11 Steps to Learning Foreign Languages
It’s frankly quite out of fashion to be an English-speaking monolingual person these days. Millennials have a unique generational identity of being global citizens or netizens with an innate multiculturality about them. Naturally, learning foreign languages is in vogue. The best way to learn foreign languages is to find a compelling purpose or a deep inspiration to pursue it (unless it’s part of your coursework, of course).
You may want to learn Japanese to converse with your boyfriend’s mother. Or, you may want to improve your French to feel closer to your French ancestry or hire a Spanish tutor before you start a business in South America. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure. There’s no joy as the joy of learning a new language and becoming functional at it. If you feel a stroke of inspiration to learn foreign languages, you’re at the right place. In this article, we aim to arm you with some tips, tricks, and best practices needed for learning a new language in record time.
Goal setting learning foreign languages
It’s good to have a desired level of expertise and a timeframe in mind before you start learning foreign languages. Suppose your goal is to be able to write fine corporate level emails to your business associates in Argentina, then you’re going to need formal Spanish tutoring. If you just need some handy lines to use during your Easter holiday in Spain, you needn’t hire a Spanish tutor at all. You just need to grab an “Idiot’s Guide to the Spanish Language” or a “Spanish in 5 Hours” and read it on the flight.
There are obviously many levels of language proficiency between the two extremes, such as comprehension, conversational fluency, etc. You may even want foreign language tutoring for your child to get comfy with coursework. Your choice of Spanish tutoring has to be calibrated to the goal you have in mind. The choices range from app based listen-in tools to hiring an online language tutor for advanced skills and certifications. In my opinion, the best way to learn foreign languages is to layer up a few of these alternatives, like having an online language tutor for structured instruction as well as an app for extra conversation practice. Your goal also determines how many hours of lessons you’re going to need. Your Spanish tutor will be able to ascertain how many weeks or months you’re going to need to get to your goal.
Soak up the culture of new language
Quoting Noam Chomsky, “A language is not just words. It’s a culture, a tradition, a unification of a community, a whole history that creates what a community is. It’s all embodied in a language”. Find out about the history and culture of the country where the foreign language of your choice is spoken through books and videos. Ideally, giving yourself the opportunity to soak up cultural nuances through interaction with locals is the best way to learn foreign languages.
The one big opportunity that online tutoring gives us is access to online language tutors who are native speakers of that language and hence a bridge to their homeland cultures. This is pretty straightforward for some learning foreign languages but could pose a few interesting problems with certain others. Your online Japanese tutor is not likely to be from anywhere else but Japan if that person is a native speaker. But your Spanish tutor could belong to any one of the 21 countries where Spanish is the official language or several others where Spanish is spoken by a significant minority. Honestly this is an opportunity more than a problem and your Spanish tutor online should be able to guide you on where to begin your culture appreciation program!
Explore learning new language tools
I have nostalgic memories of heading to the Alliance Française center in the city for French tutoring. We would eat a croissant at the café before heading to the French tutor to learn how to pronounce “k(ɹ)wæsɒ̃”. Very often the tutor wasn’t a native speaker even at these language centers. Since then it has become easier to find a France-born French tutor online. You can combine your foreign language tutoring with internet based learning apps as well.
These days the internet is bursting with a wide variety of foreign languages learning resources and tools. Podcasts are a favorite amongst beginners to help them break into the language through listening. You can choose a foreign language podcast depending on your level and area of interest. Innovative Language offers everyday speech modules while News in Slow, as the name suggests, picks up excerpts from news broadcasts in foreign languages and delivers them to you in slow.
Mobile apps like Duolingo allow you to take short modules for vocabulary. Memrise is a great tool for vocabulary enhancement. LiveMocha brings you in touch with native speakers, linguists and language enthusiasts. These are all tools that you can use at your own time and pace to learn a new language. They aren’t structured for coursework. If you’re looking for foreign languages tutoring for your school-going children then an online language tutor would be the ideal choice.
Conversation practice of your foreign language
Continuous interaction with the social world enhances learning foreign languages. After listening, making conversation is the next foundational step in learning a foreign language. It is crucial to lose your fear of speaking particularly for exotic foreign languages like Japanese, for example. Japanese has very little in common with English, from a cultural perspective. English sentences cannot be directly translated to Japanese to mean the same thing. There are people out there who know every line in their Japanese for Beginners booklet by heart. But they can’t utter a word in public. One can get familiar with cultural nuances and develop comfort around words and phrases only by using them in a social context. Therefore, conversing regularly with your Japanese tutor or hanging out with your Japanese friends can indeed go a long way in losing hesitation.
