Getting the most out of your language learning
Welcome, aspiring polyglot! When embarking on a language learning journey, it is important to be selective with who you choose to learn from, but there is more than that. Along with securing a good educator is ensuring you can show up as a good student. At the end of the day, all that matters when you are working to learn or master anything is learning to control what you can control. Above all else, that means becoming a master of yourself. There are also somethings you can do to maximize the return you get on the resources you use. Especially the language logbooks we have developed. Here are some of the things to keep in mind and take a look at when you are getting started.
It can be tempting to try and learn a language as fast as possible when you are getting started. While intensity is great, it is not usually a tactic conducive to long term successful language learning. Between complicated grammar rules, endless vocabulary words, and staggering amounts of pronunciation to master, intensity will never beat consistency.
The goal starting out should be working towards developing a framework in which you can thrive and maintain long term growth. If you need help developing your framework, you can find some guidance on that here:
As you go through the process of figuring out your preferred learning style it is vital that you ensure it fits into your daily life. There is no point adding something unsustainable into the rotation, especially not when it comes to learning a new language. That said, if you go about it by replacing things you already do every day with things you can do in your target language then it's a lot less daunting; and you'll likely get to learn more through the process.
One of the things many people overlook when learning a new language is learning new things in the new language. If you are taking the time to study a language, it is probably so that you can use it. Well, there is no better way to set yourself up for success than learning to discuss and understand words in your new language that pertain to things in which you are already interested. If something exists in your native language, there is a high likelihood that it exists in your target language. For example, I love classic literature and I got this in last Friday!
Luckily, I've already read it in English. Which brings me to the next strategy you should try. Reading things in your target language that you've already read in your native language.
Try to remember tons of new words at once
The evergreen debate between whether grammar or vocabulary is more important will likely continue long beyond my lifetime. I tend to believe vocabulary is more important, but I say that as someone who would rather make grammatical errors than be handicapped by an inability to accurately express myself.
When you're trying to take in a ton of new vocabulary words, the best way to go about it is by reading as much as possible. Most people get trapped in their own limited vocabulary and that holds true for some of the most popular authors as well. However, it is no way to live.
By reading the classics and paying attention to the vocabulary they use you will be able to speak more eloquently. If you are reading the books as they were written in their native language, you will not only learn to read like a native speaker, you will facilitate your transition out of the silent period. For more on that you can read here:
Part of being a good student is understand the process and not trying to fight it. Maximizing your potential within its temporary limits (these limits should constantly be expanded. just as your competencies) is all you can really do. As you grow and get better you can reevaluate, adjust, and execute on a higher level.
Choose things to read, that you will read. At every point throughout the language learning process there will be portions of books you can't read. But being unable to read something is no reason not to work on gaining that ability. If you can't read it, learn to read it! That's how I am currently approaching Russian. Just as I approached French, Spanish, and German. Challenge yourself, meet your challenge. You are your greatest competition. However, if you're looking for some more competition and accountability, you can join 70+ of us as we take over Duolingo!
To keep track of all your new vocabulary, be sure to write it all down. If you are learning Spanish and you need a place to write something down, check out the Spanish Language Logbooks we put out this week!
Use the Best Language Learning Apps to Learn a Language Fast
Duolingo gets a lot of hate. While I can understand where this comes from, having been on Duolingo myself for 9+ years, but the app has evolved into quite the resource. One of the things I've been most impressed with recently is the alphabet lessons. In two days I learned to read Cyrillic.
People drastically underestimate the power of daily input and the one thing Duo excels at is getting people to practice every single day. Even if it's for 5 minutes, it's 5 minutes more than most people put into learning a language on their own. If you are just starting out on a language, do NOT skip to whatever level. Take the time to go through the alphabet lessons. It is extremely difficult to build anything lasting on a weak foundation.
Beyond that, if you are going to take the time to study with an app, it is worth it to maximize the time. Here are some things you can do to maximize your study sessions:
Write every word down
- If it's one you struggle to remember, write it down until it's not, this process cannot be done too many times
Repeat every lesson out loud
- According to my fiancée, I sound like a child when I do my Duolingo. Good! It's my first week of Russian, what an accomplishment to sound like a child!
