There are many benefits of being bilingual. By learning a new language, you will increase your global awareness, will know more about different cultures around the world and will be more open to knowing more about these cultures.
According to a study from Northwestern University, "bilingual speakers process information more efficiently and more easily than those who know a single language." This is because "the bilingual brain is constantly activating both languages and choosing which language to use."
Let's face it, learning a new language can be hard. In fact, it can even be a daunting and tedious task. You have to memorize vocabulary, practice reading, speaking... It will take you many hours of long work and studying to finally be able to achieve your goal.
Putting all of this aside, learning a language can be exciting and fun. As a person who knows three languages (English, French and Polish) and is learning two (Mandarin and Spanish), I can confirm this. To help you on your language-learning journey, here are 8 tips on how to learn a new language.
1. Find Your Motivation
Motivation is key to learning a new language. It is the reason why you want to learn a new language.
Do you want to be able to order in Spanish from the local Mexican restaurant? Do you want to learn more about a culture you're fascinated about? Do you want to be able to speak with your relative in their native language?
Do you want to someday travel the world? Or do you maybe even want to someday be a spy 😏?
Whatever the case, find your motivation and stay true to that motivation throughout your language-learning experience.
2. Practice Makes (Almost) Perfect
Yes, you will actually have to talk to learn a language. Whether you are at a beginner or advanced level, chances are that practicing in front of another person and trying to have a conversation with them will help you memorize words more easily than flipping through flashcards hours on end. Our brains tend to stick with memories that have an emotional attachment to them (like having a conversation) rather than no emotion at all (like trying to memorize a large amount of words using flashcards. Because it doesn't mean anything to you, you won't remember them as easily.)
Now, I'm not saying that flashcards are a bad way to study. They're not! In fact, I have used them many times while learning Spanish (I like to use digital flashcards like Quizlet. There is also a flashcard program called Anki which you can download for free onto your computer). The way to let this information "stick" is to practice in front of another human being. Maybe you have a family member who is fluent in the language you want to learn. For example, my dad is fluent in Spanish and whenever I get the occasion to, I speak to him in the language.
If your school offers courses on the language you want to learn, I suggest taking them. For Mandarin, I have after-school classes online twice a week. It gives me the perfect opportunity to practice new vocabulary and practice speaking with a native speaker (my teacher) and my classmates.
If you are feeling really motivated, you can even switch the language on your personal devices (like your phone or computer). At first, you might be confused as to what word means what, but believe me, seeing the language every day will facilitate your learning in every way possible.
If you practice daily, you have a bigger chance of reaching your long-term goal (see tip 1: Find Your Motivation). The more you practice talking out loud, the greater your chances of being able to speak a conversation.
3. Set (Realistic) Goals
Instead of telling yourself you'll be fluent in Spanish, for example, in one year, set smaller goals such as: today, I will know how to say my name, age and basic greetings. Tomorrow, I will know how to say where I'm from. In a week, I will be able to introduce myself, my likes and dislikes, where I go to school and what classes I like to take. This will help you learn the language at a more steady pace which will help you in the long-run.
4. Dedicate a Notebook to Your Language-Learning
This might be a little bit obvious but dedicating a notebook to learning a new language can help a lot. And it's completely customizable. You can make a calendar of your language-learning goals (see tip 3: Set (realistic) goals), make vocabulary lists, write out a short text to practice reading... the possibilities are endless.
What I like to do is write journal entries in Spanish and Mandarin, for example. It will force me to learn new words that I use on a daily basis and I will also be practicing basic sentences. This is a really good idea, even if you are only a beginner in the language.
Whenever you learn a new word in a language, a good tip is to write this word out into your notebook and also come up with sentences where this word could be used.
5. Memorize The 1000 Most Common Words
Knowing the 1000 most common words can help tremendously. Instead of focusing on the less-common words like kitchen utensils and clothing, focus on the words that are more likely to come up in a sentence. Write all of these words down, practice making different sentences with them in your notebook and learn the necessary grammar (the "glue": verbs, adjectives, pronouns, etc.) to put it all together until you feel pretty comfortable with each of the words.
It can also help to record yourself saying each of the words and their meaning in English. On your next walk you can plug in your earphones and listen. This brings me to my next tip: Listening!
6. Listen, Listen, Listen (and Watch)
It's no secret that listening to a language can help you learn new vocabulary and get a better understanding of what the language you are learning sounds like. Some ideas are podcasts, shows, movies, songs, YouTube videos and many more. You can even watch your favourite shows on Netflix, Disney Plus or Amazon Prime Video and change the language to the language you're learning. You will be more exposed to the language in this way.