A few hurdles have indeed emerged in recent times with the new normal being social distancing and isolation. However, there are ways around it, if you’re committed to staying on track with your learning. Pick up a Japanese movie or series with subtitles. Repeat each dialogue and see the corresponding subtitle for meaning. By the end of the show, you’ll master a bunch of conversational Japanese sentences. There are mobile apps like Busuu that have a conversation feature. Finally, move your Japanese tutoring online if it isn’t online yet. A skilled Japanese tutor will be able to introduce small talk and conversations to your Japanese language learning and develop your skill level to functional proficiency. If you’re going for an online Japanese tutor, choose a platform where you can find native speakers or conversational experts.
It is often said that the best way to learn foreign languages is to buddy up with a native speaker. You get to see this quite evidently in children with foreign friends. I would say it’s one of the very effective ways to get functionally proficient in a foreign language. Your child may have a Spanish tutoring online but that Spanish speaking friend is going to make sure that your child learns the spoken form and colloquial expressions which they promptly imbibe in their vocabulary. If you want to put pace to your foreign languages tutoring effort, it is highly recommended that you surround yourself with native speakers. This supplements the role played by your online language tutor.
Nail the Grammar
The next step in learning foreign languages is to systematically work on grammatical structures that make up the language. This isn’t for someone whose goal is to pick up a few handy phrases for use during travel. If your goal is to have mastery over foreign languages, you can’t gloss over grammar.
Take French for example. A foreign learner struggles with conjugation of verbs and the gender of nouns. A good French tutor will be able to instruct students on the grammar rules and patterns. That way, his/her sentence makes sense in actual spoken French. Likewise, a qualified Spanish tutor will be more effective in guiding a non-native learner to find patterns in seemingly random syllable stresses. A qualified and trained Japanese tutor will start with cultural education, attune your mind to think like a Japanese, and teach you how to express ideas in Japanese. A forced English-to-Japanese translation often doesn’t cut it.
Fortunately, these days, you can easily access good online language tutors to help both students and casual learners get up to speed with the grammar nuances of a host of foreign languages.
Reading new language literature
It’s a great fun learning a new language when you get to explore the literature in that language. It takes discovering one great book that you have thoroughly enjoyed to cement your love for that language. Once you fall in love with the language, you’ll chart your own course of learning it thoroughly. Reading doesn’t have to be confined to literature obviously. You’ll easily find a variety of reading material for all tastes. Your online language tutor should be able to guide you with book titles that fit your level and taste in reading.
Focus on pronunciation
Learning pronunciation is arguably the most difficult part about learning foreign languages; and it takes time, consistent effort and patience. Pronunciation is central to certain foreign languages like French and Spanish. If your French tutor online is a linguist in addition to being a language expert you’re in luck. Linguists are better placed to teach you phonetics. Similar to pronunciation, intonation is another speech aspect that determines how close you are to sounding like the natives. Spanish sounds as it does due to the unique intonation. Spanish speakers from two different countries intone differently although their vocabulary may be the same. You must ask your Spanish tutor online for a discussion around intonation.
Idioms and expressions
School kids who learn idioms and expressions early in their foreign languages tutoring turn out to be better creative writers when they grow up. Idioms and expressions are sets of words whose meaning is not deducible unless the cultural context of the language is well understood. If your online language tutor has been laying adequate focus to your culture lessons, you’ll start seeing the fun of using idioms and expressions while you learn a new language. Take Japanese for example. Your Japanese tutor will tell you that the Japanese love their “neko” which means cat. There are a lot of cat based idioms in the language which sound ridiculous when taken literally but add real punch to your Japanese.
Write away in your new language
A lot of your writing practice lessons will be administered to you by your online language tutor. But when it comes to learning a new language, a little self-help won’t hurt. In fact, with a bit of creativity you can have fun with the process too.
Try noting down a new recipe along with cooking instructions in French. Also, ask your French tutor online on how well you did with your translation. Say, you have work associates in Spanish speaking countries, start with typing simple work emails to them in Spanish. You can have the text whetted by your Spanish tutor online before you send them. You associates will appreciate the effort too. If you can’t think of a topic to write about, then simply keep a journal. In fact, school kids trying to learn a new language must be encouraged to write a few lines about the day. This is one of the best ways to learn foreign languages and ramp it up for everyday functional use.
The role of an online language tutor
Online language tutors come in all shapes and sizes to suit a wide spectrum of needs. You’ll find tutors specialized in high school coursework right up to advanced linguists who can guide doctoral research. In fact, online tutoring is already very popular with school and university students who need help with their foreign languages coursework. A growing number of professionals facing offshore opportunities also seek online foreign language tutoring. It helps them to learn systematically as well as enjoy the inherent benefits of convenience, flexibility and cost that online tutoring offers.
There are indeed several free and paid online tools out there which can enhance your learning outcomes, for example here and here. However, you are likely to master foreign languages better and faster using personalized lessons. No matter what your learning goals are, an online language tutor can help you navigate the options and choose the ideal toolkit for you, personalize your lessons and help you reach your goals efficiently. Little wonder learning a new language ends up in our bucket lists ever so often.