How to Learn Languages

 How To Learn Languages is designed for the beginning language learner, someone learning a language by self-study for the first time, or for those who have a desire to learn a language, but have had bad experiences before. You do not have to be a linguist or a full time student to learn a new language, and you do not have to have any prior experience with learning a foreign language. Regardless of your age or experience level, you have exactly what it takes to learn a new language to the level that you want, provided you follow some basic guidelines.

Get motivated and stay motivated. You have to want to do it. Whether you are learning because of a life-long desire, an upcoming vacation, a business trip, family relationships or whatever reason - you must keep this in mind and stay motivated. Your reason to begin learning is what will get you started and this must also be the reason to keep you going when the going gets tough. Your reason for learning a new language will define your goals and also keep you motivated to reach them or exceed them.

Assess your situation - what level are you at? Before you jump right in and start studying, first determine how much you already know of the language and how much you know about how to learn languages. If you're starting from scratch with no knowledge of the language at all, then there's no problem, you are at the starting line.

But, what if you've had a few classes or even a few years of high school or college studying and you want to complete that education without going back to school? Use the internet to help you determine where you are at. Use some of the freely available online resources to review, refresh your memory and test yourself. Then you will have a better idea of what you need to learn and a clearer picture of what kind of materials you will need.

Also, take inventory of what learning materials you may already have for learning this new language. The internet alone can provide you a number of supplemental resources that will help you. Try reading a few books on how to learn languages as well.

Set goals. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Set realistic goals for yourself. Not simply - "I want to speak Italian", but be more precise. "I want to finish that textbook." Then set specific, achievable goals within that larger framework - "I want to finish one chapter a week." If you set a goal that is unrealistic, you may fall too far behind your own expectations and squash your belief and motivation. If you set more reasonable goals, you will succeed and then feed your own desire to learn more. Don't get down or discouraged if you don't meet or exceed a goal, but do reward yourself when you do.

If, at the beginning of your language study, you find you are consistently falling behind, then reset your goals to be more realistic - "ok, it seems I'm busier than I thought, maybe one chapter every two weeks." When you meet your goals you will be excited, proud of your accomplishments and hungry for more. When you occasionally miss your goals, vow to work just a little harder next time.

Remember this - each day, each week you are getting closer to your final goal. Keep that ultimate goal in the back of your mind, and the short term goal in front.

Make a realistic lesson plan. Most language learning products will have some guideline for you to follow, or will give you some recommendations for studying with their method. Put this in perspective within your larger goal-setting framework. You will probably use other language learning materials in addition to your chosen method. The learning tips page has lots of ideas how to supplement a language method. Include these materials in your lesson plan, as well.

For instance, let's say you can reasonably expect to finish a chapter every two weeks by squeezing in a half-hour of study a few times a week. But you also plan on using flashcards to review vocabulary every day, and perhaps a supplemental audio program while driving to work. Don't look at these language tools as separate - "first I'll finish the book, then I'll go through the audio program, then I'll start using flashcards" etc, or even worse - "which one should I use, the book or the audio program?" Use them all at the same time.

You may choose the book as the core of your study, but the other materials will complement that learning program in ways that just one method would not. You will find that many of the parts will overlap - that's a good thing. You will be reviewing material in different formats and that will help all of it sink in.

You are learning lots of new skills here, you are learning how to learn languages and it may take some time for you to adjust to this new skill set. You don't have to start out buying ten language methods and using them all, but you can start with one and be prepared to add other, complementary, bits and pieces into your lesson plan as you progress, and as you discover your strengths and weaknesses.

Get a method. You will need a language learning method as the core of your language study. It can be as simple as an old textbook or grammar book, or it can be a full-blown 400 page coursebook and 15 audio cd extravaganza, or anything in between. The language learning methods page  has some tips on picking a good starting method. If time or money is a serious constraint you can still put together an effective lesson plan with inexpensive but complementary materials. The internet provides lots of resources for language learners that, by themselves, would not be sufficient to teach a language, but when combined with a structured learning method make great supplements.

Use the tips on the Learning Methods pages to narrow down your choices, and make sure you do lots of research and read plenty of reviews so you can choose a method that will give you the best possible starting point.

Start studying. With your chosen method, and maybe one or two simple supplements, get started. Ideally you should work an hour to an hour and a half every day, with a five or ten minute break in the middle, and then a ten minute review later in the day. Of course, this may not be possible for many people. You should at least have one or two good half-hour or more sessions per week. That should be do-able for most people, but here's the key - cram in little bits and pieces of review or study every day, even for just a few minutes. This is where those supplements come in. Flashcards are great for this, and so are audio cd methods. Barry Farber, in his book 'How to Learn Any Language,' calls this the 'Multiple Attack' approach. Review what you learned that first day, then review it every day for that week. The review could simply be looking over it and refreshing your memory on the key points and may only take a few minutes. Also review the vocabulary and phrases. Then review that material once a week for a month, and then once a month for a year. All the while continuing to study new material and incorporating that with the older material. This study and review routine locks this new information into your long-term memory. Pimsleur has this concept built right into their all-audio program. Flashcards, audio cds and other supplemental materials work great for review.

Start assembling and using supplementary tools. I've already mentioned flashcards several times. They are so useful and inexpensive (you can make your own if you have to, as I do) that they should be in your language learning arsenal right from the beginning. Audio cd methods are also useful as a supplement. Most methods contain at least some audio, but as Barry Farber says - "you no more want to limit your hearing of the language to one cassette course than you'd want to confine your tennis playing to one partner." An additional all-audio course (like Pimsleur) is a great supplement to any method. Dictionaries, phrasebooks, music, television and a host of other resources can be used as supplements. The language learning tips page has a number of ideas you can use with your language method. As you learn how to learn languages, you'll have a better idea of what works for you. The use of multiple sources of learning creates a great synergy that can really make your learning gain momentum.

After the method. What happens after you've completed the method? Is that it? Absolutely not. If your goal was just to learn some phrases and get an introduction to the language, then you need to ask yourself if you're going to continue studying or not. If your goal was fluency then you must accept the fact that we never really finish studying any language. Learning a language to fluency is a lifetime commitment. You will get to the level you want if you persevere. Are there further levels to the method you've just completed? Is there an intermediate or advanced level? If so, then that is your next goal. Congratulate yourself. Those first words and phrases you learned are now permanent knowledge and those early grammar points which at first confused you are now second nature, and you wonder how you had any trouble with them at all. Take a deep breath and be proud of your accomplishment before you decide to move on. You may even consider learning another new language as you continue to improve with this one. Now that you have learned how to learn languages, the next one becomes a little easier.

At this point, no matter what method or what kind of method you used, you should be at least beginning to really use the language. Reading books, newspapers and magazines, watching movies and television, listening to music, writing to people and most importantly of all, talking to people. Be the language. Use it every day, as often as you can. Continue using those supplements, many of which aren't just academic exercises but real-life vocabulary. Try some more ideas from the learning tips page, try some you haven't used yet. If you want to truly possess the language, you must work at it every day, from every angle, and it will be yours.

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