Learning a language can open up many opportunities, allow you to meet new people and immerse yourself in a new culture. However, it can be really overwhelming to start! You may find yourself asking questions such as what resources should I use? should I take a class? and what is more important; grammar or vocab? I had all these same questions too when I first started learning a language
Right now I am studying both French and Italian. Although I learned both in a school setting and had exposure from a young age, I didn’t take it seriously until my time in university where I found a group of people who cared about languages like me. Throughout my time studying, I have met many people who have always wanted to study a language but don’t know where to start. So I put this post together of a few tips that I believe will help any language learner start there studies.
1. Choose Your Language
Before you can start studying, you kinda got to know what language you like or want to try. Ask yourself these questions
- what language sounds the best to me?
- what language/country/culture have I always showed an interest in?
- do I know anyone that speaks another language? could I practice with them?
- what do I want from the language? (passion related, job opportunities)
I have heard people say they just want to learn a language for when they travel but they are missing the point. Fluency and understanding a language is built off all areas of language (reading, writing, and verbal/auditory) and they complement one another on your language learning journey. So make sure you choose a language not just for a few words or because you think it is easy to speak. Think about the culture, history and interest you have in its native country and speaker. Take this time to research traditions, people’s regional dialects, lifestyle and history as it will help create a strong foundation for your study.
2. Set Goals
After choosing anything to start I automatically expect to see results. However, I have learned the hard way that you don’t see results unless you make goals. I will admit that I have had Italian language exposure since I was a baby. That means my mom would speak to me sometimes, my grandparents almost all the time, and the media I consumed was all in Italian. However, just because I can understand almost all of it, my speaking is poor and my reading and writing is sub-par. I expected it would get better over time just as I built up comprehension as a child but that is not the case because I wasn’t working daily with the content.
Here is where a schedule and goals can help you avoid my missteps. Planning a yearly, monthly and weekly goal can help you track your progress and see where you need improvement. Maybe your vocab memorization is great but your pronunciation needs some work. Logging your goals and progress can help you be a well-rounded language learner. It can also help motivate you when your feeling discouraged. Your goals may look like this
- Year: I want to be B2 fluency
- Month: I want to have learned and successfully applied Passato Prossimo (past tense in Italian)
- Week: revised for 1 hour a day and follow a weekly schedule
3. Focus on the Basic’s
Don’t get caught up with difficult verb tenses, poetic sentence structures or complicated reading material. For your own progress (and sanity!) stick to learning the simple parts of the language and building vocab. Try listening to easy songs for kids such as nursery rhymes, and reading simple stories. I can guarantee you that focusing on the basics, will build a strong understanding to build off of.
I think of learning a language as if you were a baby learning your native tongue. Your parents would sing you songs, read the alphabet, write your name and learn how to say “my name is”. So why not start there! A list of basics to focus on are
- alphabet pronunciation and written
- number pronunciation and written
- learning simple sentences (writings and reading)
- vocab such as colours, animal’s, school supplies, appearances (hair, tall, short)
- vocabs of countries names
- vocabs of occupations
- easy reading and listening comprehension activities.
4. Choose the Right Materials
You can of courses learn a language without a textbook or workbook however I personally find it more difficult to stay focused and practice content without some form of guide. The textbooks and workbooks do not have to be expensive or new (psst! I still use my mom and dad’s Italian verb and vocab textbook from 1990). Just make sure you check to see if the information in it is still relevant (there are a few verb spellings that have changed or are no longer commonly used since my parents studied Italian).
Research the textbook list used by your local university or college, read reviews, decide what you are looking for in a workbook or textbook. Do you want explanations? lots of examples? pictures? audio that comes with it? tests and quizzes by chapter? real-life scenarios? These are all important to consider and sometimes I find the cheaper textbooks to be better for my needs.
A list of Materials
- workbook (could compliment the textbook or just be a lined notebook)
- an easy to use dictionary
- a Bescherelle (that is the french word for a verb conjugation book) or a continuation app
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
I cannot stress this last one enough! You cannot be perfect when first learning a language because well… that is part of learning. There will be concepts you don’t get right away, things you don’t understand, you can get confused and might not say something properly. My French/Italian teacher in high school once said to me “Donatella, you cannot learn anything if you don’t make mistakes, and languages are no different”. I can testify that doing my work and correcting it has helped me understand grammar rules and practicing pronunciations when I was told it was wrong has helped me get a better understanding of the language.
Don’t worry about feeling like you will look bad if you try to practice with someone or mess up on a word. I promise you if you are speaking to someone in their native tongue, they will appreciate (might even be shocked) that you know how to say certain phrases. This is apart of the language learning journeys and it is what makes it so fun!
I hope you find these tips helpful and that they encouraged you to start learning a language. Let me know what languages you speak or your learning! I love to hear what made you want to start.