Okay, so let’s face it: learning a language is HARD (well, at least for most people), especially if you’re British 🇬🇧 or from another English-speaking country, and the need to learn a language perhaps isn’t quite so apparent, as far as everyday life for most people is concerned. As a person who is studying a foreign language (German) at quite a high level, I thought I’d share with you my top 10 tips for learning a language, all of which are tried and tested methods by myself which I have found to be effective.
I hope these are helpful! Enjoy 😊
1) Work out what your reasons and motivation are for learning said language.
There are countless psychological studies which have proven that you are most likely to succeed in something if the motivation comes from within you, and is not just from external sources. In other words, you’re way more likely to go through with learning something as complex as a foreign language if you actually want to do it, rather than if you’re just being pressured by others to do so.
So, early on ask yourself the question, “Why do I want to learn this language?”. Is it because you want to travel to a country that speaks it? Is it because you’re interested in the culture attached to that language? Is it because you just simply want to learn a new skill? Or is it even because you have no choice and have to learn a foreign language? (At first, the latter was the case for me, as at my school it was compulsory to learn a language for GCSE. ) Whatever it is, write down a list of reasons why you learning this language would be beneficial to you (and possibly to others also). Therefore, if you’re ever doubting yourself about it, just look back to this list to keep on track! I in fact made a list a couple of weeks of reasons why I love German, which you can find on one of my blog posts here, if you’d perhaps like a little inspiration on what to put!
2) Use DuoLingo.
This is good equally as a starting point, or simply alongside other language-learning techniques – it depends what kind of person you are…
If you like learning things through repetition, then DuoLingo is definitely for you! If you haven’t or can’t learn a language in a classroom setting, then don’t fret: DuoLingo really is the next best thing! It perhaps isn’t the best app/website for people who love to learn the rules of a language before learning how to speak it (like me), but it’s good nonetheless as an additional resource. The format of it is also great – you can effortlessly get out your phone and start using the app, plus it’s so fun it doesn’t feel daunting at all, as one might expect from something which is used to learn a language! I’ve used DuoLingo not only to enhance my German studies at school, but also to re-learn some French which I rather regretfully decided to discontinue after year 9 😞 as well as learning a little Spanish and Swedish from scratch (because why not?!). I actually started using DuoLingo myself at the end of year 10 to keep going over my German alongside my GCSE course. Also, another tip should be…
3) Keep going over the language that you’re learning – don’t abandon it!
I found that DuoLingo was particularly helpful in the Summer between year 10 and year 11, the year when I sat the majority of my GCSE German exams. My German teacher warned us all that if we didn’t keep things ticking over during the summer, we’d likely forget a lot of what we’d learnt during the previous academic year. So, I actually took an adult’s advice for once (!) and kept learning German during some of the weeks when I was off school. I’m not saying you need to do this every day (but obviously the more often you do it, the faster you’ll learn and the more you’ll remember), but even if it’s just 2 or 3 times a week, you’ll definitely see yourself maintain and improve your language skills if you do it wholeheartedly!
4) Decorate your room with the wonders of said language!
For me, seeing the language in use in real life is a real encouragement to keep learning it. What’s more, it’s a lovely casual reminder of key vocab in a fun way, by which you can take things in subconsciously, such as when you’re getting ready, exercising, etc. in the same room as where they are! These decorations can literally be anything – I have a whole door in my room almost dedicated to German postcards and Post-It notes, and it looks beautiful, if I say so myself! 😜
5) Start talking to others in said language.
It doesn’t matter if they’re a native or if they’re simply learning the language just like you – it all helps and it’s a real way of encouraging each other with learning a language. Once you get to the point when you can have a real conversation in the language, you can then perhaps start to make friends with native speakers, which will improve your conversational skills even more if you start talking to them in said language regularly – I’ve certainly found this myself!
Naturally, speaking in a foreign language spontaneously can be so overwhelming at first – this is definitely what I found when I started my German AS level in year 12 after having just completed GCSE German – but once you’ve started it does get easier and less scary – trust me!
6) Use Quizlet to learn vocabulary en masse!
I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for Quizlet, I would probably be failing my German A level miserably – it is literally a lifesaver for me!!
