How to Start Learning a New Language

Today we have a guest post by Kerstin Hammes of Fluent, the Language Learning Blog.

Books

It’s great to get started with a new hobby, and part of the excitement is always the shopping trip for new kit. This is no different with language learning. It doesn’t matter if you follow a polyglot’s online method or you have joined a class at the local college. The right set of tools will set you up for a great job, and there are a few starting items that no language learner should be without.

Your Notebook

I’ve seen way too many students turn up with loose scraps of paper. Don’t be that kid: New notebooks are practically hobby law. You need to write, it is an important part of your learning styles and will make you a stronger learner.

Even where information has moved online and you can get the greatest courses without a page of print, I still find that paper notebooks are important. Writing things down allows you to organise the thoughts in your own way. It also drills in correct spellings, and builds personalised notes that you can revise very easily.

It’s a good idea to create sections in your notebook for new vocabulary, grammar rules, exercises, tutor sessions and course notes. Project notebooks like this pretty one have the sections built into them, so they are my best recommendation.

Your Dictionary

No matter if you prefer looking words up online or on paper, your dictionary should always be on hand. There is no quicker way of getting past a block or understanding a song/film quote in your target language.

Good dictionaries I’ve used in the past have been Pons (in the UK they work with Collins) and Oxford Hachette ones, but whichever brand you choose you should make sure that the index makes sense to you. A good dictionary must tell you the word type, gender, pronunciation and give an indication of how to use the word.

Many dictionaries give you the bonus of a good grammar and verb section, saving you money on separate verb tables or grammar books.

An audio device, ideally with a sound recorder

Language is about saying things, so make sure you learn speaking as well as writing, reading and listening. This isn’t really new: You know that textbooks and learning sets have come with helpful recordings since the times of vinyl. Today, podcasts and audiobooks are particularly useful and allow you to practice language learning on the go.

Once you’ve made sure you can hear the language, get talking too! Record yourself for personal feedback and share the recordings with your tutor. It is easy to record yourself on most smartphones. When I worked on my European Day of Languages video, I found surprising amounts of kind people who would correct small batches of pronunciation when I sent them an audio file – all on Facebook and Twitter!

The Course

If you are beginner, choose your preferred method. Don’t worry too much about what you choose, but at the same time buy the tools, not the whole toolshed (in other words, pace yourself).

The most popular options are group classes, private tutors, software kits and teach yourself books. I’m a tutor who has worked with many complete beginners, and have found that combining the personal lessons with real life examples and a textbook makes the learning fun and interesting for everyone. Why not do online shopping in German, for example?

Personally, I’m not a good off-screen learner and so I tend not to invest in Rosetta Stone etc., and I also prefer finding a tutor or attending group lessons just so I can keep a bit of structure in my life!

Your Attitude

Finally, there is the attitude of course. All new things are exciting for the first month or so (well, except for Weight Watchers probably). But what really matters is that you decide to commit and stick with your journey over a longer period of time. Goal setting can really help here: Don’t read too much online about what other people can do in 3 months. They don’t have your life, your job, your family or your schedule. If you think you can do more, then do it. 3 words a day, 10 minutes a day or an hour every day can all work.

Make the goals dependent on your own achievements, such as “write 20 sentences”. Avoid vague expressions like “I want to be fluent” or “I want to talk to a native speaker”, because fluency is difficult to measure and native speakers can have bad days. Language learning is for life, so you are in this for the long haul, you can take the scenic route or the motorway, and you progress in the way that suits you.

Kerstin edits and runs Fluent, the Language Learning Blog. She speaks 5 languages, teaches German and English and also offers classes in Blogging and Online Marketing in Northern England.

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This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

5 Responses to How to Start Learning a New Language

  1. Some really great tips, thanks!

  2. Andy says:

    Delighted to find these tops tips. To learn a different language I think such tips will be very handy. Thanks for this handy contribution. :)

  3. Shaun says:

    Been planning to learn Czech language and this post tips pretty much helped me understand how I actually should start. These tips are brilliant. Pleased to be here.

  4. Hey, I just wanted to thank you guys for posting your kind comments!

  5. All of we know the learning new language is not easy but your given article helped me very much to learn new language. I’m very happy to got this post and will come again to read more new. Thanks!