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Language learning tips

This section contains a collection of advice, suggestions, tips and techniques for learning languages. Most are based on my own experiences, while some come from other people.

Many of these tips, perhaps with some minor modifications, also apply to learning others skills, such as music.

Why should I learn a language?

There are many reasons to learn a foreign language, from working in another country to discovering your roots, through intellectual curiosity, romance, travel, and secret communication.

More reasons for learning languages

Which language should I learn?

Once you have decided to learn a language, you may not be quite sure which language to choose. To some extent, your choice depends on your reasons for learning a language. For example, if you'd like to communicate with as many people as possible, learning such languages as Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, Russian or Arabic would enable you to do so.

More tips on which language to learn

What materials and tools do I need to study a language?

There's a wide range of materials and tools available to help you with your language studies, including language courses, dictionaries, grammar books, phrasebooks, online lessons, mp3 players and electronic translators.

More on language learning materials and tools

How can I find time to study a language?

Finding time to study a language can be quite a challenge. You may think that you don't really have enough of it, but it's surprising how many spare moments you have during a typical day, and how they can add up to a useful amount of study time.

More on finding time for your studies

What's the best way to study?

After choosing a language, you can start thinking about how you're going to study it. For popular languages like French and Spanish, there's a wealth of materials available. For lesser-studied languages, the choice can be more limited. If courses are available in your area, it might help you to attend them, or you may prefer to study on your own, or to have individual lessons.

More advice on choosing a way to study and some general tips

Learning pronunciation

Learning the pronunciation of a language is a very important part of your studies. It doesn't matter so much if you just want to read and/or write the language, but if you want to speak a language well, as I'm sure you do, pay particular attention to the pronunciation and review it regularly.

More on learning pronunciation and improving listening comprehension

Learning vocabulary

Building up your vocabulary in a foreign language can take many years. Learning words in context from written and spoken material is probably the most effective way to do this. You could also try learning words in a more systematic way - perhaps a certain number of words every day.

More on learning vocabulary | Spaced repetition learning systems (SRS)

Learning grammar

Familiarity with the grammar of a language enables you to understand it, and also to construct your own phrases and sentences. It's not essential to know all the grammatical terminology or to understand why words change, as long as you're able to apply to relevant changes when necessary.

More on learning grammar

Learning alphabets and other writing systems

If the language you're learning is written with a different alphabet or other type of writing system, learning it is well worth the effort. Some alphabets, such as Cyrillic and Greek, are relatively easy to learn as they are similar to the Latin alphabet. Others, such as Devanagari and Thai, are a more challenging.

More on learning a new writing system

Learning Chinese characters (hànzi / kanji / hanja)

If you're learning one of the languages that uses Chinese characters, such as Chinese, Japanese or Korean*, you're faced with quite a challenge. However, there are some techniques you can use to help you learn them.

*Note: in modern Korean such characters (hanja) are rarely used, but they do appear much more in older Korean texts.

More on learning to read and write Chinese Characters

Frequently asked questions about learning languages

On this page you can find answers to some of the questions I get asked most frequently about languages, such as "Are some languages more difficult to learn than others?" and "Which is harder to learn, Chinese or Japanese?".

FAQs page

Foreign phrases

This section contains an ever-growing collection of useful phrases in many different languages, with audio files for many of them. The phrases are arranged by phrase and by language.

Useful phrases in many languages

Careers using languages

What kind of jobs and careers are available to students of languages? This page provides some information about interpreting, translating, teaching, and other language-related jobs, and also links to sites with further information and vacancies.

More on language-related careeers

My own experiences of learning languages

I've been interested in language and languages for as long as I can remember. I am currently fluent in five languages, have a fairly good conversational ability in five others, and a basic knowledge of ten more. I've experimented with a variety of language learning techniques and courses, and continue to do so.

More about my language learning adventures

Note:

L1 = your native language(s) and any other language(s) you know
L2 = the language(s) you are learning

Books on how to learn languages | Language learning materials

Some useful phrases in many different languages

Links

Share your experiences of and advice on learning languages
http://tinyurl.com/694to63

How to learn any language
http://how-to-learn-any-language.com

How to Learn Any Language
http://language101.com/how-to-learn-any-language.html

Language Learning Advisor - A Guide to Language Learning Success
http://www.language-learning-advisor.com

Learn lots of Languages
http://learnlotsoflanguages.com

Language Learning Bookshelf
http://www.sil.org/LinguaLinks/LanguageLearning/LanguageLearning.htm

Ultimate Language Secrets
http://www.ultimatelanguagesecrets.com

Learn a Language Via Skype

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Language Software offers great software for translation and language learning purposes at decent prices.

Learn a language abroad - All you need to know when preparing a language study stay abroad


Learn Chinese Characters with the Omniglot Chinese app | Language Jobs at Jobseeker.co.uk
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