Language learning: Why | Which | How | When | General tips | Materials | Pronunciation | Vocabulary | Grammar |
Writing systems | Chinese characters | FAQs | Phrases | Language jobs | Language learning experiences
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Even if you have the best method, materials and teachers, unless you can maintain your motivation to study languages, you are unlikely to suceed. There are various ways to do this, such as finding learning activities that you enjoy, having measurable and achievable goals, and having other people to study with.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?".
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.
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.
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.
L1 = your native language(s) and any other language(s) you know
L2 = the language(s) you are learning
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