5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Start Learning A Language

5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Start Learning A Language
5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Start Learning A Language

“I really want to learn [foreign language].”

I see this on a lot of to-do lists and goal summaries.  Being a self-confessed language geek, I love seeing this on lists… but where to start? Here are a few basic steps you can take right now if you’ve been wanting to get started but haven’t pulled the trigger.

The good news

Getting started is the biggest hurdle.  Sure, actually learning the language, memorising vocabulary, understand grammar and the myriad other things involved will also keep you amused:  but getting started is the first challenge.  Why is this good new?  Because once you start, if you really make an effort, you’l love it so much you won’t look back.

What you can do right now:  commitment-phobes and OCDers (like me) all welcome

In no particular order, here are some steps you can take today if you’ve been wanting to get started.

Small things (for the commitment phobes among us)

  1. Ask a friend who’s learnt the language:  where did you take classes?  Did you like it?  How were the teachers? Get recommendations.
  2. Go to an authentic international restaurant and listen to the waiters’ accents.  If you want to learn Arabaic, go to a Morrocan restaurant.  Does it whet your appetite?  Imagine yourself speaking with that accent.
  3. Get iTunes, download three episodes of a free language learning podcast, and listen to them on your way to work/school/whever you go each day.  There are hundreds of free podcasts available – many cheesy, some good.  (If you want some suggestions for a certain language, feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to help.)

Bigger things (for the more serious)

  1. Book yourself into a language class.  Pay the money, and set a specific date and time (e.g. a $250 French course over 8 weeks for 2 hours every Monday).  The investment will encourage you to prioritise it and get started.
  2. Hire a private tutor.  This can be a lot cheaper than most people think.  Websites like www.tutorfinder.com.au have sprung up everywhere (for non-AU resources, contact me via the comments or try Google) , and offer great private tutors for as little as $15 per hour.  I’ve invested quite a bit in private tutoring, and found that my rate of learning increased dramatically.  Committing to a real person will also keep you moving.
  3. Sign up for a paid subscription from a language learning website.   This allows you to learn while mobile, as much (if not all) of the content is delivered electronically.  Paying the money means you’re more likely to commit to doing it.
  4. Beware:  this one is scary.  Post “I’m learning [name of your new language]” on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or whatever other Social Media platform you use, where people you know will see it. It’s no good posting to your Twitter if none of your friends and family look at it.  The goal is to make it public.  This makes you more accountable, and it’s more likely you’ll stick with your goal.  [Tell everyone you know in person, too.]

Wrap up

Language learning isn’t for everyone.  In fact, I have several friends who have zero interest.  That’s fine with me.  But reality is, many of us yearn to know another language.  The most challenging part is taking the first step, and making the language a part of your life rather than ‘just a goal’. If you’ve thought about learning a language, consider giving one of these options a go.  You never know, you just might like it.

Question: How did you get started on learning your language?  Or if you haven’t yet, how do you plan to?  We’d love to hear it via the comments below.

4 Responses »

  1. Hi Tristan! I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’ve been trying to learn Indonesian for almost 10 years. And my wife is Indonesian so I really have no excuse. What I’ve found is that I would start learning and then didn’t set aside the time to keep at it. So after a week or so I would stop. I even found some incredibly well done podcasts that I listen to. Now that we are moving to Indonesia I wish I had put in the time to learn. Now I’ll get the trial by fire learning method.

    From my own personal struggles my advice on learning a language is: set aside the time every day and stick with it. Find someone who speaks the language and try only speaking that language with them. Yeah, it can get frustrating but there is nothing like hearing it from a native speaker.

    Your advice on finding a language podcast is gold. I’ve learned more from the podcasts I found than any other method.

    • Hi Matt,
      I can understand your conundrum here.. I”m learning French at the moment, and sometimes it’s really hard to squeeze in the time! It’s good that you have some inspiration (your wife) for learning Indonesian, and that now you’ll have an easier forum to practice i, even if it does throw you in the deep end a bit. I’ve also found podcasts are a fantastic learning tool.

      Sounds like you’ve given it a red hot go already… could I make a couple of suggestions for you to consider?

      - Have you thought about hiring a private tutor? I did this for a while, and I found it good for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it allows you to focus on whatever you want, and go as fast or a slow as you want, which you can’t really do in classes. Second, I found that the distance (in relationship, not physical distance) actually helps a lot. For example, when I’d ask my wife a question about Spanish, sometimes her response would be ‘that’s just the way it is’. She’s more than entitled to say that, and I’ve done the same thing in English at times :-) But with a tutor who you’re paying, they have to think about it. They have to go into more detail, and explore it, and let you ask about it until it sinks in. So this can be one good way to avoid the “that’s just how it is” and really get to the meat of things.

      - When it’s challenging to find the time, I like to do a few tiny things each day that don’t take any extra effort. For example, I usually talk to my cats in Spanish or Japanese instead of English (yes, I know, it’s weird). I can at least practice a few words on them. And they don’t answer back ;-) I used to put up word charts or tables in the bathroom so I’d see them more often. If you can work a couple of little things like that into your daily routine, that can also help to keep the ball rolling.

      Anyway, just for you to consider. Good luck with the planning.. less than 60 days now, you must be excited.

      • Thanks for the suggestions Tristan. I had actually never thought about a tutor before mainly because I figure I have an Indonesian speaking wife but the way you put it here I am considering it. I’m sure it would be easy to find one in Indonesia and probably not cost a whole lot.

        I like your time suggestion as well. I think I’m going to give that a try and start putting sticky notes up everywhere. It will help my kids as well.

        I think one thing that language learners need to overcome is the fear of making a mistake. We learn best from our mistakes so making them is critical (even if you do cause some laughs). I once updated a FB status in Indonesian with what I thought was a comment that I was going to the store to pick up my wife when what I really said was I was going to the store to pick up “A” wife. All my wifes’s friends were wondering what was going on. But I will never make that mistake again. :)

        I think you are putting together a great site and resource here. Keep at it!

        • Hi Matt, thanks a lot for the encouragement. Classic story about picking up your wife! I’ve had lots of those little moments, too. Once I wanted to say “I was talking to my wife’s DAD”, but I used the feminine article (la papa) instead of masculine (el papa), which changed the meaning to “I was talking with my wife’s POTATO”. My friends got a good giggle out of that. All part of the fun, and, as you say, you never make the same mistake twice ;-) Good luck with the sticky notes and tutoring.

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