ways to learn a language.

So, as I might have mentioned before, I am now near-fluent in French (well, as fluent as you can get when English is your first language). Students in my class, as well as friends and family, always ask how I’ve picked it up so quickly. I wanted to answer that here, as I figured some people might be committing to learning a language for the new year.

First and foremost, I want to make it clear that you cannot just absorb knowledge through osmosis. I do spend time studying and working at this; it does take a great deal of work. There are just a few simple things that can make your learning process more fun, and you can get much more out of it with the tips I’m about to show you.

Also, I am not an education specialist of any kind. This is just wisdom from a seventeen-year-old. But I’m telling you, these things work! Alright, now down to the nitty-gritty.

  1. Watch movies in your target language with your native language in subtitles: This is something I’d consider to be a baby step. Maybe even before you start seeking resources for learning the language itself. Sit with a notebook in your lap, and if you hear words you understand, write them down. (Double-check in Google Translate later.) SIDE NOTE: Here’s my thing about Google Translate: you can totally use it if you’re looking for a single verb or noun or something short and sweet. However, make no mistake! Translate is awful when it comes to translating direct sentences, no matter if it’s from English to French or vice-versa. Use it at your own risk. (The risk is insulting someone when you meant to ask where the nearest restroom is.)
  2. Try a free learning app such as DuoLingo, Babbel, or Memrise. When I was first starting out, I thought DuoLingo was honestly the best learning app ever. I was definitely wrong, but it did help me as a beginner. The thing is, DuoLingo teaches you nouns and sentence placement, but it does nothing for grammar or conjugation. It’s great to build up your basics. Babbel has more of a foundation in conversational language, but it only has half the languages DuoLingo has (14+ versus 30+). Memrise is a gamified version of Quizlet but for languages. I would say it’s a fun one, but it’s difficult for beginning speakers. The fact that you can have them with you everywhere makes these apps so important. On the train, in line for coffee, walking your dog, waiting to pick up your kids, letting the bath warm up… Apps are great, and you should take advantage.
  3. Watch YouTubers who speak your language. I love this one! If you’re trying French, Chloé Kian has a beautiful French channel, and she often makes parallel videos in English. It’s hard to beat this experience, as you can slow down YouTube videos, sometimes use subtitles, read the descriptions and comments, and you can watch them as they speak. YouTube videos are usually about a specific subject, which is why they’re great for building new, specific vocabulary and expanding your listening skills. Additionally, watching the person’s lips move and listening to them speaking is usually more effective than just listening. The only downside is, it’s hard to find the right YouTuber because YouTube tends to only recommend channels in your native language. If I’m looking for French creators, I’m going to search in French.
  4. Music! Honestly, this is my favorite one. I’m an auditory learner, which means I learn best through listening. I have a giant playlist of French music, and some of it, I found through an exchange student at my school. She’s super cool, and I learned that a lot of teens in France listen to rap music (which is how, accidentally, I learned a lot of curse words very quickly). Music just makes you want to sing along, and you can look up the lyrics and follow! Rather than pasting the lyrics into translate, there’s probably a website that has translated your song into another language. If not, then I guess Translate is acceptable. This is a good time to mention that a good alternative to Translate is WordReference. It interprets whole sentences, phrases, verbs, slang, and pretty much everything. It’s run by actual people!
  5. Keep a journal. If you’re sitting there and wondering what a certain word is in your target language, search it up, and then write it down. We learn so much better when we write things down. Take it with you when you’re using an app, listening to music, watching a movie or YouTube video… It can come in handy while traveling, too. Look back at all the words you learn after a handful of weeks and see that the more you seek knowledge, the more you’ll find it.
  6. Take a class. Obviously, one of the best ways to learn a language is by learning it from someone with a degree in your target language. That is the best way to go about it (unless you’re that guy who can learn anything in 30 days), and I highly recommend you at least consider the idea. If taking a class is not for you, there are several books that help you learn. The one I use for French is here. It’s a comprehensive workbook that you can write in. I would highly recommend it!

So, there you have it! Six ways to speak a different language. Let me know if you have any questions, as I’d be happy to answer them. Happy learning! 🙂


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