How to Learn a New Language: Tips and Best Practices

The number of different languages spoken in today’s melting pot of society has contributed to a breakdown in communication. Being able to understand what others are saying is pertinent to everyday casual interactions as well as the global business environment.

While many language courses are part of the high school curriculum, not every one of them requires such classes to be taken. With a variety of easily accessible resources, tools, courses, and products, it is easier to learn a second language or build upon what you already know.

Which option to choose?

Through the internet, you can research a number of options to learn a second language. To decide which method is best for you, determine which learning style fits you best. At that point you can narrow down your options to your match your desired skill level, the amount of time you have set aside to learn, and the amount of money you want to invest in programs, products and materials.

1. Classes/Online Courses

If you have time and can afford to take a course at a local school or an online school, this is a great way to learn a language because you will have teachers to assist you and you will have classmates to practice with. Online and on-site courses offered across the world, can be found at the Language Course Finder.

2. Books/Audio

For those who love to read, you can find a wealth of reading materials at local book stores, libraries, online or through portable reading technology devices. Books are available in every language and there are some that even focus on specific regional dialects. If you decide to use this method, buying a few different books will enable you to capture all of the components that are critical to that language.

Another good idea might be to purchase a language learning audio cd. Hearing the language and the proper pronunciation the words is going to progress your learning. In addition, audio cd’s are easily portable so you can listen to it in your car or download it to an mp3 player for on-the-go learning.

3. Specialty Programs/Products

Other specialty programs such as Rosetta Stone, LiveMocha, Muzzy (for children), and Pimsleur Approach have been designed as comprehensive tools encompassing voice interactive technology, web- cam technology, an audio source, strategically planned lessons, and visual guides. These programs are helpful for those who want to take full advantage of all aspects to learning a second language.

With an array of packages at various price points, there is something for everyone. A basic package may cost just under $100.00 while a more comprehensive package could cost around $500.00. Some language programs are distinguished by skill levels and others are distinguished by its technological components. Most of these programs are only available online; however there are some sold in book stores.

Language Elements

Language is more than a combination of words; it is a form of communication that is based on sending and receiving. Speaking clearly with the correct tone, listening and expressing your understanding, and writing with pertinent diacritic marks is all part of language.

Vocabulary - Online resources have vocabulary translations in every language. By knowing the most common vocabulary words, progressing through the learning curve is much simpler.

Pronunciation - As in the English language, tone, pitch and pronunciation play an important factor when communication occurs. These three components can change the meaning of a word and the context to which the message is received.

Speaking and Writing - Stressing different parts of the word, using diacritic marks on letters, correct letters (alphabet not same as English)

Listening and Understanding - Listening and understanding what someone says in another language is hard to do because they may speak too fast. Showing you understand by providing a response that makes sense is critical to a successful exchange.

Bringing Elements Together - All of the elements in language come together in books, magazines, websites, radio, TV, movies, and music. Exposure to this media on a regular basis is important when you are trying to grasp the overall semantics of any language.

Stay Positive

Learning a second language takes time and dedication. If you are consistent and practice daily, it will happen. Set realistic goals and don’t skip the details. Don’t expect to speak another language with a native accent; it is an unrealistic goal. Being immersed within a language when you are young is the background for which your words are developed upon.

Trying to speak another language with their given accent is the same as someone who grew up on the East Coast of the U.S. trying to speak with a West Coast accent. Transitioning from one to the other is not possible unless you are making a concerted effort to do so and it would not be a true linguistic accent.

Surprising Facts

Hardest Language to Learn:

Surprisingly enough, English is the most difficult language to understand. This is due to “exceptions to the rule”, silent letters, random word conjugations, and words that have more than one meaning. If you speak English, knowing that you have mastered the most difficult language should give you the confidence to learn a new language. With this perspective, it is easy to understand why people have such a hard time learning English as their second language and why communication barriers continue to emerge.

Top Ten Languages in the United States:

Since English is the native language in the U.S., it has not been included within the list below.

  1. Spanish
  2. Chinese
  3. French
  4. Tagalog
  5. Vietnamese
  6. German
  7. Korean
  8. Russian
  9. Italian
  10. Portuguese

Best Time to Learn

Children are apt to learn quicker than adults because their minds are like sponges. They are able to grasp information easily, which is why starting at a young age is recommended. Adults can learn new languages but they must put in extra effort in order to comprehend and hold onto the information. If you have children, exposing them to other languages and integrating it into your conversations with them will help prepare them for their future.

Why Start Now?

The continuously evolving diverse makeup of America’s population is making it harder for people to communicate with each other. By taking the initiative to learn another language, not only will you make everyday interactions easier, but you will reap the intrinsic rewards as well. There is no better day than today.

Final Tips

  • Practice Everyday
  • Don’t give up
  • Don’t limit yourself to one method of learning
  • Change your phone and social networking settings to your target language
  • Listen to language in everyday use, i.e. radio, TV, movies (with/without subtitles), music
  • Read Language it daily content i.e. newspaper, magazines, books, menus, signs, maps
  • Download smartphone applications such as translators, language quizzes, etc.
  • Label everything in your home in target language to build your vocabulary
  • Buy a dictionary in that language or a translation dictionary (both will be ideal)
  • Don’t dismiss the fact that learning about the culture is just as important as learning the language
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