ur world is constantly changing. Due to globalization, migration, and a few other social phenomena, we see a huge culture exchange worldwide. Many people from different countries are interacting in the same place regularly, but how do we interact with each other? According to The Washington Post, about half of the entire population speaks two languages or more. Only 20% of Americans speak more than one language, and 56% of Europeans do. 

Knowing more than one language might be required for certain jobs in the near future. Or it might be helpful to talk to people in your community, or maybe just to have a new skill that will help you in the future. Whatever your case is, learning a new language is a great exercise for your brain, an outstanding skill for your resume, and an opportunity to communicate with people from different backgrounds. However, many people sign up for a second language class, give up at the beginning of the journey, lose interest, and stop practicing. You don't want to be one of those people, so here are the secrets of learning a new language without giving up.

Stay motivated

Why do you want to learn this language? Is someone asking you to learn it, or are you genuinely interested? Is there someone in your family or your social circle who speaks another language, and you want to communicate better with them? These questions are important because if you are not motivated to learn a new language, you will struggle to keep up with the learning.

Learning a new language requires time and commitment. It won't happen in two days, so you have to be consistent and dedicate a certain amount of time each week. This amount of time should be realistic with your schedule, work, and needs, yet it has to be sufficient. Thirty minutes weekly will not make you progress as much as you would want to, but 3 hours weekly is a good amount of time for you to read, study, and practice.

Set up goals

Set up tangible and specific long-term and short-term goals. An example of a specific tangible goal is 20 new words weekly, or two new verbs daily. Setting up these goals depend on your time, how quickly you want to learn, and how committed you are to this task. It can be helpful to start learning the words that you are the most interested in learning. For instance, if you want to learn how to order food in Italian, study the words that are related to food, drinks, and restaurants. Make your own learning process as fun and exciting as you want it to be. This will help you stay motivated and focused on the ultimate goal: Learning a new language!

Write in your planner the amount of time that you will dedicate to study, this will help you to be consistent and achieve your goals. Image Courtesy of Jazmin Quaynor.

Get exposed

The human brain is like a sponge; it will absorb sounds, visuals, words, and emotions. This is why it's very helpful that you get exposed to the language that you are trying to learn. Exposure to a language can happen in different ways, like watching movies with the captions in your native language or vice versa. If you're trying to learn French and your first language is Spanish, you can try listening to the movie in French with captions in Spanish, and then switching the languages. It is helpful to switch from audio to captions because you should expose your brain to the text and the sound. If you are not sure what to watch, take a look at the best foreign-language movies on Netflix, hopefully you’ll find a few of these movies appealing. When you are watching them, you will find out that one of them is easier for you than the other, which is totally fine. We are all different, and we have different learning preferences. Embrace them!

Songs and podcasts in your learning language are also a good idea. Pay attention to every single word and sound that you hear. You might not understand most of it at the beginning, but you will start to get familiar with the pronunciation and the word sequence. For instance, in English, the adjective comes before the noun (the green apple, the big house). However, in Spanish, the adjective comes after the noun (palos verdes, casa grande). It might be easier to learn and remember these rules once you hear them in movies and songs, rather than in textbooks. 


It has happened to many of us that we take a class, listen to the professor, everything makes sense, we understand the topic, and it's very straight-forward. Then, the class is over, a few days pass, and we forgot everything. Our brain gets exposed to a lot of information every day, so we must repeat and review the information we want to remember. Babies start repeating sounds from the people around them. Repetition is one of the most common techniques to learn a new language, and there are many ways you can practice through repetition. You can have a list of verbs to memorize weekly and conjugate them in all pronouns. Repeat these conjugations in your head at different times of the day: while you are cooking, hiking, doing laundry, or on your way to work. This way, your brain will remember all of this information, and it will stay there for future lessons.

Most babies learn their first language through repetition. Chayene Rafaela.

The four dimensions of a language

There are four ways to interact with a language: Writing, reading, listening, and speaking. All four are important for a full understanding of a new language, so you should practice all four skills throughout your learning process.

Reading and listening are passive skills because your brain is absorbing the information rather than producing it. The words form sentences, and the sentences have meaning. Our brain is in charge of giving meaning to these sentences and processing that information. There are many free exercises of reading and listening comprehension that you can do online. You can also try to listen to a song in the learning language a few times and write every word you understand. After that, you can compare your results with the actual lyrics that you can find online. You will find that there are words that sound similar and have a different meaning, (like were and where), so when you are actively listening, you should analyze the full context of the sentences so that those words don't confuse you.

Writing and speaking are the active skills, you are putting together words that make sense, and you produce coherent ideas. This is not an easy task, so most people struggle more with active skills than passive skills. If no one's around you, speak out loud to practice your pronunciation, imagine that you are talking to someone else, and review the words you have been learning so far. When it comes to writing, little by little, try to write more notes in your learning language to practice grammar and punctuation. Find out the skill that you are struggling with the most and invest more time practicing that skill. 

Ask for help

A language's objective is to communicate; if you don't articulate your ideas coherently, communication is not successful. You must ask for help when you are practicing your new language. Talk to people, ask them if you are pronouncing the words accurately. It's a good investment to hire a tutor if you feel that you need more practice, because tutors will recognize the specific aspects of the language that you might be struggling the most, and you can have tailored tutoring sessions that address your needs. 

Having friends with the same interest in learning a new language will help you to stay motivated and receive feedback regularly. Image Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez.

Use your phone

Lame textbooks and chalkboards are not the only materials to learn a new language. There are so many tools that you can use online to start learning a new language: Textbooks, articles, audios, tutorials, mini-quizzes, and many more! These tools are extremely helpful because there are different ways of learning a topic that you might not understand. Learning with different kinds of materials will also help your learning process. A great advantage of using these materials is that they are available online whenever you need them. So whether you are an early bird or a late owl, you can look online for any specific term or aspect of the language that you want to focus on, and you are good to go!

An extremely helpful App is called Duolingo. There are more than 20 different languages available for you to learn. It has many different kinds of exercises that will help you practice your reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It is straightforward to use, and it will remind you to practice for a few minutes every day. This is going to help you in the long-term because 5 minutes daily is 70 minutes per week, or 4.6 hours a month. In the end, those 5 minutes daily make a difference!

Never forget your ultimate goal. Why did you decide to learn this language? Your goal is your motor to keep you going through the learning process, so write it somewhere, and read it from time to time. Learning a new language is not easy, but it is totally worth it. Good luck!

Oct 16, 2020

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