Top 10 Ways to Learn a Foreign Language

Other than formal foreign language instruction, what else can one do to pick up a new tongue? Here are ten ideas for those who dream of being multilingual.

There are four basic skills to hone in the acquisition of a foreign language. It is best to identify, from the very beginning, the ultimate objective of learning the target language. For example, does one need to send business emails to French-speaking Canada? Or perhaps the goal is to speak better Spanish on one’s next vacation to Mexico? When the objective is clear, each of these four skills can be given higher or lower priority, depending:

  • oral expression (speaking)
  • oral comprehension (listening)
  • written comprehension (reading)
  • written expression (writing)

All of the following suggestions develop one or more of these four language skills.

Go Face-to-Face with Native Speakers

Find local language lessons offered by a native speaker. This is a fairly common job option for those who have immigrated from their country. Search internet, classified and community ads for evening or weekend language clubs in one’s community.

Listen to Podcasts & Foreign Music

Download free podcasts in the target language, which are often available in beginner, intermediate, or advanced levels. Listen to them repeatedly. iTunes alone carries lots of free podcasts in various languages.

Be a Cultivated Couch Potato

Never underestimate the power of foreign films, even if one feels dependent on subtitles at first. The ear absorbs the sound, speed and rhythm of the new language just the same. There is nothing wrong with initially “sponging up” a new language this way. It is exactly how all human babies acquire their mother tongue. Once confidence is built, one can opt for the subtitles themselves to be in the new language.

If foreign films are not one’s cup of tea, consider watching favorite films dubbed in the new language. The story line and dialogue will be familiar, just the words will change.

Keep a Vocabulary Journal

Keep track of new words in a notebook. Rather than just definitions, note down an example sentence using each word. This will be a reminder for correct usage in the future.

Use a new word again and again, whenever possible.

Immerse Through Hobbies

Consider reading about an interesting subject or even doing a new activity in the target language. The more one “lives out” the new language with real-life activities, the better. Someone who likes to cook might work through a recipe in French. A music fan might memorize an Italian song.

Go to a museum and find out what arts or scientific innovations came specifically from the culture surrounding the target language. The important thing is to connect language learning with things you love.

Be Exposed Frequently

Exposure to one’s target language should happen a minimum of twice a week in order to continue progressing. Three times is great and a little bit every day, ideal. The exposure does not necessarily have to be long, but the more frequent it is, the better.

  • Listen to the radio or podcasts in the morning and evening or take along reading materials during the day for down time.
  • Read world news in the chosen language.

Go Live With Telephone Courses

Many companies now offer live telephone or Skype courses in a foreign language. This path takes some bravery for those who are hesitant to speak, but it is one of the most efficient ways to heighten fluency. If phone courses are not possible, consider language programs with which one can at least mimic and respond to a native voice.

Keep in Touch by Writing

Keeping a foreign “pen pal” can be a great investment in one’s foreign language learning, not to mention the beginning of a rewarding cross-cultural friendship. Whether one prefers snail mail, email, or live online chatting, it is a worthwhile effort to write in the new language, and encourage one’s correspondent to correct and give feedback. An online search for ‘foreign pen pals” will yield a wealth of results, even sites especially for children.

Travel, Study, or Work Abroad

Of course, the best way to learn a foreign language is to go abroad, even if that means for a week or two of vacation. Otherwise, study abroad allows students to search for programs by country or area of study and even provides links to scholarship opportunities.

For those willing to relocate more long-term, international job opportunities do exist. Many of them are English teaching positions which usually pay well.

Fall in Love with a Foreigner

If everyone jokes about this point, it is because it is true. The best way to learn a foreign language is to fall in love with a foreigner. There is no stronger motivation than that of wanting to communicate with the object of one’s affection.

After all, there are so many avenues to language learning that motivation and a clear objective are all one needs to keep progressing toward fluency.

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