Post by guest blogger Jamie McGhee: Jamie McGhee is a novelist, playwright and aspiring polyglot.
With 6,500 languages in the world, life is way too short to speak just one. Or two. Or three.
Whether you need to pick up basic Mandarin for a Beijing job transfer, or whether you’re finally pursuing a lifelong love of ancient Greek, the language-learning process is an exciting one—and, believe it or not, it’s fun too. You don’t need the dusty classrooms or the textbooks that you used in secondary school. No, all you need is creativity and the willingness to try new things.
If you’re ready to master a new language, let’s get started.
Step 1. Think about how you learn best.
The most important thing to learn: how you learn.
Learning a language is an ongoing process. One of the beautiful things about this process is that you are never fully “done” with a language: There’s always more to discover, as long as you keep at it.
Unfortunately, many people give up after a few months, feeling that they are investing a lot of time and energy while seeing few results; some people spend hours a day cramming and yet struggle to hold a basic conversation. If that’s ever happened to you, then you know how frustrating it can be.
You can avoid this, however, with one simple word: efficiency. More time and more effort do not automatically equal more results.
How do you become as efficient as possible? By experimenting in order to figure out the ways that you learn best. If you’re an auditory learner, then creating flashcards probably won’t work for you; instead, you should try to find voice recordings of vocabulary words. If you work best with words, then skip the illustrated memory trees. If you’re a hands-on learner, then a tactile tool such as video games will hold your interest.
How do you figure out your learning style? Think about your past school experiences. Which activities did you enjoy most? Which felt like a waste of time? If you’re not sure where to start, then read more about learning styles to determine which one suits you.
Step 2. Choose a wide variety of materials.
No matter your learning style, you’ll get bored if you perform the same activities over. And over. And over.
If you’ve ever learned a language in school, then you’re probably used to the basics: textbooks, flashcards and worksheets. However, the basics can be boring. You’re taking your learning outside of the classroom—so why not get creative?
Based on your style, invest in a range of materials that will help you stay motivated.
For example, if you’re the literary type, then thumb through some beginner novels, many of which, at the A1/A2 level, are specifically designed for learners. Pair that with a digital flashcard app, the literary selections from the Rocket Language courses and a weekly meet-up group with like-minded bookworms.
Always keep an ear out for new learning materials. Troll Spotify playlists for Japanese songs. Dive into the deeper corners of French Netflix with the Language Learning Chrome extension, which will display the original dialogue above the translation. Switch your favorite video game into German and see how you like it. If a method doesn’t work for you, discard it and try something else. If you’re feeling bored, switch it up.
Need inspiration? Check out these nontraditional ideas
Step 3. Gather a community.
Language is all about communication. Yes, that fact can be difficult to remember when you’re cramming vocabulary on your commute, or when you’re watching grammar videos alone in your dorm, but at the end of the day, the point of a language is to communicate.
Dead languages are no exception. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using Spanish to chat with locals in Buenos Aires or using Latin to transfer your own thoughts to paper, language is about the expression and the exchange of ideas. And for an exchange, you need people. You need to link up with a community of learners.
Joining a language-learning community brings numerous practical benefits. For one, group members can motivate each other through the rough spots and celebrate small victories. They are open to questions and willing to swap resources. Learning in a group also offers more opportunities for creativity: Russian collocations are much more fun when you’re practicing them between vodka shots with friends, than when you’re cramming them on flashcards. Alone.
How do you find a community? Connect with other learners on the Rocket Languages forums. You can also look at the open discussion threads on sites like Tandem or iTalki, check out Reddit or pinpoint local gatherings on MeetUp.
Step 4. Track your progress to locate your weak points.
To know if you’re learning effectively, you have to measure your progress. To do this, set goals that are short-term, medium-term and long-term.
Long-term goals are what you want to accomplish in 6-12 months. The goals should be more specific than “fluent”—for example, perhaps you want to pass the B2 French DELF by the end of the year, or maybe you just want to communicate with your Italian-speaking host family when you spend the summer in Rome.
Paving the road to your long-term plans, medium-term goals should be broken into one- or two-month chunks. If you have your heart set on the B2 DELF, then a medium-term goal would be to pass the A1 French exam after two months, for example.
Finally, short-term goals are what you need to accomplish each day or each week. Perhaps there’s a specific podcast you want to listen to before breakfast every morning, or a certain number of iTalki conversations you want to have weekly.
In order to measure your progress, pause at the end of each week to reflect on the activities that you did. What did you learn? Where were your weak spots? Which activities interested and excited you? On the other hand, which felt like a slog? If certain things aren’t working for you, swap them out for something completely new. Don’t force yourself to stick with something broken just because it’s familiar.
Step 5. Persevere through the plateaus and motivate yourself with rewards.
Learning a language is rewarding, but it’s not always easy. Eventually, you might become discouraged when your progress slows, or perhaps you’ll be tempted to abandon your target language when a shiny new one catches your eye.
Don’t give up. If you hit a plateau, change up your routine. Find something fresh and interesting. Connect with other learners and push each other harder.
One of the best remedies to boredom? Rewards. When you really can’t find any motivation, use pavlovian techniques to lure yourself into opening your textbook. Treat yourself to your favorite show, a forbidden sweet or even a weekend getaway for every milestone that you hit. Soon, you’ll see progress again and will be back in the routine, learning your language just for the love of it.
If you don’t know where to start, swap some tips with other learners on the Rocket Languages forums, or give some of the free language trials a try. Quizzes, voice recordings, speaking practice, vocabulary game—you’re sure to find something you like in the Rocket Languages lessons.
Today’s the day you start learning. Take that leap.