Language is at the heart of humanity. Without language and its communicative benefits, we would have no meaningful relationships, friendships, or business partnerships. In today’s world, access to the Internet, free trade and the global economy have expanded peoples’ horizons from a basic understanding of a particular country, with its authentic language and cultural norms, into becoming students of the world.
Speaking another language opens new doors, increases opportunities, allows for new relationships, offers new experiences and affords new ways to express yourself. It allows you to discover new places and experience the genuine beauty of new cultures. Whether you are already learning a language or thinking about embarking on this journey, here are some tips to lead you to success:
1. Get exposed!
You need to be exposed to a language if you are going to learn it. You can do this in several ways; this could involve traveling to a foreign country, or even finding a conversation partner near you. Speaking as someone who has immersed herself in a foreign language without ever leaving the United States, I am living proof that one doesn’t have to necessarily travel to do this. With the Internet, the availability of movies and music in almost any language imaginable and the diversity surrounding you in your own communities, there are numerous opportunities to expose yourself to, and even to immerse yourself in, a foreign language.
2. Make language meaningful.
If you’ve ever tried to learn a foreign language simply by memorizing lists of vocabulary, how successful were you? Chances are, less successful than you had hoped. Lists of words mean little to us on their own. For the most part, we don’t use words in isolation. We combine them with other words, applying grammatical structure and cultural information to convey meaning. Take the commonly used English phrase, “What’s up?” In no context does this mean “What is above you?” or “What’s in the air?” If we learned vocabulary in isolation, our literal translation would limit our comprehension of the language and our understanding of the culture. It makes a lot more sense to learn vocabulary in context, and to familiarize yourself with commonly-used conversational phrases that build a platform for extended learning.
3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Learning a new language can be intimidating. The thought of saying the wrong thing or saying something the wrong way creates anxiety. Think back to grade school, when the teacher called on you and you produced the wrong answer, only to be met by a class full of howling laughter. But, you know what? I bet you never forgot that mistake. Instead, you learned from it. The same principle applies to language learning. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to make mistakes; this is part of the process and will actually help you in the long run.
4. Practice active learning.
You knew the word “practice” would be in here somewhere, right? I’m not suggesting you simply go over the same words, phrases and sentences over and over again. While repetition is proven to increase retention, experiment with the language. Don’t fall into the trap of getting comfortable and relying upon reproducing that which is spoon-fed to you possibly by language teachers or textbooks. Take a risk and connect the pieces you know. Combine words that you have learned to create phrases and sentences that express what you want to say. And remember—if you make a mistake, it’s normal. Treat it as an opportunity to learn.
5. Make language fun!
It’s no secret that we are better and more successful at any task when we enjoy doing it. So find something you enjoy—sports, dancing, movies, music, social groups—and begin experiencing it in the foreign language. For example, if you love dancing and would like to learn Spanish, take Salsa lessons and go to the Salsa dance clubs. Not only will the Salsa music’s Spanish lyrics help you by giving you exposure to a foreign language in a cultural setting, but you will also be sure to find and interact with native speakers. Like watching movies? You can find most new releases in an array of languages.
Learning a new language can be intimidating, but it should also be fun and exciting. Remember, there are many different approaches to language learning. From the traditional classroom to newer online resources like Mango Languages, experiment to find the best learning method for you. The key is to get exposed to the language as it’s used and to experiment with it yourself in a way that’s fun and motivating. So, whether you take up salsa lessons, attend classes, use Mango Languages or all of the above, apply the tips mentioned in this article and turn your language-learning experience into a language-learning success!
Kimberly Ann Cortes is a Project Linguist for Mango Languages, based in Monclova, Coahuila, Mexico. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich., with a double major in Romance Languages and Linguistics, and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Linguistics at Wayne State University.