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Six Steps for Learning a New Language in Your Own Time

Six Steps for Learning a New Language in Your Own Time

by Chad Ryan


A lot of people learnt a second language at school, but then discontinued it once direction ceased to be given. One great advantage of learning a new language over many other fields of study however is that you can do it mostly wherever you are and with relatively simple resources. In this sense foreign language learning allows for a great deal of independence. Remember, effective foreign language learning is about persistence, so take your time and enjoy it, so you don't burn out. Below are six progressive steps you can take to start learning a language in your own time outside of school and still develop it to an proficient level over time.

1. Make an acquaintance with a native speaker

This person will be able to point out what you need to know in terms of the difference between your language and the one in which you wish to learn, while also introducing you to some handy expressions that are commonly used. The first stage of learning a language is rewarding because the most common expressions are generally simple and extremely useful. Language exchange is one way of getting free information. Interactive computer programs or phone applications which require you to match expressions with multiple choices can similarly introduce you to the basics.

2. Learn some vocabulary

Look around yourself at the objects you can see, and think too of any abstract concepts on your mind, and find out what the words are for those things. You can usually substitute nouns for nouns, verbs for verbs and adjectives for adjectives into basic sentence structures. Pocket dictionaries, online dictionaries and phone dictionary applications exist which you can refer to mostly wherever you are. Attention should need to be paid to good pronunciation however through sound comprehension of the phonetic transcription of the language if you are learning by yourself. Possession of a verb conjugation book can be very useful for languages which vary their verbs depending on who is performing the action.

3. Practice in real scenarios

Try talking and listening to the new language initially in a low pressure environment, such as with your acquaintance, when ordering a meal at a restaurant or wherever else someone who knows that language is providing you a service or just willing to chat. Before approaching the situation, you may want to think about what you are planning to say, how you think it should be said, and what else you might want to know how to say based on their probable reply. Better still, spend some time in the country where the language is spoken to immerse yourself in it completely. For young people, language exchange, working holidays or volunteering may be options. It can be tiring being exposed to a foreign language all day, but as you improve, you will be able to start thinking in that language.

4. Read books

Find a book that is at an appropriate level, and use a dictionary to help decipher any unknown words. Here you can start to analyse how the sentences are structured. Practice copying out words, phrases and sentence structures that are new to you, and look back over them again. As you improve, use a dictionary purely in the language you are trying to learn rather than a bilingual dictionary. Learning the lyrics to a song is another way of reiterating how words are strung together in the new language.

5. Correct your grammar

When you receive formal language tuition, grammar will be focussed on from the beginning, but often you can get quite a long way practicing in more interesting ways, to first gain a foothold in a language, before really focussing on the drier aspects like this, by which stage it will be more important to you to speak correctly. This does of course deserve attention in order to not cement incorrect modes of speech, although you will more likely need to find a proper teacher and pay for this, whereas most of the previous steps can often be taken for relatively minimal cost, or perhaps all of them if you wanted to go travelling overseas anyway. Online classes can be taken with a webcamera if there are no good teachers near you.

6. Set goals

It is important that you have a reason for using a new language to really drive your progress. This may be passing officially recognised tests, obtaining work which requires you to use the language, or even doing some translating. If you take an interest in aspects of the culture that are uniquely associated with the language you are trying to learn, this can also provide you with purpose. Even when you listen to audio recordings or watch films in the language you are learning, try to listen to things that you really want to understand the meaning to, as it will help you really tune in to the speaker.

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