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Six Proven Tips to Learn a Foreign Language

Do you want to learn a second language? But you don't know how to start? Should you join a language school, pay for personalized lessons, buy a grammar book, use Duolingo? Here are six tips to start learning a new language.


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Cesar Aguirre

4 months ago | 3 min read
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With the New Year come resolutions: Lose weight, be more generous and of course, learn a new language.

If you're like me, you carry your past resolutions to the new year, and your list gets bigger every year. Guilty, too?

But how do you start to learn your target language? Should you join a language school, pay for personalized lessons, buy a grammar book, use Duolingo?

Here are six tips to start learning a new language.

1. Identify your goals

Why do you want to learn your target language? To travel, talk to some relatives or apply for a scholarship?

Start identifying your goal and your time frame. A clear goal will help you determine what skills you need to focus on and vocabulary to master. Studying to pass the TOEFL in a few months is different from learning useful phrases for your next travel abroad.

Set a language checkpoint for the next month or two and keep that goal in mind. For example, have a 15-minute conversation with a native speaker after your first month of practice.

2. Find a learning method

Do you enjoy more videos, books, or audio? Find something you like to study your target language.

From Scott Young's Ultralearning book, I learned to spend about 10% of the learning time finding resources and how others have learned the same subject.

I enjoy podcasts. RadioLingua podcasts are a good starting point. I followed the first two seasons of Coffee Break French to start learning French from scratch. I listened to one lesson every day during my lunch break and took notes along the way.

Find a language partner to take your language learning to the next level. Photo by @jarritos at Unsplash

3. Find a teacher or a language partner

Find a teacher or someone to practice your speaking skills. Some teachers offer structured lesson plans or only conversation practice. While studying French, I kept a list of questions in my notebook and asked my French teacher during the lessons. That worked like a progress tracker.

These days you can find courses of almost anything online. I have used iTalki to take French and Brazilian Portuguese lessons. Try a lesson or two with a few teachers or community tutors and stick with one teacher.

If you want to give iTalki a try, please use my invitation link. After you buy your first credits, we both will get some extra credits for free to buy more lessons.

4. Practice a little bit every day

Create the habit of studying a bit every day. Take advantage of every dead time slot in your schedule. For example, while waiting in lines, on the bus, walking home.

When I had to commute, I reviewed my Anki flashcards and listen to podcasts.

If you're not used to practicing a language, tie your study or practice sessions to an already built habit. Do you have to do the dishes? Listen to an audio lesson while doing it. You don't have already-built habits? What about listening to podcasts while in the shower.

5. Learn phrases instead of words

Learn complete phrases and use them as LEGO bricks. Learn to ensemble and interchange your phrases. Use Anki or any other space repetition software to remember them.

Don't overthink grammar rules or find logic in your target language. When we were children, we didn't receive a grammar book to learn our native languages. We absorbed the grammar rules after being exposed to the language for hours.

6. Immerse yourself in the language

This is the main tip to study from home. Create a language environment around you and your hobbies. Change your phone and computer language, listen to music, read the news, and follow social media in your target language, of course.

I hope these tips will inspire you to start learning a new language and achieving your language goals this year and in future years.

Do you have another tip? What has worked for you while learning languages? Leave a comment.

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Cesar Aguirre

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Software engineer | Lifelong learner | Language enthusiast | Vivid reader

I help .NET development teams to grow high-quality code through training and coaching. And by high-quality, I mean maintainable and performant. I offer workshops and training on unit testing, clean code and best practices suited to your team and needs. Here I'm sharing some of my career lessons and about one of my hobbies: language learning. If you want to check out my content on programming, C#, and related subjects stay tune at my blog at bit.ly/imcsarag


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