The Top 5 Language Learning Tips of All Time

Learning a new language is daunting yet exciting; exhilarating but frightening; inspiring and sometimes frustrating. The process can oftentimes feel like an intellectual and emotional rollercoaster that tests your limits every step of the way.

It’s not simply a question of learning key phrases and associated vocabulary. I mean, it is that but it is so much more too. Every language manifests along four distinct trajectories: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. As an experienced language learner, and language teacher by profession, I have distilled all the guidelines, recommendations, and advice proffered by language gurus. I offer you my top 5 tried and tested strategies that MUST form part of your language learning arsenal:

1. Immersion: I cannot emphasize this enough. Learning a new language requires training your ears, eyes, tongue, voicebox, and brain. The best way to do this is through complete bombardment by the new language. Try to surround yourself with the new language as much as possible: listen to music, watch movies/TV shows, put on CC, read books, and schedule chats with native speakers.

2. Consistency: Our world is drenched in language; even when we aren’t speaking out loud, our brains continue to create language through thoughts and these thoughts are ‘verbalized’ with our inner voices/speech. It, therefore, goes without saying that in addition to immersion, consistency in language practice is crucial. Practice EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. In fact, schedule your language ‘workout’ before anything else. Prioritize it. Make it a habit to practise the new language. Harness those hidden moments during the day (or night) with language study. 

3. Listening & Speaking: Consider for a moment how babies learn to speak. They spend almost an entire year listening, imbibing, immersing… Yes, they gurgle and coo and try very hard to approximate the sounds that they hear but a solid foundation of the key sounds of the language is laid during their months of listening. Importantly, listening is the precursor to speaking. While you and I are not babies, it is important to recognize that listening practice is equally significant to speaking practice. Listening allows time for our ears and brain to parse the new sounds that belong to the new language we are learning. Only then can we successfully produce, pronounce, enunciate, and verbalize. In other words, without listening, there is no speaking.

4. Make mistakes: The process of learning anything new is always paved with mistakes. In fact, it can be argued that if we never made mistakes, we would never learn anything new. You see, the act of making a mistake forces the brain to pay close attention to details. There is a certain self-assessment that develops when we make a mistake, how and why we are making the mistake. This recognition of mistakes makes us more aware and alert of the language learning process which positions us to correct our mistakes. The first step is always admitting, then we act and resolve the mistake. Remind yourself that mistakes are a natural part of the learning process and they are part of the learning cycle. So, make your mistakes!

5. Be patient: Learning a new language requires time and effort; trial and error; ups and downs. Fluency does not happen overnight. Fluency itself is a highly complex and intricate construct. You will make mistakes. You will struggle with grammar and pronunciation. You will find listening and speaking to be tedious, and sometimes overwhelming. But, it is in these efforts that you put in where the magic will happen. Celebrate the small victories along the way. Set language milestones for yourself so that you can assess how far you progress in your language learning journey.

Surround yourself with the new language – bombard your ears and eyes so that your mouth feels confident enough to start producing language. Consistency and patience are paramount to success in the language learning journey – be kind to yourself.

Allow mistakes. If we were all afraid to make mistakes, nothing will ever get done. Mistakes are good once we recover and learn from them.

Finally, prioritize your listening and speaking practice. It is always easier to passively read and write in a new language. Challenge yourself from the start by listening and speaking. There will be no regrets. 

In fact, “I wish I couldn’t speak another language,” said NO ONE ever 🙂

8 Comments

  1. I appreciate your point number 4. Thank you for this encouraging point. You highlight the significance of making mistakes as a natural, normal, and fundamental aspect of learning a language (whether it is your first or an additional language). We’ve all experienced this in our language learning journey, and it plays a crucial role in the classroom. It creates a welcoming atmosphere for language learners and makes them more aware of communication rather than of the fear of “making errors/mistakes”. When we are corrected, this very action not only increases awareness of our own mistakes and encourages us to admit our mistakes, but also guides us to address our language learning ‘deficiencies’ (areas that need improvement).

    • Completely Romulo. Error correction is such a delicate matter in the language classroom. When, how, why, where to correct? We never want to deter language progress so judging and mediating errors can be tough.

  2. Dear Aarti, I really enjoyed this information. I would like to get permission to translate it into Spanish to send it to the groups of migrants who are learning English here in Trinidad. I think that will encorage them to persist on learn this language. Also, with your permission I would love to share it with my students in Span 1002, 2006,3007 and 4005. Please, continue enlightening us with your research.

  3. Querida Aarti, I love reading you. The magic of language is that I can even hear your voice as I read you. Definitely I will share with my students and discuss it. Thanks for being there like the Catcher in the Rye.

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