Are you interested in learning another language, or eagerly anticipating a year abroad? Well, the Talking in Tandem column is perfect for any language lover, linguist, and learner.
Learning an entirely new language can be very daunting for some people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible. The thought of learning without a native around to help you can also seem rather challenging. Wrapping your mind around a new way of looking at the world is no small task, however there are several ways that you can make this process as easy as possible. Several research papers have suggested that the worldwide rate of bilingualism could now be over 50%. If over half of the world’s population speak more than one language, there is no reason to say that you can’t either. The following suggestions are methods that I’ve found to be the most effective to progress faster throughout my learning, so you could try to adopt a few of them into your learning routine to help on your own journey.
Determine how you learn best
Before attempting to learn a new language, it’s vital that you understand how you learn best. It is pointless using outdated learning techniques if you don’t even understand how you can learn in the most effective way that you can. Understanding what type of learner you are will help you tailor your experience in order to speed up the process. Arden University has a brilliant test which will identify your learning type and suggest learning methods which are more suited to your style. I would definitely recommend starting with this test before anything else. The “What kind of learner are you?” test can be found here.
Sticking at your learning may seem like a simple, if not obvious approach. However, being consistent is not something that comes easily if it isn’t part of your learning routine already. Rather than spending hours reading textbooks and watching videos, it is far more productive to split your learning into smaller, more manageable chunks. This concept is not exclusive to language learning and can be useful to adopt into any focus-heavy activity. Learning a few key things on a daily basis is much more likely to serve you in the long term. Being able to segment your learning into smaller chunks will be far easier to remember, so try to learn a couple of new words every day rather than attempting to become a human dictionary all at once.
Review, review, review
Learning a word for the first time is a great achievement, but it’s only half the job. Being able to retain lots of information requires us to review said information later on after having learnt it. Reviewing what you’ve already learnt allows you to transfer this information from your short-term memory over to your long-term memory. Research suggests that if the information is not transferred to the long-term memory, it will simply slip away from us like sand through your fingertips. Looking over your learning material a second, third or even fourth time is invaluable and will strengthen information, making it easier and easier to recall next time.
Keep a vocabulary book
Vocabulary books are where creative people can thrive in their learning. Personally, I have found that using a vocabulary book has been a godsend in terms of remembering pages and pages of words that I stumble across in my reading. Every time you learn a new word, make sure to jot it down. This book will become your best friend, as it became mine. I tend to use small lined exercise books like these ones, however if you’re learning more than one language (or subject), try looking for segmented project books like these which allow for further organisation. New stationary is by no means obligatory in learning, but it certainly keeps it exciting.
100 most common words
Learning the top 100 words in your target language will make your life ten times easier right from the start. These words may sometimes be shorter ones, like prepositions or articles, but they are incomparably important. In some cases, these words may make up the majority of a sentence. These lists are easily accessible on Google, such as the top 100 Spanish words. You may find that different websites claim different things, which isn’t that important. If you learn one list, it’s likely that the next list will have many of the same words. Either way, learning the top 100 words will propel you in terms of progress.
Bilingualism is a gift that not many of us receive in childhood. I spent my childhood speaking only English, despite the fact my grandfather was from India. I used to look down on myself when I heard other people speaking languages that I couldn’t understand. I felt an intense jealousy of this exotic talent and ashamed that I hadn’t mastered a second language yet. This made speaking other languages all the more difficult, as I doubted my own ability very early on. Confidence will not come quickly, but it’s something that must be found in language learning. If you don’t have the confidence to put yourself out there and attempt the pronunciation of a word you don’t recognise, the worst thing you can do is get it wrong- that’s it. You can try again immediately afterwards and correct your mistakes. Learning languages is about making mistakes; it’s about having the courage to try, fail, try again and succeed all in one day.
There are endless Google search results for useful language learning websites, but not all of them are cracked up to what they make out to be. I believe in free, inclusive and effective learning for everyone who wishes to find it. It’s for this reason that I’ve avoided paid websites which claim to offer language crash courses. While these courses are highly effective, they are also very expensive. There are so many free resources online available to anyone, so here are a few of my favourites:
WordReference – great for seeing the same word in different contexts, word categories and verb conjugations.
Linguee – claims to be the largest database of human translations, good for seeing words used in real sentences.
DeepL – from the makers of Linguee, an excellent machine translation desktop application and website, I’ve found it to be extremely accurate.
iTranslate – I use this free app because DeepL doesn’t have an iOS app just yet. It can detect hundreds of languages.
Reverso – An English teacher in France recommended this site to me. I find it very useful for looking at different meanings of one word. The site offers translation and a dictionary for each language.
Picking and choosing which learning methods appeal to you is best, as not all of these tips will suit everyone. Learning a new language can be stressful and infuriating, but it can also be very rewarding and gratifying. The more you continue on your learning journey, the more you will become familiar with which methods work for you. What counts the most is that you don’t give up.
Our local languages expert Emily Maclean is a French and Hispanic Studies student here at QMUL, and having done her year abroad, she has a lot of experience to share!