Read these 6 Getting Started Learning a Language Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Learning Languages tips and hundreds of other topics.
Immerse yourself in the culture and history of the language you wish to learn using every possible means at your disposal; books, internet and conversations with people who have lived there. This will help you to familiarize yourself with the environment and attitude of the given country. You will begin to understand their common interests and touch base with past events that have formed their government, educational system, artwork and current mind-set. Get to know their celebrities and outstanding leaders. Investigate their roots by learning which ancient tribes or races populated this area, and where their original language was born.
The options you have for learning a language via self-study will vary depending on they language you want to learn. If you're interested in French of Spanish you have lots of options. If you are going to visit Africa and need to learn Twi, the choices are a bit more restricted. But if you have a choice, look for the following features in any program you consider: first, audio tapes or CDs. Humans are programmed to learn languages by listening, so audio recordings are a must, especially if they feature native speakers. If you are using a book, make sure there are a lot of drills and exercises that will give you plenty of practice. Finally, look carefully at the vocabulary words in each lesson and decide if these are words you are going to actually use. There's little point in learning words that don't have anything to do with what you'd want to talk about.
Learning experts recognize two distinct styles of learning. The "top down" model likes to start with the big picture, sampling here and there seemingly at random and gradually building a picture of the subject. By contract the "bottom up" learner likes things very structured and proceeds step-by-step. Most subjects in school are taught in a way that favors "bottom up" learners. But languages are usually learned more effectively using "top down" models, which is also why most traditional language classes are notoriously ineffective. The bottom up style does give a distinct advantage to the “bottom up” learners if they have already learned at least one foreign language before, or if they have a reasonable working knowledge of general grammatical principles.
One of the handiest things a beginning or intermediate foreign language learner can have is a pocket dictionary from English to your target language. Most bookstores have them. Get a pocket dictionary and as you go about your daily routine, look for things that you might hypothetically want to talk about to someone in your new language. Look up the words you would need to do so (it's usually more effective to do so on the spot if circumstances allow) and write them down for later review. Practice using the words in sentences. This fun little exercise helps guide your language study so it's relevant to your interests and helps keep you focused.
Independent learning expert Ronald Gross once observed that it's no accident that the word for independent learning--"study"--is also the name for a place. Your study environment is an important factor in your success learning a foreign language (or anything else, for that matter). Ideally, you want a spare room or even just a comfortable corner of your home or apartment. Get a comfortable office chair and table or desk and work on the area until you enjoy being there. You need quiet and an absence of distractions most of all. If you are learning languages using listen and respond audio lessons, you will probably want privacy as well. Most people feel self-conscious responding to language lessons out loud, but it's a critical part of an effective program. The main thing to remember is that people learn best when they feel comfortable and relaxed.
Most traditional classroom language classes are not terribly effective, although there are some exceptions. The main drawbacks with classrooms are lack of individual attention due to class size, feelings of self-consciousness, and the extra costs of travel to and from classes. Self-study using a good program avoids most of these problems, although it can be helpful to have access to someone who knows the language with whom you can practice. It also usually costs less than traditional classes. The biggest problem with self-study is sticking with the program, but you can overcome this by enlisting friends in a personal support network. Classes usually become more effective, however, as you become more advanced and the smaller the class, the better. Serious intermediate or advanced students should consider private tutoring; it may cost a little more, but it will probably be money well spent.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|