Sometimes it seems as if there are as many language learning methods as there are language learners, or conversely that there is only “One True Way” to learn a language. The reality lies somewhere in the middle.
Let’s examine the 5 methods people generally learn languages.
Method No.1: Focus on Words and Their Meaning
In any language, vocabulary is essential, and it should be our priority to acquire more of it. How are you to build a phrase, have a conversation, or image an idea without vocabulary? Impossible. But learning an endless list of words—words that aren’t related to one another—doesn’t make sense either. What’s important is for the vocabulary you’re learning to makes sense.
Memorize the most important words first
You should first start by memorizing the most meaningful words according to your level and needs. At first, for example, the vocab you learn should be the most common words, simply because you are more susceptible to hearing and using them. Nothing hard in finding the most common words in a given subject because there is a list of words for this purpose (often called frequency lists), which are lists of the most commonly used words according to a certain subject or theme. For example, let’s say you’re going on a weekend trip to Italy, and you want to learn vocabulary related to staying at a hotel to be able to find a nice place to stay for the night. There’s no need to learn EVERYTHING related to this subject, I agree, but what you can do is to spend time memorizing words from a frequency list for staying at a hotel: the most commonly used and most useful words for booking a hotel. How can you find these lists? You can look them up on the internet and quickly find frequency lists in a certain language for a given subject. Here’s an example from Wikipedia with frequency lists in 50 languages. Additionally, the vocabulary lists from MosaLingua, which are in each of our apps, were created according to their frequency of use in order to only learn useful vocabulary.
Learn with context
Learn words with an example in a sentence to better understand their meaning. The more a word makes sense to you, the faster you will memorize it. Which is why it’s inefficient to learn words by themselves. It is better to learn a group of words related to each other or entire phrases because this creates an idea or image which renders them easier to remember.
Method No.2: Be Motivated and Have Fun!
Next on our list of language learning methods is to have the desire to do so; learning a language just doesn’t happen without it. Even at school! Some might feel like the only reason they learned anything during language lessons is that they were made to attend class. But I’m sure that deep inside of them there was another reason: to make their parents proud, to challenge themselves, to be among the top students, to become a teacher one day… And it’s the same thing when learning a language as an adult. There is always a motivation behind it all.
Whatever this motivation is, what you must keep in mind is that you should always be motivated to learn. We’ve already spoken about this in a previous article: tips for staying motivated in the long term. Here, I’ll only say one thing: to stay motivated, make it fun. Learning a language does not equate to staying with your eye glued to a book. You have to LIVE a language! There are so many ways you can learn a language. For example? Cooking with a recipe book in Italian, seeing who will be the fastest to learn Spanish between you and a friend, watching drama performances in German, etc. There are many ways to make language learning fun.
Method No.3: Fully Immerse Yourself in The Language
Once you’ve learned your frequency list, use this newly acquired vocabulary as fast as possible, the best being to use it every day.
Next on the language learning methods list–in order for languages to be engraved in your head you need to use, repeat, and put the knowledge learned into practice. Languages must be part of your daily life. We often speak of the importance of repetition and of reviewing a language regularly to memorize it for the long term. But reviewing 5 minutes a day to then attend to other unrelated things won’t be immersing yourself in the language. You have to include it in your life. Go order sushi in Japanese, compose songs in French, talk with a German person over the internet… Learning a language isn’t done in just a few minutes a day, it must be part of your daily life.
Method No.4: Concentrate on Speaking
Fourth on the list of language learning methods is to focus, at first, on the oral aspect of the language. Learning a language includes learning how to recognize and reproduce its sounds. This is actually how everybody has ever learned their own language: through sounds. My first piece of advice here is to listen to the language you want to learn in whatever means possible. Nowadays, there are plenty of methods to do this: you can watch TV, films or series, listen to music, etc. Carefully listen to the sounds, then the words. Don’t hesitate to study the movements of the mouth, lips, and tongue. In certain languages, such as Spanish for example, the correct position of the mouth is indispensable for reproducing certain sounds.
So, the next lesson is listening, studying the position of the mouth…and talking (of course, you have to put it into practice). Once more, nowadays, there are many methods available for speaking with people from the four corners of the world. You can, for example, meet them via language exchange websites.
Method No.5: Think Like a Kid
Adults always comment on how children seem to absorb information “like sponges”—especially when it comes to language. Past a certain age, learning new things appears to be more of a challenge. However, there’s actually no scientific proof of the link between age and learning ability. Instead, it might be a case of mind over matter.
As we age, we form certain thought patterns that connect the circuitry of our brain. In short, we become rigid in our thinking. We’ve also developed a distaste for the all-too-familiar experience of failure. These elements of adulthood can be blocks in the process of learning something new. As kids, we don’t have these patterns established, and our minds are more open. Children are less judgmental and more willing to try new things and make mistakes. They also have less prior knowledge of the language, so preconceptions of how language should work don’t get in the way.
Try to think like a kid when it comes to learning your language. Keep an open mind, and actively break down your own notions of how language “should” be structured based on what you already know. Don’t judge yourself, and don’t be afraid to use the language you’re learning—even if you do make mistakes. You’ll never become fluent if you don’t let yourself try.
No matter where you study or how you choose to learn a foreign language, knowing another language is a great way to connect you with the vast network that is our global community. While it may seem like a daunting task, nothing is impossible when you weave in a few minor tips and tricks to your everyday routine. This journey is going to be full of trial-and-error experiences, but do not let that get you down! Embrace the educational adventure before you, experiment with different and creative language learning tips, and get ready to add another language to your repertoire!