In his TED talk, Linguist and Columbia professor John McWhorter shares four benefits of learning an unfamiliar language. Not only is learning a new language healthy for keeping our brains sharp, languages are doorways to understanding other cultures and people. Most people have learned or at least tried learning a foreign language in school, but not many of them were able to actually retain it for long. Popular opinion suggests that learning a new language becomes more difficult after the age of 8. So what happens when you are an adult but wish to acquire an additional language skill?
Often, people tell you to immerse yourself in the culture. While this is true, it might not be desirable or feasible to just hop on a plane and move to another country. Here are some tips that will help you on your language learning journey.
Set realistic goals
Before you start learning a language, be sure to ask yourself why you want to learn it and to what level you are trying to achieve. Find out whether you are ready and willing to commit, so the chance of you giving up halfway can be minimized. Most importantly, be realistic about your goals. Although it’s good to be optimistic, having reasonable expectations will allow you to achieve better outcomes in the long run.
Consistency is key. Try to expose yourself to the language on a regular basis. The more often you immerse in it, the more familiar you become with it. Soon enough, you will find yourself muttering random vocabularies or even think in that language.
Make it fun & enjoyable
Be creative and apply your hobbies or interests into learning. A fun learning environment is shown to have positive effects on motivation levels, engagement, and retention. So instead of reading a textbook, you can try to watch your favorite movie in another language, make YouTube video’s documenting your progress, or try translating the lyrics of a foreign song into your native language. Have a little laugh with it.
Finding similarities between two different languages in terms of sound, writing style or structure helps a lot in language comprehension. When learning new vocabularies, try associating them with things you come across in your daily life. Be creative and imaginative. For instance, the character 火 in Chinese, which means fire, is actually a pictographic representation of actual fire. Interesting, right?
Do not be afraid
Step out of your comfort zone and do not be afraid of making mistakes. Little do you know, most native speakers don’t care! Locals are often very appreciative when foreigners speak in their language, while some might even offer to tutor you. If you have questions, do not hesitate and always ask.
Talk to yourself
What to do when there’s nobody you can practice speaking with? Don’t sweat. You have yourself! Travel back to your childhood days when you would create various scenarios and roleplay for several characters at once. Talking to yourself out loud not only serves as a good practice, but it also helps build confidence and gives you a quick idea on what you still need to improve on.
Join a community
Engage yourself in a community of your choice. You can join a forum, meetup groups, or simply chat on Twitter. There are also many useful language learning websites or apps that allow you to communicate with and learn from native speakers. Online or offline, put yourself out there and always maintain an aptitude to learn.
Hire a tutor
If you feel that you need someone, in the beginning, to keep you accountable, you can hire a tutor and have a few tutoring sessions with them to get you started. Then once you pick up the learning process and adopt a few good habits you can go about it on your own.