Learning a new language is one of the most challenging but also most rewarding things a person can do. It makes a perfect New Year’s resolution because it is tough, will expand your horizons, and is really easy to give up on. You don’t have to fight the battle alone, however. Science is in your corner and researchers are hard at work finding out what works and what doesn’t in the quest to learn a new language.
If your decision to learn a new language is motivated by needing it for your job or preparing for a fast-approaching trip, the whole enterprise can become very stressful. As the days tick away and you move at a snail’s pace through the material for your new language you might become overwhelmed and frustrated. None of this will help you. Research from the Journal of Neuroscience has shown that relaxation is a key component in your ability to learn anything, languages in particular. So put your feet up, crack a beer, and laugh a little. Reducing anxiety will go a long way to helping you achieve your goal.
2. Mix things up
Another thing that has been shown to offer a real boost to learning a new language is to be flexible in your strategies. In other words, don’t spend hour after hour pouring over textbooks, or listening to audiotapes, or doing online tests. Instead, do all three. while you’re at it, watch movies and television shows in your chosen language. The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language advises that using multiple strategies will improve your effectiveness.
3. Stay motivated
Science also tells us that a person’s motivation to learn is usually a great predictor of their success. It only makes sense that the more driven you are to keep studying, the harder you will try and the more you will accomplish. This is supported by research in the Journal of Language Learning. So make language learning into a competition with your friend or partner. Give yourself incentives, like chocolate for every test you score over 90% on. Pretty soon you will be a new language dynamo.
4. Immerse yourself
Studies cited in the Review of Educational Research point towards immersion as another great strategy in picking up a new language. Find places you can go where you can interact with as many native speakers of your new language as possible. Watch movies, read books, and listen to the radio in the language you are trying to learn. Going back to the first tip, it will certainly help you relax if you know you will probably get a whole lot better as soon as you leave for your trip.
If your quest for language immersion takes you into shops where you can interact with native speakers of the new language you are learning, maybe try bartering to get a better price on whatever they try to sell you. According to the Journal of Language Learning, negotiation is a very effective way to get better at a new language. Negotiation forces you to quickly comprehend words and phrases and keeps you motivated to get the best possible outcome.
6. Flex your memory muscles
Finally, don’t be afraid to force some vocabulary learning by using memory techniques to help you along. Research in the Journal of Turkish Science Education argues that mnemonic devices are a great way to link words you are trying to learn to ones you already know. To borrow an example from the website MindTools.com, if you are trying to learn the French word for a rug or carpet (tapis) it might be helpful to picture a nice Persian rug with a tap popping up in the middle of it.
Featured photo credit: Les Editeurs cafe/Dan via flickr.com