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13 Things You Should Know About Learning a New Language

Expert advice on how to prepare yourself for learning a new language.

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Fit learning a language into your schedule and keep your appointments. “A hyperpolyglot once said to me, ‘The best method for learning a language is sticking to a method,'” says Michael Erard, editor of the language magazine Schwa Fire.

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Make lessons fun by learning rock music lyrics or watching TV rather than reading. The more you enjoy the process, the more likely you are to keep at it.

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Target your needs, whether it’s travel, business or writing. If you’re interested in food, Erard suggests studying relevant vocabulary and practising by interacting with market vendors or restaurant staff.

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Skip the flash cards in favour of acquiring new words through immersion, says Katherine Rehner, associate professor in the department of language studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga. “The best way to learn vocabulary is in context and in use.”

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If you can’t study abroad, create as close to an immersion environment as possible. Download podcasts for your commute and choose foreign films for movie night.

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Be confident and don’t worry about failure. When researching his book Babel No More, for example, Erard observed that top learners were willing to use a language no matter their level.

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Determine your scholastic style. Self-directed learners might be happy working from home, says Rehner, while social learners prefer the input of an instructor and a group.

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Start with what’s freely available, such as YouTube clips or multilingual TV and radio stations, and use websites and apps, such as Duolingo or BBC Languages.

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Listen. There’s huge value in attuning your ear to the sounds of the language you’re learning, even when you don’t understand much of what’s being said.

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Be social in your target language. “Hang out with someone who’s very fluent,” says Rehner.

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Define what success means to you. “‘Fluent’ is relative to your needs,” says Rehner, and so-called complete mastery-achieved by only an estimated five per cent of learners-is often superfluous.

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Set themed goals and rewards for yourself: a trip to Mexico City after your first year of studying Spanish consistently, or a fancy Italian dinner once you’ve mastered a section of your textbook.

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Include both structural and analytic thinking and communicative elements in your studies, says Rehner. Erard’s analogy is that it’s like weaving a rope. “You have to weave and re-weave the right strands together so that the whole thing becomes useable.”