how to learn a new language

How to learn a new language: 7 tips you need to know

How to learn a new language? Let’s say first that learning a new language opens new doors and new ways of viewing the world. It is discovering a new culture with all its characteristics. For example, I learned later that many books are not translated from English into French. Had I stopped learning a new language, never would be aware of what I was missing. It is always an advantage to master at least one foreign language. How to learn a new language?

In Madagascar, where I come from, we have an odd expression: “tapi-pahaizana” literally translated into: “have finished learning everything”. It describes some people’s attitude once they graduate. It is a well-known fact that most of us think they’re done with school or with university.

Start with your why power and write down your motivation

Like any other project or new endeavor, we need to stay consistent at executing. Learning a new language is a long term project that requires motivation and dedication. We’ll encounter obstacles and demotivation. To get over this, we have to know why we started the project in the first place. This is why it is important to discover one’s own motivation. It is even more important to get organized. In his book the compound effect, Darren Hardy explains “The power of your why is what gets you to stick through the grueling, mundane, and laborious. All of the hows will be meaningless until your whys are powerful enough. Until you’ve set your desire and motivation in place, you’ll abandon any new path you seek to better your life. If your why-power—your desire—isn’t great enough, if the fortitude of your commitment isn’t powerful enough, you’ll end up like every other person who makes a New Year’s resolution and gives up too quickly and reverts to sleepwalking through poor choices.” So find your why power right now, right the good reasons on a paper and get back to what you wrote whenever you doubt yourself.


how to learn a new language


Learn vocabulary first then understand the grammar by reading books

It is unpopular but we must learn many words first. We can start by having lots of input (listening and reading). Technology makes it so much easier to learn new words. There are pre-made flashcards that can help learn the most common words in the English language.

Listen to the language for the first month. It is strange at first but your plastic brain will adapt and some patterns will become more familiar. Eventually, shadow what’s being said (repeat and copy the intonation) and record yourself from day one. I promise you, a few months after, it will be a huge motivation to see how far you’ve come.

I believe learning by oneself new vocabulary is much more efficient. In school, we are forced to learn new words we wouldn’t necessarily use. They omit the important 20/80 Pareto law stating that 20% of the cause produces 80% of the results.

While learning new vocabulary, we can use applications using SRS or Spaced repetition systems like Ankidroid.

How to learn a language fast: immerse yourself with the language

Living in a country doesn’t necessarily mean that we immerse ourselves with the language. By the same token, I believe we can immerse ourselves with any language without being in the native country. Many expatriates live in a country without even speaking the language. We have abundant software and applications that help us connect with international people (Google Hangouts, Skype). If possible, it is better to keep contact with native speakers and push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

Listen to music, watch movies or series with subtitles, and read children’s books.

Watching good TV series in a local language will help you learn the pronunciation and the intonation. It is easy to assume the pronunciation of the words that we see but sometimes the intonation makes the whole difference. It also involves hearing and reading the language consistently by watching YouTube, reading newspapers or your preferred blogs. Another tip is to follow your favorite star speaking your target language. If the last tip won’t help you mastering grammar, it can inspire you to learn the language even more.


learn new vocabulary


Talk to yourself and start to think in your target language

We’ve all been there, we want to be fluent but keep mixing the words from one language into another. To gain fluency, the key is to start as soon as possible to think in that language. It can take years but it’s there to last. For example, in some situations, I gained so much fluency in English that I can hardly see myself getting back to French, my second language.

Talking to oneself is the last resort if you cannot find a buddy language. I would recommend doing it while having a buddy language though. We always need feedback whether it is the pronunciation, the intonation. A language partner can be our accountability partner as well. Find a success buddy, preferably someone who’s working on a similar goal. Staying motivated alone is much harder than in a group.

How to learn a new language: Prefer Intensity to extensity

We might be tempted to learn two languages at the same time. It might sound like a smart choice. But it is similar to catching two rabbits at once; we won’t catch any of them. We will start mixing words and even the pronunciation.

It is better to focus one’s attention, energy and motivation into learning a new language first, then moving to the second once we get past the learning curve. Motivation is a finite resource and sooner or later, we will encounter difficulties in learning the grammar, vocabulary.


Immerse in the language


Watch others talk and surround yourself with polyglots

We are the average of the five people we spend most time with. As humans, we also learn by finding cues and copying what the others are doing. The more we talk to foreigners or any other buddies learning the language, the better we memorize a particular grammar pattern, vocabulary or idioms. You will also put what you learn in a specific context, making it easier to remember.

Be serious but don’t take yourself too seriously

Embrace mistakes! Most importantly, let’s learn from our mistakes. Learning a new language is much more than sitting in a dark room, boning up on grammar structures or vocabulary! Go out and have a coffee with that girl (I know, easier said than done), but life is short, just do it! In a nutshell, have fun with the language you’re learning. I remember back in China, we were all a bit tipsy; having nothing holding us back, we all started speaking with each other using our beginner Chinese. But honestly speaking, it is harder to drink and memorize at the same time 😉