Movies and TV shows
When I re-started learning Spanish in September 2020 (after a long 3-year break), I watched a show called "Mi Vida Loca" for my Spanish class. It was quite entertaining and there were exercises that helped strengthen my vocabulary.
Because I study Mandarin, I have also gained an interest in Chinese Dramas. Some Chinese drama YouTube channels include "芒果TV青春剧场 MGTV Drama" and "捷成华视—偶像剧场 Idol & Romance". If you are also studying Mandarin, I would definitely recommend watching one, even if you turn English subtitles on.
Now, this show goes for everyone as it is featured in 40 languages: Peppa Pig may not be your thing, but if you're learning a new language it can help a lot. The characters tend to speak more slowly, there is basic vocabulary and it can be really easy to understand, even if you're only an absolute beginner. Even though you may not like Peppa, you should still consider watching it (or maybe a different kid's show) in the language you're learning because it will help you immensely.
In terms of podcasts, to practice Spanish, I listen to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast which uploads episodes with different stories in easy-to-understand Spanish and explains the story in English. (There is also a French Duolingo podcast which you can listen to here.)
To practice Mandarin, I listen to the One Chinese Word a Day podcast from Everyday Easy Chinese which uploads episodes everyday about a specific Chinese word, giving different phrases you can use this word in. These episodes tend to be rather short as opposed to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast which has episodes that tend to be about half an hour long.
Whatever your choice of media, there are tons of options out there that can help you understand how a language sounds and learn the basic vocabulary you need. Speaking from personal experience, I have found watching shows in the languages I'm learning extremely helpful.
7. Use Online Courses and Apps
Online courses and apps can help you learn a new language but they will not guarantee fluency. Some of the more popular apps include Babbel, Memrise, and Duolingo. Grace McClung, a fellow TTM writer, wrote and article on an in-detail review of learning Spanish on Duolingo which you can read here.
I have not yet tried the courses on Babbel or Memrise, but I have used Duolingo. From my experience, Duolingo helped with reviewing basic phrases and vocabulary all while having fun. There is even a section where you can listen to stories and answer questions. It's a very fun app that will definitely help facilitate your language-learning.
Recently, I started using it as a way to learn new words and characters in Chinese. However, you can't practice writing characters on the app (the app only allows you to practice recognizing and reading characters and words). This may come as a bit of a downside as writing is an essential part of learning any language, but becomes especially handy in Chinese.
This is because when you know how to write a particular character, you will automatically be able to recognize it instead of the other way around. There are many ways around this, though. Here is an article I found with a list of sources to help you write in Chinese, if that is the language you are learning.
Earlier, I also mentioned that you can use Quizlet which is a great digital flashcard app. You can also make yourself quizzes or find someone else's quizzes on Kahoot. Kahoot even offers a study mode where you can study the material as flashcards.
All in all, the apps mentioned are there to help you learn and shouldn't be the only tool you're using.
8. Enjoy it
By this, I mean, don't stick your head in a textbook 24/7. Find a way to make your learning fun! For example, refer back to tip 5 (Listen, Listen, Listen (and Watch)) where I talk about different shows you can watch. You can find different podcasts to listen to, children's books to read (and if you're more advanced, YA books are good too).
Learn about the culture the language is from. For example, if you are studying Japanese, read about different Japanese legends and lores. While learning Spanish, I learned a lot about Mexican culture: the food, celebrations, legends, etc.
You should always find a way to enjoy the language you are studying. Otherwise, you will most likely get bored of it and eventually maybe even stop studying it. This also goes for almost anything in life.
Videos to Help You Further...
Video 1: Beatričė from The Bliss Bean offers a few helpful tips on learning a new language and some of her own experience while learning Korean.
Video 2: Jasmine from studyquill offers 7 helpful study tips for language-learners.
Video 3: Seo from tbhstudying offers a few tips on studying a new language while reviewing her Spanish.
Final Notes: What I have learned
In conclusion, learning a language will take effort and perseverance. It's a slow process, so don't rush! From my experience learning Mandarin and Spanish, I can say that this is true but learning a new language can also be the most exciting and thrilling thing. I love learning languages and I hope you will too.
When I first started learning languages a few years ago, I was very determined to do so. I was set on the idea that I would learn a new language and I stuck to my motivation. I wanted to be able to speak to different people and learn about the cultures the languages I was learning were from.
Because of my strong determination, I was able to meet new people and make new friends. I was given new opportunities and I don't think I would be able to imagine my life without Spanish and Mandarin in it. They are both such beautiful languages in their own unique ways and I feel very honoured learning them.
So, whatever you do, make the most of your experience. Meet new people. Learn about the culture.
Immerse yourself in the language. Remember: it's okay to make mistakes.
And I promise, it will be worth it.
¡Feliz aprendizaje de idiomas! 快乐的语言学习!