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Language Learning Tips

April 26, 2017
Languages

I have been incredibly lucky in that languages are something that comes natural to me. Some people are good at math, incredible athletes, or born scientists. I am just one of those people that excels at languages! I can speak English and German, am conversational in Swedish, and am aiming to learn Russian. I have also studied Icelandic, obv :) 

But, being an introvert and growing up painfully shy, I also know how intimidating and overwhelming it can be to begin studying a new language. Unfamiliar sounds and letters, making mistakes, and being put on the spot is a pretty hard combination to face bravely. Here are some tips for those language learners who are better at math than I am or just need a little kick in the ass.

General tips: 

  • Listen to music in your target language: This will help you improve your accent. I was told by a native German speaker that I barely have an accent and I attribute my skill to really listening to the language. You will also notice that with time, you will begin to understand the language.
  • Consistently carry flashcards: whether they are tangible or physical, bring along some flashcards during your day. You will find those extra moments you have on your lunch, on the bus, or just before dinner you can squeeze in some practice time
  • Practice every day: do SOMETHING every day. 10-30 minutes every day is a good place to start but just remember that you will get even more out of your study time if you dedicate more time each day.
  • Use a variety of materials & resources: Learn the language not just by listening, or reading, an app on your phone, or studying a textbook. Use all of the methods you find beneficial. This will make your brain tackle the language in every direction.

Beginners:

If you are JUST starting a new language and barely know the basics, I suggest you begin with these tips

  • Image association: arguably one of the best ways to memorize and understand vocabulary
  • Set goals: it is always a good idea to have a target you are shooting for or you will forget even why you are chugging along in learning a new language. It can be discouraging, so I really recommend you keep your goal in mind.
  • Set habits: Maybe every Tuesday night after work you can dedicate an hour or two to your target language. Or, maybe you can listen to language podcasts while you work out. You can have language learning CDs in your car...anything that will make learning the language a regular habit. If it isn't a habit...you won't learn it!

Your goals could be as simple as having numbers 1-100 memorized by month end. Or it could be more ambitious, like to understand a typical nightly newscast in your target language by three months. It all depends on how much time you have (and are willing to) spend on this endeavor.

Intermediate/Experts

I guess if you are an expert, you really don't need this list. It is a great way to make sure you stay fluent and make sure you don't lose that skill!

  • Keep a diary in your target language: Depending on your level, this can change person to person. Even if it is just a few phrases or a paragraph a day, it is helping you inch toward your goal 
  • Self examination: The biggest thing here is don't be afraid to make mistakes. Instead, you need to learn to embrace them. So you made a mistake; where did it go wrong? What were you confused about? How did you get this answer and why was it wrong? This will ensure you don't make the same mistake again and you won't put yourself down, either.
  • Immersion days: this can be tough depending on your schedule but I highly recommend this and it is how I began to THINK in my second language. Find a free day (or half day) in your schedule where you will read, write, speak, and hear ONLY your target language. We are trying to avoid getting distracted by our native language or the languages around us. This is a flexible method of immersion learning and I think it is one of the best tips I have ever came across! (Thank you Frau Norling!)

This list is not exhaustive but I really have found these tips work for me in keeping up my fluency in German and reaching out to new languages. Please let me know if you have any other tips!

Resources:

I personally don't think the best way to learn a language is to sit and read a textbook by yourself. I use the following free resources to study and keep my skills up to date. These ones are free, and there are of course paid ones as well but that doesn't always mean they are better!

Quizlet Flashcard app, also lets you organize your cards into groups

Duolingo Totally underrated language learning website. They are coming out with new languages all the time and you can even volunteer your services to help create a new language course. Very in depth!

Memrise This website has both paid and free versions but I use the free version. This one is great because there are lessons put together by the people who own and created the website, but also lessons created by users you can access. How cool!

If you are studying German, I have started a series on learning German. It is pretty early but follow for more posts

До скорого! 

learning a foreign language
Siggi Einarson

My name is Siggi-dubbed by my American friends because of the Icelandic yogurt-I am a writer, polyglot, and aspiring expat, not a cup of yogurt (unfortunately).

My love for travelling began with a trip to Iceland and Sweden to visit my family when I was just 15 years old. I spent so long dreaming of the possibilities of life abroad but I always figured these dreams were too far reached. Flash forward almost 10 years, here I am again, both cursing and thanking this damn travel bug.

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