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7 Secrets to Learning a new Language

They say that the best time to learn a new language is when you’re a child. Oops, all grown up now aren’t we? But that doesn’t mean that adults should give up. The best strategies of learning afresh, a new language distils into 7 basic principles:

Get real. Decide on a simple, attainable goal to start with, so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. Just pick up 50 words of any language and start using them on / with people — and then slowly start picking up grammar, and take it from there.

Make language learning a lifestyle change. This is what separates the most successful students from the rest. Find a language habit that you can follow even when you’re tired, sick or madly in love. Use it while greeting people in the morning, or while telling your cab driver where to go. Wait, that’s taking it one step too far, but it really works!

Play house with the language. The more you invite a foreign language into your daily life, the more your brain will consider it something useful and worth caring about. “Use every opportunity to get exposed to the new language”, label every object in your house in this language, read kids’ books written in it, watch subtitled movies or live-narrate parts of your day to an imaginary foreign friend. It’s best if your imaginary friend is…well a real friend who knows the language, so that he can correct you whenever you take a wrong turn!

Let technology help you out. A funny thing like resetting the language on your phone can help you learn new words right away! Ditto for changing the language on your browser. You might visit a few websites you’ve never seen before, but hey, what is discovery without a little bit of mystery! Or you can seek out more structured learning opportunities online.

Think about language learning as a gateway to new experiences. Learning a language has always been about focusing on the experiences that the new language would open up, from “Visiting theme parks, attending air shows, enjoying cowboy poetry and folk-rock festivals, to learning about photo-essay techniques.” In other words, think of fun things that you wanted to do anyway, and make them into a language learning opportunity.

Make new friends. Interacting in the new language is key — it will teach you to intuitively express your thoughts, instead of mentally translating each sentence before you say it. Find native speakers near you. Or search for foreign pen pals or set up a language tandem online, where two volunteers help one another practice their respective languages.

Do not worry about making mistakes. One of the most common barriers to conversing in a new language is the fear of making mistakes. But native speakers are like doting parents: any attempt from you to communicate in their language is objective proof that you are a gifted genius. They’ll appreciate your effort and even help you. Nervous about holding a conversation with a peer? Try testing your language skills with someone a little younger. The more you speak, the closer you’ll get to the elusive ideal of “native-like fluency.” And to talking to people your own age. So the next time you need a vegan carrot cake recipe, find one in the language you’re trying to learn.

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