Many of us set the goal of learning a new language, but we often fall at the first hurdle! If you’re no longer in school, or aren’t taking a language class it can be difficult to know where to start.
It is actually easy to learn a language at home by yourself. You don’t have to go to a class and take exams to be able to acquire vocabulary in a different language!
Read more to discover some of our handy hints and tips to get you independently learning hundreds of new words in no time!
Why learn a new language?
Chances are that if you’re reading this, you want to learn a new language anyway — but if you’re really serious about it, asking yourself this question is a great way to get motivated to start. Even though English is the third most widely spoken language in the world today, there are a whole host of reasons to branch out and learn a second language.
Aside from the fact you open up a whole world of new people to communicate with, there are plenty of really useful advantages that learning a new language can bring.
Are you a wanderer? Understanding a different language is especially great for English speakers who love to travel. It means that you can explore even the most remote places because you will be able to communicate in the other language. Furthermore, it’s pretty useful to know how to ask for directions, order a meal and buy gifts when you’re on a holiday with your family.
Maybe you have big career aspirations and hope to see yourself as an international business man/woman. It will really help your case to score your dream job if you can speak with overseas business partners. You can find out more about how language learning can lead to business success in this post.
Maybe you’ve always dreamed of setting up home in sunny Spain or the beautiful south of France? Building a new life in a different country is a big step but learning the language of your new home country will certainly make the transition much smoother!
How long will it take?
One of the reasons people often hold back from starting to learn a new language is how long they think it will take them. Often, people will think about the large number of new words they would need to remember by heart and decide that they don’t have the time.
There is no real answer to how much time it takes to learn a language, so you can be pretty flexible with it. As long as you are dedicated to devoting some amount of time regularly (30 minutes per day, for example), you will find that you pick up new words and store them in your vocabulary faster and easier than you thought to begin with! And remember that there is no set end goal when it comes to mastery of a language. Fluency is a moving target and there will always be more words to learn and room for improvement, even in your native language!
Which language are you learning?
Deciding to learn any language requires a certain degree of commitment. However, different languages will take different amounts of time to learn. Every different language is unique in that it will have hundreds of structures, rules and patterns to learn. This varies among languages contributing to the difficulty level and time it will take to learn based on how much the target language varies from English. For example, if you have to learn a whole new alphabet, it’s obviously going to take a little more time. The same goes for the amount of new vocabulary you need to learn, grammar structures and the availability of cognates.
More obscure languages can also be more time consuming to learn because there may not be as many resources available as there are for a more common language. Taking the example of the Arabic language, learners often struggle with getting to grips with the fact there is a different language for writing and speaking, as well as learning to write from right to left.
Here is some more specific information on what English speakers can expect for these languages:
French is often considered as one of the most easiest languages to learn for English speakers. There are a lot of cognates, and most people will have come across French at some point in their academic life. Even things like beauty products tend to have the French translation, so English speakers can often be surprised at how easily they pick French up. French, does however, become complicated in at higher levels, with complex grammar structures. French can also be quite tricky for English speakers to learn independently, because although a lot of the vocabulary looks the same as the English, it won’t sound the same. To really perfect your French speaking skills, it may be better to access a class regularly where you can perfect your conversation skills and accent.
It’s easy to see why so many people take on Spanish as their second language. Like French, it can be quite easy for English speakers to pick up. One good thing about Spanish is that there are no silent letters! Everything in Spanish is spelled phonetically, so learn how some letters are pronounced differently from the English and you’re all set to converse. The thing to be careful of with Spanish is the variations. European Spanish and Latin American Spanish can be quite different, so you should try to decide early on which one you’re learning and focus on finding resources that target that type of Spanish. Like with French, the more advanced you become with Spanish, the trickier grammar rules start to emerge. Make sure you spend time practicing and stay focused and all of the different conjugation rules will become second nature.
Ah, Italian, one of our personal favorites. You probably don’t realize it now, but we bet you actually already know a tonne of Italian words. Think about it: ballerina, latte, al fresco… Italian is probably going to be easier for you to learn than you think, especially if you have some experience of another one of the romance languages like French or Spanish. Like with Spanish, Italian can get a little tricky for English speakers with the three different verb endings, that change depending on mood and other factors. Spending time on learning the rules will build your confidence though and ultimately, English speakers can really conquer the Italian language.
