In August of last year, I enrolled for French classes. Initially I thought I'd complete the first level and be done with it, but it is now May and I'm nearly done with my third level. Not only is it extremely interesting to understand the nuances of a different language, it also helps you get a glimpse into the culture and look beyond social stereotypes.
The secret to learning a new language isn't much of a secret at all. It is difficult because we think in the language we're most fluent in and choose to directly translate. Also, it's frustrating when all you can manage are elementary sentences and feel like you cannot be yourself in a different language. But, if you stick with, you'll be multi-lingual, a skill that would definitely aid you in your professional and personal life.
Consistency is the biggest trick to mastering any language. Whatever your methods are, stick to it and practice all the time! Enrolling yourself for classes is the easiest bit but you have to put in the work to be great at it. Here are my tips to make you more efficient at learning a new language.
I think this is by far the most important thing to keep in mind. The more gaps you have, the faster you forget what you've learnt. Make it a point to stay in touch with the language everyday. It could be anything between 10 minutes to an hour of study per day. One thing that I like to do is make flash cards to improve my vocabulary. I learn about five to ten new words a day while I'm travelling.
When you've learnt the bare basics of a language, it is still pretty impossible to understand a native speaker. With the internet, you have unlimited opportunities to surround yourself with the language. Watch French films, or listen to Russian music and try to catch words or phrases. Also, follow a couple of YouTubers (it is the age of YouTube, after all!) who make videos in the language of your interest.
There are many apps that help you practice. I personally prefer Duolingo. It has many levels of grammar for you to go through. I don't think it's great for learning from scratch but it's definitely good for practice.
Don't Be Afraid to Speak
The easiest way a language gets embedded in your memory is when you make a mistake and correct yourself, so don't be afraid to be wrong. Try to translate everything you say into a different language. It would also help to write it down to improve spelling, especially if you're learning a language with a different script. It is important to visualise the word as you speak.
Start with children's books. Many of them are available online. Read as much as you can and even go over your text books in your spare time. Keep a dictionary close and search for words you don't understand and make a note of them. Reading helps you form coherent sentences quicker and also improves spelling.
Take Regular Practice Tests
This one is for those who want to be very thorough. If you're hoping to use your knowledge on a professional level, it is vital to be as close to perfection as possible. Take regular practice tests online or ask your teacher to provide one. Check where you've gone wrong and try to improve in those areas.
Social media is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to stay in touch with a new language. I have found so many French Instagram feeds, some that are educational and post study material, and some that post beautiful pictures of the world with French captions. I would encourage other students of foreign languages to do just that. Try not to use the translate option on Instagram and read and understand conversational sentences.
Another thing to do is connect with fellow student or fluent speakers on Twitter and try to converse in the language you're trying to learn as much as possible. Don't be afraid of making mistakes. That's how you master just about everything!
These are the tricks that I have learnt so far. I have a long way to go! I plan to learn as many languages as I can in this lifetime and have even taught myself basic Russian off the internet. One thing I've learnt from my studies is to never look down upon someone who isn't fluent in English. We never realise how hard it is for them to string a sentence together until we try to speak in a different language. Be considerate, be kind, and don't forget to smile - it makes everything better for them.