Helpful Tips for Language Learning

By Rachael Funk

It’s happening! You've secured your passport, booked your trip, and are already entertaining wild fantasies of impressing locals with your command of whatever language they speak. Instead of just daydreaming about it, try out these great ways to learn (and retain!) a new language.


Especially if it’s a language with fewer English cognates, start by getting familiar with sound patterns and particularities of a dialect. Perfect grammar and spelling will only get you so far if you can’t recognize words when they are spoken to you. Great ways to work this easily into your schedule could be a language learning podcast, watching subtitled films, and listening to enjoyable music in the new language.


Once you’ve started to train your ears and have a basic understanding of how the sounds connect, try making them yourself. You may come across some sounds you aren’t sure how to make. When this happens, you may be able to find helpful pronunciation tutorials on YouTube or included in a language program. Don’t forget practice means progress, so be bold! The more you talk to yourself, the better you’ll be in conversation with someone else.

Spell out sounds

A helpful trick for nailing phonics is to write down any stressful vowels or letter combinations on a flash card with an example word to indicate what sound they make. Just like you learned “a as in apple,” with practice you can also learn “ʘ as in ʘàa.”

Choose your vocabulary carefully

To make the best use of your time, start with the most common words and words you may need to use while traveling. Listen and rehearse these daily, adding new terms every day. Once you have a grasp of the common language, you will be much more efficient in your communication.

Abandon your native tongue

Flash cards are helpful when learning a new concept. Instead of writing a new word on the front of a card and writing out the definition on the back, try to use a picture of the definition instead. For example, if you were trying to learn the German word for “broom,” draw a picture of a broom instead of writing “broom” in English. This way, you can skip the extra step of translating back and forth from English and it'll help with your fluency later.

Personalize your study materials

Learning has as much to do with memory as it does comprehension, so find ways to make each new concept and rule memorable. A great way to personalize the images on your flash cards is to do a Google image search in the language you are learning to choose what picture goes on the card. This way, you not only have the association of finding the image, you can catch nuances you may otherwise miss. For example, an image search in English for “dog” and one for “puppy” would demonstrate the difference in meaning that could get lost without the visual cue.


Once you get into the swing of learning and retaining, keep those associations strong by using the language you just learned! After all, what good is a skill you never put to use?

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