6 Ways to Make Learning a New Language Easier
At many high schools, studying a world language for one or two years is a requirement for graduation. And often these classes can make us feel awkward or even completely lost as we struggle to roll our Spanish R’s, make a perfect French “oooh” sound or just figure out what the teacher is saying as she chatters on in a language we don’t understand.
Despite all these hurdles, there are lots of benefits to learning a new language. In fact, studies have shown that it can improve your reading and writing skills in English, boost your standardized test scores and even increase your general intelligence. Not to mention the fact that knowing another language can help you get a job and travel the globe!
Sean Francis, who tutors students in Spanish with Educational Endeavors, says learning a new language can truly open up a whole new world to you. “It’s food, it’s music, it’s literature, it’s romance,” he says. “Plus, this is the one thing you’re studying that if you take it seriously, it can guarantee you a job. What else do you learn in high school that you can say that about?”
Unfortunately, many students get discouraged when they’re studying a foreign language because they don’t get it right away. If that’s true for you, here are a few tips to make learning a new language easier:
- Listen to the Language Being Spoken
A big part of learning a new language is getting used to how it’s supposed to sound. One fun way to do this is to watch TV shows or movies in another language. For Spanish, turn on Univision or tune in to a Spanish radio station like 106.7 FM. For French, Chinese or other languages, look up some videos on YouTube to get a feel for the sounds. And if you can find a native speaker to talk to, all the better!
- Talk to Yourself
You might feel silly doing this, but talking to yourself in another language is a great way of getting used to its structure and sound. If you do this at home in the privacy of your own room, you can really let loose and have fun with the accent, too! Francis says to improve your speaking, you can even try saying English words in a foreign accent. “Just pretend you’re playing a Spanish-speaking person in a movie,” he says.
- Make Flashcards
Memorizing vocabulary is another big part of mastering a foreign language, and one of the best ways to do that is by making flashcards. Try putting the foreign word on one side and the English word on the other side. Start by looking at the English word first and trying to come up with the foreign word, and then reverse the process. Once you’ve nailed a certain word several times, take it out of the stack so you can focus on the ones you still don’t know.
- Use Mnemonic Devices
Another way to memorize new vocabulary words quickly is to use mnemonic devices. To do this, create a story in your head that connects the meaning of a word to its sound or appearance. For example, if you know the words cuchara and cuchillo mean “spoon” and “knife,” but you always forget which is which, just remember that the two L’s in cuchillo look like a pair of knives. You’ll never get those words mixed up again!
- Read Outside of Class
Foreign languages are all around us, once we start paying attention. “We live in a basically bilingual society, and you can’t go anywhere without seeing Spanish,” Francis says. He suggests paying attention to the ads you see in Spanish on the train or bus and on storefronts all over town and trying to decipher their meaning. If you’re learning the past tense, reading news reports in Spanish will help as well.
If you’re studying another language like French or German, you can look at warning labels or booklets that come with products in your house to find words translated into multiple languages. Have fun trying to figure out what they mean!
- Don’t Worry About Making Mistakes
Learning a new language can be a lot of fun — if you give yourself permission to play and the freedom to make mistakes. “You can’t be self-conscious and you can’t be afraid,” Francis says. “It’s not going to come right away. You just need to jump in and give it a try.”