How do you learn a new language?
It can seem like an impossible task to learn a new language, but it's all about making it fun and finding a way that works for you :) In this blog post I'm going to share some of my tips for learning a new language.
It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog post and lots of things have happened. The biggest change in my life is that I decided to leave Málaga and move to Leeds in England! Very exciting! Now I get to discover funny Yorkshire slang, learn about British culture and why the Brits are so polite. I can soak up the atmosphere in local pubs and enjoy “Sunday lunch” and much more :)
Unfortunately, it also means that I have to work harder and be a bit more motivated to keep practicing my Spanish. That’s what this blog post is about; finding and keeping up the motivation to learn a new language.
I’ve faced this fun challenge quite a few times in my life and on top of all the excitement, it’s hard work! Hours of studying grammar and vocabulary, and plenty of awkward conversations with locals who look at you with confusion and mistrust :) If you’re new to language learning but have decided to finally do it, I promise you it’s going to be a roller coaster ride but you’ll want to stay on it for the reward in the end. Except, there is no end! It’s a continues process of learning, two steps forward and one step back, and as you proceed, you’ll realise how much you have left to learn ;)
This is the fun about it, though, you’ll keep learning and you won’t believe how many interesting people you’ll meet along the way.
Here are some of my best tips to learn a new language:
Go to a language exchange When I went to Málaga in 2014 I didn’t really speak any Spanish. I started at a language school, but also wanted to practice my Spanish outside the class room. At the same time, I really wanted to meet some locals and not just the young kids in the language academy. A language exchange is brilliant if you don’t know anyone you can practice the language with. I have gone to quite a few in Spain, Sweden, and England, and it’s a nice way to practice a language in a relaxed environment. It often costs 1-2 Euros or Pounds, and you’re either placed at a table or are free to chat to whoever you want over a drink or a coffee.
Practice with a friend Ideally, you end up making friends with a native speaker at the language café so you can arrange to meet up for your own language exchange. There is nothing better than a 1-on-1 language exchange, in my opinion. To sit with a person who can correct you, give you advise, tell you funny stories about the culture and language, and so on. I honestly think I learned more Spanish chatting away over coffee, let’s say around 40 hours, with two Spanish friends, than I did during my in total 200 hours in a language school. If you can’t manage to find a native speaker in your area, the internet is also an option. Thanks to technology it’s possible to do a language exchange over Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp or similar. 1-on-1 conversations are far more motivating and rewarding than sitting at home by yourself with a grammar book! Nowadays there are also many online platforms for finding language tutors/teachers. I currently use Preply where I have spoken to Spanish tutors from both Spain, Venezuela and Colombia.
Watch TV series or films Finding a series that really interest you or watching good films or documentaries, is a great way to hear the language without really thinking about it. At times it can be a challenge to find a great quality television series. I ended up watching the Spanish series “Gran Hotel” and “Velvet”, which can probably best be described as a mix of Downton Abbey and Midsummer Murders, but because of the rather banal storyline it was easy to follow and I learned a lot of new slang and everyday expressions. For me, it works really well with Spanish subtitles and Spanish audio at the same time.
Read a newspaper, magazine or book I tend to scroll through an online newspaper once in a while, picking out an article that interests me. I’m not too much into local politics or food, for example, which take a lot of space in many Spanish newspapers, so I jump straight to the World section with interesting reports on development projects in e.g. Africa or South America, the travel section with articles about exotic destinations or read about local news in Málaga. When it comes to books, I also tend to choose books that take place in foreign countries. Right now I’m reading Alexander McCall Smith’s “Un marido bueno, un buen marido” about life in Botswana and Javier Castillo's "El juego del alma" taking place in New York. The language is easy and the content not too complicated in either of the books. So find something that interests you, don’t struggle with a text that doesn’t appeal to you.
Download an App or bring a dictionary around with you I use the apps Linguee and SpanishDict in everyday life in England, but when living in Spain, I used to carry my pocket dictionary with me. When reading a newspaper or chatting with my Spanish friend, it is so quick to look up Spanish words I don’t understand. These apps are also brilliant to quickly look up words from English to Spanish when I struggle to explain them or come up with examples for Spanish speakers. Using new words in a conversation helps me remember them better because the more times I say a word out loud, the better it sticks in my mind.
Listen to music Like TV series or films, listening to music in the language you want to learn, is a way of practicing the language without thinking about it. I’m a big fan of Latin American dancing, so while doing salsa dancing or bachata I get to practice my Spanish. Sure the lyrics for this type of music isn’t always very sophisticated but it still counts as practice ;) If you don’t understand the lyrics look it up online or ask a friend so you can learn some new words. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself singing along to your favourite song without knowing it. Happened to me with “Despacito”. Again, not sophisticated lyrics but I’ve picked up a few new words :)
Write in a notebook or keep a diary I have a notebook I use for writing down new vocabulary (always together with an example frase) and practicing grammar. Other times, I’ll write about my day or future plans, or pretend I’m writing a letter to a friend. You can write a story, plan your next dream vacation, come up with a recipe; anything really to write, think creatively, revise grammar and practise new vocabulary in the language.
Be creative and make it fun It would be ideal if we all had two, three or four hours per day to practise the language but we don’t. And keep in mind that it should be fun for you to learn, you should be excited about it. Even though it’s hard work and there isn’t a shortcut to becoming fluent in a language (not until a well-working Babel fish is developed, I guess), it should never feel like a burden. Find your own way of making it interesting for you. I’m currently learning to play the ukulele so I try to pick some Spanish songs to learn, e.g. “Despacito” (I know…but it’s just so catchy and easy to play).
With language learning come possibilities of communicating with people, gain insights into other cultures and places, and the opportunity to compare woth and, therefore, better understand your mother tongue. AND the more languages you learn, the easier it gets picking up new ones…thank God!! So set a realistic goal for yourself and have fun on the way! :D