. Even if you are learning the language in school or for fun at home, plan a trip to a country that speaks that language. Language is often so deeply connected to culture that you can only truly understand a language once you’ve experienced the culture. Be amazed at how your language will flourish.
Communication connects us to people. In today’s world, sometimes communication is limited to a text message or an emoticon. But nothing can replace a face-to-face, real, live conversation with a new acquaintance, an old friend, or dear family member. In broadening the languages you speak, you connect yourself to a larger world. A greater network to enrich your life and impact others.