Learning a new language – a simple guide

Updated: May 18

Introduction


Learning a new language can be intimidating. When you hear all those people on YouTube speaking at one-thousand miles an hour, it seems impossible to start, let alone reach that level of fluency. If you remember only ‘Comment ça va’ from 5 years of French lessons at school, it may even seem like there’s no hope for you to progress. But there is definitely hope!



To get good at a language it takes immersion and consistency. By immersion, I mean learning not just the rules of the language, but also the culture of the people and the countries that speak the language. Some ways to immerse yourself are by watching films and reading books. By consistency, I mean setting regular language goals, so you don’t take a break for months. To get you started on your new language acquisition, I’ve compiled the top 5 tips that worked for me. These tips are to get you started and progress!


Top 5 tips:


  1. SMART goals


SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound.


  • Specific (goal) – what do you want to learn? Pick anything from grammar, vocab, pronunciation, etc. Focus on a subject / task that interests you the most (e.g. fashion, food). You need to like what you are learning to motivate yourself!


  • Measurable – is it a measurable goal? Can you tick it off at the end of the week/month? Try to find a way to test yourself – e.g. do a quiz online, get your siblings to test you on vocab. Tracking your progress will motivate you to do better and will make you proud of what you’ve achieved!


  • Attainable – is it a realistic goal? For example, ‘aim to learn 20 key words on food’ may be more achievable than ‘read a book in the first week’.


  • Time-bound – like they say diamonds are made under pressure! Give yourself regular deadlines to reach those goals. If you’re like me, with no deadlines nothing will be achieved.


  1. Vocab first


If you don’t know the words, you’ll be stuck! Start with key vocab – for example search for the most common words in your target language. ‘High-frequency words’ are those that are used in everyday speech and writing so learning them will take you in the right direction straight away. Apparently the top 1000 words account for 80% of all English texts! Repetition matters with vocab – find different contexts in which these words are used for example in a textbook, then on an Instagram post, then on a newspaper etc. Use flashcards to learn them or have sticky pads on your walls with some key vocab! Maybe invest in a small pocketbook?


For French learners here are the 1000 most common words used - http://french.languagedaily.com/wordsandphrases/most-common-words


For Spanish learners here is the top 100 words used –

https://www.vistawide.com/spanish/top_100_spanish_words.htm


  1. Make learning fun


Use different techniques that allow you to enjoy your language learning experience. Add some fun to your schedule by maybe playing some word games (French sudoku is fun!) or download an app that integrates learning with gaming / healthy competition with other users.


I would recommend ‘Duolingo’ for all language learners – you play games to move up to higher levels and you can connect with friends to go through it all together (or to compete). ‘Fantastique’ has been recommended by a friend for French. They email you your one language lesson a day involving games/ reading tasks / videos with culturally relevant things of the target language.


  1. Culture!!


To really grasp the new language, you MUST learn about their culture. It’s a fantastic way to see how all the grammar and vocab you’re learning is used in different social contexts. My top tip – watch A LOT of films. Start with English subtitles, then move subtitles in your target language. It will rapidly improve your listening and reading skills. During my A levels I watched two French films a week! Only after that I started to understand how French was used.


For French students check out 🡪 Populaire (2012), Le Dîner de cons (1998), L’auberge espagnole (2002), Les Choristes (2004), L’Intouchable (2006)

Other ways to immerse yourself in the culture:


  • Instagram (or Twitter) – follow celebrities/bloggers that live in /speak your target language. Their posts are not only good for your reading skills but can lead you to other valuable resources!


French students check out 🡪 @sabinasocol (French model), @sezane (my favourite French boutique), @carlabruni (a very chic former first lady!)


  • Podcasts – listen regularly to train your ears. Start with podcasts that speak half English/ half target language. It will improve your listening and pronunciation skills.


French students check out 🡪 beginners – Coffee Break French and Daily French Pod, intermediate – Intermediate French; advanced – Culture en Direct/ Affaires étrangères. (My favourite podcasts right now are the feminist ones – ‘Meuf Mortelles’ and ‘Generation XX’)


  • Books – one of the best ways to become fluent I hear… Reading not only adds to your vocab bank but sharpens your eye to grammar and use of language – which can be very different from the spoken form!


French students check out 🡪 beginners - Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and L’étranger by Albert Camus (or google other easy books); intermediate learners could try L’Almant by Margureite Duras (I love it!) or ‘Coule la Seine’ by Frank Vargas.


  • Blogs and Newspapers – different kind of reading. The news is great for improving your reading skills and learning about the country in general! If it’s too boring, try a blog in the target language – food/lifestyle/fashion you name it.


French students check out 🡪 Le Fiagaro or Le Monde (mainstream French newspapers) – get their apps! My current French blog at the moment is ‘Business O Féminin’ which is mainly about women in business.


  • Music – I find music the hardest of all but it is actually really fun just to hear the songs! Again, this will train your ears.


French students check out 🡪 Stromae, Angèle, Carla Bruni, Edith Piaf…the list can go on.



  1. SPEAK the language


I’ve saved the best for last really. You should start speaking from the get-go. Put yourself in a situation where you really can’t get away not speaking the new language. This will not only trigger your brain to scramble to find those words you’ve been learning but it will also increase your confidence and help you practice using the new language. Remember to aim for fluency rather than accuracy – this means even if you make some grammatical mistakes keep churning out those sentences! With practice and learning the accuracy will come later.


Ways to start speaking:


  • Use Italki – pay for a ‘community’ tutor who will just speak with you in the target language (it’s like having a language skype buddy).

  • Find a pen pal – my school set me up with pen pals so maybe ask your schools too?

  • School Exchange trip – go to the country where they speak your target language as part of an exchange

  • Holidays – grab your family and go on holiday to practice ordering at restaurants!


If you would like any help with your language speaking, get in touch with our head tutor, Chaira, for a free consultation on you or your child's goals.

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