Unfortunately, no one in my immediate family speaks German, so I can’t have topical conversations, relevant to the content I’m learning, with them in the language; Using Quizlet though is just SO GOOD, as there are loads of different learn modes for flashcards which you can make yourself so that it’s specific to what you’re doing. Moreover, it’s a form of active (not passive) learning, so it engages your brain more than if you were to simply read a list of vocabulary (which is pretty mundane, to say the least!). It tests you on your knowledge in a variety of ways and gives you progress reports, as well as repeats these tests on the words which you don’t know as well, so that eventually you know all the words, even the ones you weren’t at first so good at. I thoroughly recommend Quizlet – (bit of a clichéd phrase, but) it’s simple but effective!
7) Start reading in the target language. 👓📖
Perhaps you could start off with children’s books and then gradually increase the difficulty as you improve (which you will do if you stay motivated, trust me!). Don’t lose heart if you can’t understand every word: you can often get the gist of the sentence even if you only understand a few of the words in it. What I find really helpful is reading an e-book in a foreign language (especially on an iPhone/iPad), because then as soon as you find an unknown word you can simply click on the word and then “define”, as opposed to getting out a great big dictionary when reading a physical book! 😂 It’s a lot easier reading a digital book at first – I speak from experience! I myself have a small but growing collection of both physical and digital publications in German, including one with parallel text, so that you can see the word-for-word translation of a text just on the opposite page of the book: genius! 💡 Leaflets are also a great way to learn a new language, as mass publications often use basic language, and they are also almost always FREE! Whoop! 🙌
8) Set your phone to the target language. 📱
Perhaps this is more something to do when you’ve got a reasonably good grasp of the language, maybe when you’re approaching an intermediate level, as opposed to just being a beginner. A couple of months after I completed GCSE German and started the A level course, I changed the language of my phone to German. It was quite overwhelming at first, but I soon worked out, using the context of all of the situations, what most things meant, and you can just look quickly at a dictionary or google it if you’re slightly unsure of a word. I found that setting my phone to German has particularly helped me to start to think in German, as well as to improve my German conversational skills. For example, I now have a better idea of the kind of situations where you use the perfect tense rather than the imperfect tense, or when to use compound nouns or simply just an adjective followed by a shorter noun. Obviously these examples are probably more specific just to German but I’m sure that setting your phone to any language you’re serious about learning would be a good idea! 😉
9) Go to a country where they speak the language you want to learn.
This is quite an obvious one, but it really does help! Not only will you be inspired more than you probably ever will be back home to learn the language, but you’ll also likely in many situations to be forced to speak the language in order to get by!! Again, I know this sounds scary, but you gotta get out of your comfort zone in order to grow as a person and in your skills, eh?! I personally have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Germany four times in my life so far (and I’m going again for a fifth time this summer), so I’ve already had quite a lot of experience in speaking German this way. Last summer I even took part in a Work Experience Abroad programme during which I lived in Germany for about 8 days, 5 of which I was working in a German office. If you’d like to see my blog post about this, then click here.
10) Engage in the culture of your target language 🎞🎶
This, again, is perhaps something to do when you’ve at least got a basic grasp of the language you want to learn. However, once you’re at this stage, you can build up your fluency really well simply by combining engagement in culture with conversational practice. Whenever I’m in Germany, I try to get hold of a German newspaper to read (Junge Welt is a good one for more simplistic language), which not only keeps me up to date with current affairs, but also familiarises me with how the German language is expressed in more formal settings, as opposed to just in everyday casual conversation. I also watch a few German YouTubers, such as Dagi Bee, FreshTorge and Mrs Bella, who are all native speakers and naturally speak quite fast, but nonetheless I do understand most of the time roughly what they’re saying (surprisingly, but I do need to persist in order to achieve this)! I also listen to a LOT of German pop music, which I actually did a post about last week – find it here! They have loads of music playlists in a variety of languages in YouTube, so check those out too!
Anyways, I hope that these 10 tips will help at least one or two of my readers who want to learn/are learning a foreign language. I’m sure that many of these techniques can be applied to learning most languages, but I can obviously only speak in depth from my personal experience with learning German. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I may well do another post in the future telling you even more tips on learning a foreign language, as I intend to study German as part of my university degree. If you’d like me to do any more language-related posts or something similar, please do let me know! Also, fell free to let me know what you thought of this post – did you find it helpful??
See you soon,