In today’s globalized world, knowing a second language has never been more important. Knowing a second language benefits you in several ways. Professionally you can get ahead because employers often see language skills as assets which can set you apart from colleagues and may give you an advantage over other candidates for employment. In your personal life, language skills open doors as you meet different people from diverse backgrounds. Finally, learning new languages improves your problem solving abilities by forcing you to think in new and creative ways. Fortunately, learning a new language does not have to be difficult. All it takes is dedication and a continuous source of motivation.
As a native speaker of only English, I have learned to speak, read, and write Russia, Spanish, and Urdu. I began seriously studying Spanish when I began college in 2007. In my junior year, I started studying Russia and have studied there twice with plans for a third time. Shortly after graduating two years later I decided it was time to begin yet another language and travelled to India in the summer of 2013 to study Urdu. The process has been challenging but the rewards have been immense. I will show that with a few basic strategies, everyone can learn a second, third, or even fourth language.
Begin with Formal Classes
Taking a formal introductory course is essential to learn the alphabet (especially when it is not the Latin alphabet), practice correct pronunciation, and lay a foundation for grammar. I enrolled in university courses and religiously did my homework. I also studied a few extra hours per week with flash cards and tried to read and watch the news is Spanish. Prior to leaving for Russia, I took an introductory course at my university. Additionally, I was sure to complete a basic Urdu course to learn the alphabet and basic pronunciation before taking off for India. This approach is well-tested and reliable but requires patience. It is a good starting point and will give you the skills necessary to go study on your own later.
Repetition Is the Key
They key to language learning is repetition. Essentially the longer you are exposed to a language, the better you will understand it. In traditional language courses, students spend roughly 6 hours per week using the target language between class time and homework. This is initially how I learned Spanish. However, to accelerate your skills, you must take the initiative to go above and beyond course requirements.
After one semester of traditional Russian classes, I decided to study in Russia. I lived with a Russian family, took classes in Russian, and had nearly 20 hours of Russian grammar each week. Outside of class, I spent several hours doing homework, talking to Russians, and reviewing flash cards. The government-sponsored program that sent me to India employed a similar strategy and included a language pledge that forced me to use Urdu even with my fellow English speaking students. While studying abroad is not an option for most people, the takeaway from this approach is to immerse yourself in the language as best you can. Read the morning news in the target language, make friends with native speakers in your area, and carry flash cards in your back pocket and review them while waiting for the bus, standing in the elevator, or while you stand in line at the grocery store. One way I continued improving my listening comprehension was through Pimsleur language tapes. I would listen to them on my commutes to work and back to maximize my daily language exposure.
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Become a Teacher
After two years of Spanish, I became a tutor. It was at this point that my skills took off exponentially because not only did I need understand the subject matter but I needed to explain it to other people. I am not saying that you need to become a paid tutor but you should incorporate the strategy of explaining a difficult aspect of the language to a fellow student. This will improve your understanding while forcing you to approach it in different ways when the listener does not understand.
This is the single determining factor in learning a language. The process is long and can be extremely tedious. Staying motivated is important. If you lose interest in the language or region, you will lack the drive to commit the necessary time to studying. The good news is there are several ways to boost your motivation and remind yourself daily of why you began in the first place. I already mentioned how important it is to meet and befriend native speakers. They will often provide the boost you need to keep up with your studies. Other strategies include obtaining films in the target language or attending events and classes (look for cooking classes because food is a great motivator) related to the target culture.
To conclude, language learning is an individual choice that requires discipline and self-motivation. While some people claim they can’t learn a language, keep in mind that there are young children all over the world speaking your target language. Study hard, stay motivated, and have fun. It will be worth it in the end.