Write your own sentences
- Use the vocabulary you cover to try and craft your own sentences. This will get you used to the idea of thinking in another language
Irrespective of which app you choose, it is vital to remember that language apps are only supplementation. If you are not reading, listening, speaking, and writing in your target language an app will not be able to move the needle much. No app will ever be able to teach you a language, but they are all valuable in their own way for aiding in the progression of your language skills. If you are able to get those things into your language learning mix, it's time to focus on the most effective way for new language learners to advance.
The Best Way to Learn a Language: Play Around With It!
Learning a new language is magical in many ways, but one of the things that differentiates it from everything else is the ability to learn the same things again. If you love fishing and you are knowledgeable about the outdoors, reading articles about fishing and the outdoors in your target language will allow you to learn things you already know again, but in a new language. Once you've studied and learned something in two languages it becomes that much more difficult to forget.
Starting out it may be slow, but overtime you will find that you are spending more and more time using and searching for things in your target language. Language learning can look different to everyone, but eventually it turns into just learning. Playing around with the language, making mistakes, reading articles, rereading books you've read in your native language, all of these things will help you advance faster and more efficiently than memorizing flashcards ever could.
At the end of the day, language learning should be fun. If you find that you aren't enjoying your time, it may be time to re-evaluate your approach. For some ideas on how to do that, you can check this out:
That said, having fun is not the only indicator of an effective language learner. Knowing what not to do is likely just as important as knowing what to do. Here are some things to avoid when you can.
Spending all your time studying from textbooks
While I can acknowledge that some people learn best from textbooks, it is far from the majority who find this useful. Whether it's the sour taste left in the mouths of millions after spending $300 on a $20 book because the professor required it for his class, or the tens of millions who were told to put their head down and read pages 50-250 this week during their high school years, textbooks are rarely the way to go.
In the same vein, memorizing flashcards is only slightly helpful in the short term. It is impossible to learn a language by memorizing it. Without knowing how the words all interact with one another, the variety of combinations that can be made, and how the words can be manipulated to work in different ways, memorizing words is as helpful as memorizing numbers. You need the formula, not just the numbers.
Flashcards are helpful for some people, but if you find that you are forcing yourself to use them, they probably aren't your best option. This is especially true if you aren't handwriting the flashcards yourself. Part of writing is memory encoding which will make the time you develop your language skills more impactful. If you are going to use flashcards, make sure you are at least writing them out by hand yourself. For the many language learners who prefer something different, there are some ideas.
Strategies that make it easy to learn a new language
At the end of the day the goal of all language teachers and language schools should be to make learning a language easy. The best way to make it easy is by making it consumable and enjoyable. That is why I developed the language learning logbooks. Physical copies are now available for Spanish learners with Italian, French, German, Portuguese, and Russian will be out by the end of the month.
With all the material that you will be learning day in and day out, the logbooks are a way to review words, learn vocabulary, and ensure focus remains on comprehensible input. You will be able to track your language learning goals and track unknown words simply through maintaining a written word record of your progress. There are ample online resources, if digital is more for you, however it has been shown time and again that writing things down is better than typing or even writing with a stylus on a screen.
Whether you use it for vocabulary review, mastering grammar rules, or simply keeping track of your goals, it is a great way to stay motivated while learning a new language. You can get the free digital download here, but it is very rudimentary relative to the physical copies I've put together.
Learning a second language is no easy endeavor. While it can be simple, there are many things that make it complex. That said, all that really matters at the end of the day is consistency. That's why we started the Duolingo movement. It's not the perfect app, but being able to see other people working towards the same goal as you is powerful. Especially when all of those people are rooting for your success, too. There are countless language learning programs, but half an hour on Duolingo, combined with the above second language strategies, will allow the average person to make more progress than most online courses.
It is not impossible to learn a language fast, but if that is the goal it is imperative to understand that it will be difficult. Picking up a foreign language at any speed is going to be challenging. But you can do difficult things and be great. So go do difficult things and become great. I will be here by your side endeavoring to do the same. I'll be here rooting for you and watching out for your successes in the meantime.
For more content check out Second Language Strategies dot com or find me on Twitter or Instagram. If you are struggling to get speaking in your target language, get up to 55% off a Babbel subscription using this link. I look forward to seeing everyone’s progress in the months and years to come.