How to Learn a Second Language: Tips for Beginning a Foreign Language

Mastering another system of symbols and associations other than your native language can be a daunting task because you don't clearly remember learning your first language. As an infant, you observed your setting and were submerged in the sounds, symbols, and culture of the language, discovering that "cat" symbolized the family's four-legged pet and "bike" represented your older sister's two-wheeled transportation device.

The upside to beginning a new language is that you've already learned an entire system, so most of your groundwork is done, especially when learning a language with a similar alphabet and number system. Up to half of your new language's vocabulary comes in the form of cognates, with similar spellings, sounds, and meanings as your native language's words (like the English, Spanish, and Portuguese word "chocolate"). The following are ways to jumpstart your journey:

Keep a positive attitude and genuine interest

Sitting down and trying to memorize a language is frustrating and fruitless. It takes active pursuit and practice to master a language, just as you spoke in single words before phrases and finally sentences. The internet is full of interactive sites that turn vocabulary lessons into games, and many free language learning tools and lessons can be found online.

Bring the language into your life

As you begin learning even the most basics, start identifying your surroundings (trashcan, door, book) with your new language's equivalents. If possible, have conversations with someone in the language you are learning. Try switching websites you are very familiar with into your new language and watch movies with your language's subtitles. Also, learning the customs and cultures of countries where the language is spoken is an interesting and inspiring way to bring the language to life.

Join a language club

Socializing with others who share your interest will encourage and liven up the language for you. Speaking to others at various skill levels can inspire you and improve your pronunciation, and as you share what you've learned, you'll also discover tricks others find useful.

Displace yourself

Once you've learned the basics, even if pronunciation and fluency are painful, put yourself in a situation where you must use your new skills. Try traveling to an area where your language is spoken. Forced communication, through both listening and speaking, can be the greatest tool for quick learning. In many cases you don't have to travel to another country but can find festivals and communities nearby.

Read and write

Though they might not do as much for oral proficiency as the above suggestions, they will build your knowledge of grammar, spelling, and structure within your language, which will ultimately improve your ability to communicate. When beginning, try writing about your family, city, and life. Read news articles that interest you since they are usually written in only one or two tenses and are easy to find online.

By keeping interested, surrounding yourself with other people who are learning your language, and pushing your limits, you can learn a language quicker and more effectively than through a textbook. Through continued use of your new language in everyday life, you'll find yourself becoming more and more fluent and confident. Always remember to keep learning fun and do what works for you, and you'll soon find yourself communicating through another language!

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