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How to Learn a New Language: 6 Simple Hacks

How to Learn a New Language: 6 Simple Hacks

In 2013, it’s almost impossible to get through school without learning a foreign language. In the U.S. and U.K., speaking a foreign language isn’t necessarily valued, because we aren’t always confronted with opportunities to learn and use other languages. But once you get outside of North America, monolingualism is far from the norm.[1]

And if you’re thinking of traveling or studying abroad, learning a new language is imperative.

Speaking a foreign language fluently takes a lot of hard work and practice. Even if you study every day, it can take years to master some languages. Meanwhile, you start to get frustrated at your lack of progress and you want to give up.

Don’t!

There are all kinds of rewards associated with speaking a second language. Not just intangible rewards, like being able to chat with locals when you travel, but psychological and health rewards as well. Studies show that being able to speak a second language may help you multitask and prevent dementia.[2]

So if you want to know how to learn a new language effectively and reap all of the benefits of speaking a second language, here are 6 tips to simplify your language learning:

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1. Have a Word of the Day

Trying to learn everything at once and getting overwhelmed by the sheer number of words in your new language can be overwhelming. Sometimes, even if you do learn new words, you forget them quickly because you haven’t heard them enough in context.

One way to get around this problem is to keep a few new words in your vocabulary by using them on a daily basis. Since it takes an adult an average of 150 times to learn to use a new word properly, having a Word of the Day or several words can help build your vocabulary.

You can do this one of two ways. One, you can keep a running list of words you’d like to learn and designate one to be the word of the day. Or, two, you can wait for new words to come up organically in conversation, and then try to use the new word several times.

2. Speak the Language as Much as You Can (Especially with Native Speakers)

It goes without saying that the best way to learn how to speak a language is to actually speak it. Reading and studying grammar books will only get you so far.

And yet, it’s so easy to get trapped in the “not-good-enough” mindset, where you don’t speak because you think you don’t speak well enough. And then your speaking doesn’t get better.

I know this from firsthand experience, because I basically refused to speak French all throughout high school. I was embarrassed that I would make mistakes and have a terrible accent.

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When I went to the Middlebury College Language School after my first year of college, and was forced to speak French 24/7, I got placed in graduate level classes because my written French was so good. It took years to build up confidence speaking, but now, my husband is French, and French people ask me regularly what region of France I’m from.

So make an effort to communicate with native speakers of your language. You’ll learn a lot more in a 5 minute conversation with a native Spanish speaker than you will from another English speaker who’s had 2 years of college Spanish.

Try to spend 80% of your time speaking with those who speak the language better than you. (If you’re in a program like Middlebury’s, don’t neglect students who don’t speak as well as you do. Part of the purpose of the program is to help lower-level speakers.)

3. Listen to Foreign Language Radio or TV, Even as Background Noise

Part of learning to speak a foreign language properly is learning the intonations and rhythms of the words. In French, for example, you can’t put the emphasis on different words in a sentence to vary what you mean (like you can do in English). And it’s easy to distinguish beginner students from near-native speakers by listening for the ones who pronounce French like it’s English.

The remedy to that is to listen to the language as much as possible.

Try to hear the pacing of the words, how they’re pronounced in different contexts, and what the different intonations are. How does the language sound when the speaker is excited, or angry, or asking an accusatory question?

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Even listening to the language in the background will help you to pick up information on how the language is spoken.

4. Look up Words You Don’t Know in a Monolingual Dictionary

Figuring out the meaning of words can be tricky in a foreign language, since direct and accurate translations don’t always exist. While getting the word for physical objects, like milk or desk, might be straightforward, translating concepts can be a lot harder.

Consider, for example, how we say “to drop” to indicate that something fell. “I dropped the tray and the glass smashed.” It’s passive. In French, “to drop” translates as “laisser tomber.” “J’ai laissé tomber le plateau et le verre s’est cassé.” I *let it fall*. Google Translate and WordReference can’t always give you that nuanced meaning.

By looking words up in a monolingual dictionary, you can make sure that the word or phrase you choose actually means what you think it does.

5. When You Make a Mistake, Immediately Try to Correct Yourself

Lifehack published an article stating that if you mistype a word, you should delete the whole word before retyping it correctly to reprogram your brain to do it properly the next time.

The same goes for learning a language.

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If you misspeak, and catch your mistake, immediately correct yourself by repeating the sentence correctly. It will help you program your brain to avoid making the same mistake again, and solidify the grammar rules in your mind.

6. Carry Around a Notebook and Write down New Words You Learn

One thing I did at Middlebury and during my first year in France was carry around a small notebook. Any time I heard a word I didn’t know, I’d write it down (asking the other person to spell it, if necessary).

After a few weeks, I had a great resource to look at whenever I thought, “Oh, I remember talking about that recently, but I forget what it’s called.” And just as importantly, I had a written record of all of the words I learned.

If you’re in the beginning stages of learning a language, this process might be too overwhelming, since you’re learning new words all the time. But once you get to an intermediate or advanced level, your learning process slows down. In the beginning, you progressed easily because you were learning simple verb tenses and lists of super useful vocabulary that you use every day – hello, “How are you?”, “Can I have a pen, please?” – and when you get past that stage, the learning suddenly gets more difficult.

When you’re advanced, keeping a record of the words you learn can also help you from getting frustrated and thinking that you aren’t learning anything new.

As long as you use the language, you’ll always be progressing.

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More About Language Learning

Featured photo credit: Trung Thanh via unsplash.com

Reference

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Allison Lounes

Allison is the CEO & Founder at Paris Unraveled. She blogs about learning and studying.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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