There is a widespread assumption among English speakers that German is difficult to learn. At the beginning the long words and characters can seem daunting! But, we’ll let you into a little secret, English is actually a Germanic language! As you learn you will find hundreds of similarities and cognates between the two. One thing that can be difficult for German learners is that there are three different word genders. However, using visual aids like color-coded FlashSticks notes are a great way for English speakers to build confidence and become a German pro at home!
We touched on this previously, and it is fair to say that for English speakers, Arabic is a pretty hard language to tackle. Not only do you need to learn a new alphabet, but also you have to get to grips with the fact there is a writing language and a speaking one, yikes! Don’t let this put you off, though! With the right tools Arabic can be a excellent choice of language to learn. For people who have learned Spanish previously, Arabic may be even easier – we bet you didn’t know that the Spanish language actually derives from Arabic. It will certainly be a challenge but there wouldn’t be so many Arabic speakers in the world if it was impossible!
Chinese has to be at the top of the list for so many people wanting to learn a new language. Mandarin is spoken across the world, not just in Asia. Perhaps the most difficult thing to grasp with Mandarin is that there is a whole new alphabet to learn. But for people with Dyslexia, Mandarin is a winner! They respond much easier to the characters of the Mandarin alphabet so it can be a great choice. Another aspect of Mandarin Chinese that is difficult for English speakers is the presence of tones in the language.
It can seem like a real challenge, but we promise that once you have the tones down you’ll be able to hold down a conversation in no time. Like with French, for learning Mandarin it is best to spend a lot of time speaking, but things like the alphabet can easily be learned in your own time at home.
Russian is notoriously perceived by English speakers as one of the most difficult languages to learn. This is probably due to the fact it uses the Cyrillic alphabet and that there are thousands of rules to remember. However, if you’re really serious about learning Russian, it’s important to note that the alphabet does only have 33 letters, a sharp contrast from the thousands of characters present in Chinese. Russian, although not the most popular language to learn for English speakers, opens up a world of possibilities to experience a wonderful culture that not many people venture into. If you feel up to the challenge, we recommend giving Russian a try!
Thinking about time
It’s not how much overall time but how regularly you engage that will make the difference. If you were to spend every day studying 12 hours at a time and practice what you learnt immediately with native speakers, you might even achieve fluency in a month or two. On the same note, sitting down to memorize every word in the dictionary will take you hours and hours but won’t get you very far if you don’t see those words again and activate them in memory. You want to be effective and efficient in your learning and that’s why taking a regular approach to revision is key. It’s also good to learn in short bursts so you don’t become cognitively overloaded from holding too much new information in memory at once.
Remember that the task can stress you out and when you’re working with language it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things you need to learn. This is why experts recommend taking a self-efficacious approach. This entails breaking your learning down into easy and manageable steps. Do one thing at a time and you’ll see your progress and be motivated to keep going.
Make a plan
The key thing when learning a new language from scratch is to set yourself realistic goals with an achievable time frame attached to them. If you tell yourself you will be fluent in Spanish by next month having never learned any Spanish before, you probably won’t stick at it. Decide what pace you want to learn at and where you would like to be in say three, six and 12 months time. The skills you work on should map back to your original goals for learning a language.
Language learning at home
Language learning doesn’t have to be something that you do in school. In fact, with all of the available resources like apps and language exchanges, it’s easier than ever to learn a language independently at home. Here are some of the ways we recommend!
1. Movies/TV shows
This first tip is actually a pretty simple and easy one that not a lot of people remember to do. You could start off by watching the English speaking shows you love with subtitles in the language that you are learning. This helps with word acquisition and spelling recognition and is a nice way to ease you in to new vocabulary. You can also flip it around and try watching shows or movies in your target language but with English subtitles on to build your vocabulary and get used to how the words sound, as well as accents and intonations.
When you’ve built up confidence you can start watching TV shows and movies without any subtitles — you’ll be surprised at how well you’re able to understand what is going on even if you don’t know every word. Watching movies and TV shows is a great way you can build confidence and learn a large volume of new words from the comfort of your own home.
