What You Need to Know About Learning a New Language
These ten tips and tricks can help you learn faster—and smarter—plus help you cope with beginner's frustration.
1. One of the most important facts about language-learning is this: Don’t place a timer on learning a new language. “It’s like learning a new skill,” says Safieh Moghaddam, the associate chair of linguistics and languages at the University of Toronto. There’s no set amount of hours for mastering a language—and the learning process will vary for everyone.
2. Language learning apps are more popular than ever. According to data compiled by free language app Duolingo, more than 30 million people attempted to learn a new language in the United States in 2020.
3. Learn cognates first. These are words that look and mean the same thing as words you already know—for instance, historia in Spanish or bruder in German. “This may help the learner gain confidence and think that learning a new language is not that challenging,” says Moghaddam.
4. Choose outlets that spark your interest. Studies have found that individuals who frequently watch foreign films or television shows are typically better at reading, listening and learning vocabulary. Subtitles allow you to see and hear each spoken word.
5. Learning a new language is all about listening. You must first expose your mind to a language without deliberately trying to learn it, says Steve Kauffman, polyglot and co-founder of the online learning language tool LingQ. As a result, more than 70 per cent of your learning time should be devoted to listening and reading.
6. Come up with real-life scenarios and practice hypothetical conversations during the learning process. “You have no control over what the native speaker is going to say back to you,” says Kauffman, so be prepared for different conversation outcomes.
7. For native English speakers, Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn. More than 450 million people in the world speak it, making it the second-most spoken language on Earth.
8. The two most difficult languages to learn are Mandarin Chinese and Arabic. Mandarin has thousands of characters and includes four tones, meaning words can be pronounced in four different ways. Arabic, meanwhile, includes sounds that don’t exist in the English language.
9. The best way to stay motivated is to take a break and regroup when you’re ready. During your break, track the progress you’ve made and take time to reflect on areas of improvement. A lack of motivation could also mean you need to change your studying style, says Moghaddam.
10. Don’t be discouraged by mistakes. In fact, mistakes can actually make you smarter because you’re less likely to make the same error twice. Naturally, the brain is a slow learner, and the mindset of mastering a skill quickly is counterproductive, says Kauffman.
Now that you know these facts about language-learning, discover the best way to make new friends as an adult.