I’ve always enjoyed Italian opera and their cuisine and culture, and I’m certifiably in love with the works of Dante Alighieri and Umberto Eco.
Because of this love, I decided to sit down and learn the language.
Some of the intricacies of a work of literature can get lost in translation, and I very much wanted to experience the poems and novels I love in their original form.
If you have clicked on this article, this might be a familiar experience for you.
Maybe you are learning a new language in school, or are intrigued by movies or series you love, and want to watch them without subtitles. Whatever the case, learning a language can appear daunting.
As someone who has been in the same shoes as you, here is what I can advise you. I made many mistakes. But I also discovered some handy tips on learning a new language that allowed me to explore my love for Italy, their art and culture, more deeply.
10 Tips For Learning A Foreign Language
1. Spend a Good Deal of Time on Pronunciation
Knowing the vocabulary and how to structure sentences is an essential part of learning a new language, but so is pronunciation.
This is something folks tend to overlook. Even though they become proficient in a foreign language, know a ton of vocabulary, and can write brilliantly, they might still sound weird to the natives.
Often, this is because your native alphabet and language do not pronounce the same letters in the same way.
For example, we have the silent “h” in French, or the pronunciation of “j” as “h” in Spanish. Some sounds don’t exist in specific languages altogether, and it might be a struggle for you to enunciate them.
Learn to pronounce the words correctly and hit the right intonation. Audiobooks are a great help, as well as language tutoring apps like Duolingo and Memrise.
The critical thing to remember is that you will need to spend a few hours a day repeating the same words over and over to learn to speak without an accent and with smooth pronunciation.
2. Open the Dictionary and Learn the Most Important Words
Most textbooks are pretty useless at teaching you conversation skills in a foreign language. I mean, who cares about Mario’s trip to the library or Antonia’s adventure at the doctor’s office?
You learn a lot about how to structure sentences and useful vocabulary through textbooks and their exercises. Still, to be conversationally good, you need to take it a step further.
Think of the things that you would actually like to ask someone about or the simple little things you come across every day.
You can write down some of the most common phrases and practice them every day.
By doing so, you are building your knowledge on how to hold an everyday conversation in a foreign language, the way you do in your native tongue.
3. Focus on Basic Grammar
Your grasp of the basic grammar rules will make all the difference between sounding normal and sounding like an alien.
Learning when and how to use the appropriate tenses will save you a lot of trouble and, combined with the essential words and phrases, will help you string together coherent sentences and express yourself.
Your understanding of your first language is intuitive because you grew up speaking it.
So, learning a whole set of rules on how another one works requires time and dedication, and this, of course, means tons of practice.
However, you will be rewarded for your hard work with a more fundamental understanding of how the language works. You will be able not only to understand the language but speak it well too.
4. Start Off Slow, Don’t Do Too Much in One Day
You can cover half the grammar textbook in one day, but this doesn’t mean you will retain any of the information.
It’s like reading a hundred jokes one day and then not being able to remember a single one when your friends ask you to tell them a joke the next day.
Devote 2-4 hours a day on a few pages, a few words and phrases, and then take a break to let it all sink in. Quiz yourself on what you learned later in the day to check if you remember what you had covered.
This is called retrieval – the act of recalling information stored in the brain actually strengthens your memory, and you are more likely to remember the material you went over.
5. At the Beginning of Each Session Revise the Previous Lesson
Don’t be too eager to jump to new lessons; take some 10-20 minutes at the beginning of every session to recap the previous session.
At the end of every session, incorporate the new material with all the things you have learned previously and try to use it in a few sentences about a particular subject.
Doing this, along with the reviews we mentioned in the previous section, helps to strengthen your recall process, and builds on your knowledge of the language.
6. Speak to a Friend in a Foreign Language About Things Relevant to Real Life
It doesn’t matter if your friend doesn’t speak the language.
When I was learning Italian, I would have short conversations with a friend. He would ask me something in English, and I would try to answer in Italian.
You need to practice putting your thoughts to words and utilizing proper sentence structure. Devote at least half an hour a day to this little exercise.
When it comes to becoming fluent in a foreign language, it’s imperative not to restrict what you’re learning to lesson hours.
When you go out, or are walking about your home, see how many objects you can name in the language you are learning.
When speaking to someone, think about how much of said conversation you would be able to have in that language.
By doing these things, the language you’re learning becomes a part of your everyday life, the way you would learn to drive or cook.
7. Movies and YouTube Clips are a Great Way to Learn Conversation Skills
You don’t get too much slang or different accents in official language courses.
Once you start watching movies, TV shows, and YouTube clips in a foreign language, you can pick up a lot of the little nuances.
Western languages, especially the romance languages like Italian, tend to be spoken at quite a remarkable speed.
The syllables flow easily off the tongue, and the people generally speak more spiritedly than you might be used to.
With Italian, and all languages in general, you will need to be patient to grasp the way people speak the language entirely.
Watching shows and videos in the language that you’re learning will teach you a great deal, such as tone, expression, pronunciation.
Textbooks aren’t going to teach you how to get a joke or a sarcastic comment across, and these things are just as important in being fluent in a language as grammar is.
8. Use Social Networks to Find People from that Country
It is so helpful to have a friend or several friends who are fluent in the language you want to learn. This way, you will be continuously exposed to it.
The next best thing is finding a friend from that country online and having a chat with them from time to time. This can be a fun way to learn a few things about the culture as well.
Don’t be embarrassed to make mistakes.
Making mistakes is an excellent way to learn.
If you find a friend interested in learning your language, then you can exchange tips and tricks and help each other improve.
9. Start Reading a Book in that Language/Translate Something into that Language
This technique is a bit more advanced; once you are confident about your basics, move on to this step.
It is a great way to get some more in-depth insight into the language you are learning and will require a lot of patience and focus, but it will put your knowledge and skills to the test.
Reading a book will mean frequent breaks and dictionary searches, and translating can be very taxing. You won’t be able to do more than 2-3 pages in a sitting when you first begin.
But don’t get discouraged – if you persevere, before long, you can get through an entire body of text and will only need to look up hard and uncommon words!
The sense of accomplishment which comes from this alone will be worth all the effort.
10. Take a Trip to the Country to Hear the Language Spoken in its Natural Environment
The ultimate learning tool is submerging yourself in the culture and language.
By being in a situation where you must actively use the language every second of the day to communicate with people and get things done, you will get hands-on experience.
I would advise at least 6 months of home study before going on a trip abroad to get the best results.
Attempting this if you don’t speak a single word of the language can be frustrating and counter-productive and might discourage you instead.
Have your translation apps at the ready, guidebooks to help you, and maybe a local friend to give you a nudge when you need it.
Nothing can boost your expertise and confidence with a foreign language than getting things done using it.
These tips have served me incredibly well in my own experiences with learning Italian, a lovely, melodic language. I hope they can help you pick up a foreign language and become fluent faster, too.
Which tip are you going to try first?
Are there any other tips that have helped you learn foreign languages faster?
Write in and let me know!
Written By Maya Johnson, a student at Griffith university and a blogger. Maya is passionate for languages and for her love of Italian language she would like to thank David Marocchi. Thank you David!
[ Updated – November 12, 2020 ]