As social media is flooded with back-to-school pictures of angelic-looking children in shiny, new (rather large) school uniforms it can be a time for many of us to think of new beginnings. Here are seven tips for those learning a new language to help with those initial stages:
1. Learn your vocabulary! It may seem a bit silly when you only know 10 words, but if you start with good habits from the beginning then you will see that vocabulary grow to 100 or 1000 words before you know it. Write lists, make flashcards, invest in sticky notes and label everything you own – whatever works for you and your style of learning.
2. If the language you are learning uses a gender-system for nouns, then get to grips with it sooner rather than later. It may seem a lot of trouble for something you aren’t familiar with, but gendered nouns tend to lead to gendered adjectives and before you know it, it becomes important to know whether “the table” is masculine or feminine! Try highlighting the words using a different colour for each gender (French has two, German has three) and see if it helps you. Time spent at the beginning, learning each gender as you learn the noun, will save much heartache later on as you get more fluent.
3. If the plural isn’t always “s” – then learn the plural at the same time as the singular. You may think that English is easy as every plural is made with “s” – but that isn’t always the case! “Sheeps” or “Fishs”, anyone?
4. Listen to as much of your new language as possible. Music-heavy radio stations will provide limited opportunities, but a good discussion show or news report will give you a great exposure to the natural rhythm of the language and its intonation, even if you aren’t too sure what they are talking about.
5. Practice little and often. Three shorter sessions in a week will be easier to digest than one mammoth session – and practice makes perfect! Try carving out some scheduled time in your diary for study, revision and vocabulary learning.
6. If you like technology, then use it. Just don’t get obsessed with it! There are many language learning apps available. Some of them are even free. They can be really useful for vocabulary and even sentence practice, but none of them are as good as finding someone who speaks the language really well and having a conversation with them (with regular corrections and a dictionary to hand!)
7. Face up to the grammar monster! A substantial number of my students tell me they don’t want to learn grammar, they just want to learn how to talk. Well…… if you don’t want to risk sounding like a three-year-old, or inadvertently offending your key client by being overly familiar, then you will have to face grammar at some point. There are many good grammar guides available to help you with the basics and it may be worth considering a tutor, at least for a few sessions, to help you with anything you are finding tricky.
There you go – seven tips for learning a new language. Now go out, and HAVE FUN learning, because if you enjoy it then you are more likely to make a success of it!