This is pretty similar to the previous tip. If you learned a language in school you will probably remember learning songs and nursery rhymes to help you learn simple vocabulary, such as numbers, colors and days of the week. Associating certain words with a tune is a foolproof way to make sure they stay in your brain forever. Just think about all of the song lyrics you still remember from back when you were younger! Learning lyrics is a great way to improve your pronunciation and confidence. Some songs can even help out with your grammar, like Me Gustas Tu by Manu Chao.
Listening to the radio can also be a great way to get used to conversational speech, different accents and how to speak about different topics. So we recommend that you download a playlist of awesome songs in your target language and find a radio station that you like listening to! Then you can be learning at home whilst cooking dinner or taking a shower, and when you’re driving to work or just out and about!
3. Social Media
This may not seem like an obvious one, but social media can be a great way to expose you to lots of different words and phrases in your target language!
Facebook: Follow news accounts, follow your favorite celebrities and read their posts. Make sure you turn auto translate off though! This is a great way to see how everyday language is written and to get a little language boost every time you check your phone. Another tip for more advanced learners is to actually change the language of your phone into Spanish. This can really help with vocabulary building!
Twitter: Same with Facebook, on Twitter you can follow news accounts and also follow your favorite musicians and artists who are native speakers of your target language. You can change the country of the ‘trending’ section so that you can explore live hashtag feeds and take part in conversations with native speakers. This will really help with confidence and inject that little extra bit of language into your day.
Instagram: Instagram is perfect for stalking your favorite celebrities and brands. Like with Twitter, you can follow a range of accounts in your target language and access different hashtags. There are also plenty of language learning accounts on Instagram that can help with pronunciation and expose you to new vocabulary every day.
Luckily for all of you budding language learners, it couldn’t be more convenient to download an app to your phone and get started. The market for language learning apps is huge and there is something to suit everyone on offer, you’ve all heard of Duolingo, Babbel and Rosetta Stone! Some apps focus entirely on vocabulary, giving you one new word at a time and introducing it through a number of different lessons. There are really simple dictionary/translation apps. Some apps work entirely through putting words into games. Other apps focus on speaking and listening skills.
Language exchange apps are a great way to improve your speaking and conversation skills by interacting with native speakers. This is great for learning a language at home because you can still have conversations without having to find a class to go to or visiting the country to speak to natives. The FlashAcademy app combines lessons, games, object translation technology and native speaker videos to ensure that you can focus on whichever area you want to in whichever way you want to.
Reading is another great and easily accessible way to help you learn a language at home. Online news articles and magazines are easy to find and are readily available. Search for articles on anything you want to read about in your target language and you’re all set. For the words you come across that you don’t know, you can look them up and add them to a list of new words and gradually try and build them into your vocabulary. This is a great way to find lots of topic specific words and access more formal vocabulary. If you want to read something a little more lighthearted you can find magazines either online or in print, and follow bloggers who post in your target language too.
When you feel a little more confident you can even start reading books in your target language. There are books out there that have the English text on one page and the target language on the next so that you can translate any words you don’t understand as you go. It may seem like a dated method and is often forgotten about, but reading is super beneficial and an easy trick for learning a language at home.
Whether you make them yourself or buy a custom-made product, like FlashSticks, flash cards are an excellent way to build your vocabulary at home. Sticking the words all around you at home means that you effectively learn by osmosis and can effortlessly learn hundreds of new words! A winner in our eyes! Flashcards can also be great for word association — for example sticking ‘La taza’ flashcard to a cup means that you don’t have to constantly be writing down lists of the English words and their translations because you have something to visualize. Flash cards make language learning at home seem more fun than an a chore — you can think of creative games that help you test yourself on different words and it doesn’t really feel like learning!
7. YouTube channels
Last but not least, we highly recommend making the most out of YouTube to learn a language at home. Watching language lesson videos is a great way to gain confidence and learn valuable and useful language lessons! There are a whole host of YouTube channels out there dedicated to teaching new languages, from beginner tips to lessons on trickier grammar concepts. Like with the apps, on YouTube there is something out there for everyone!
More advanced learners can watch videos entirely in their target language and beginners can watch more structured topic-based lessons. This is a great way to turn your spare time at home it into fun language learning time.
Hopefully you are now feeling more motivated and inspired than ever to start learning a new language! Whichever method you prefer, there are tonnes of ways you can learn a new language at home. So, what are you waiting for?
Don’t forget to share your tried and trusted home language learning methods with us in the comments! Or tweet us @flashsticks!