The Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent lockdown across much of the world, has forced us to take life a little slower. The upside of this is that it is the perfect opportunity to read the piles of books that have been sat by your bed for ages, pick up that guitar you’ve had since you were 18 (but still can’t play), or learn the language you’ve always wished you could speak fluently but have never had the time to learn.
Our new found freedom from the hustle and bustle of daily life should not go to waste – put it to good use and challenge yourself to master a skill that has always eluded you!
If learning a new language is on the list of to-dos for your lockdown period, then the following points will help you to achieve your goal.
1. Set Realistic and Achievable Language Goals
When learning is enjoyable and you have a sense of achievement, you are more likely to continue your learning and reach your objectives.
One way to encourage this is by setting small, achievable goals (either daily or weekly depending upon your circumstances) that are realistic and manageable. In this way, you will gain a sense of accomplishment and be able to track your progress over time.
It will also encourage you to aim higher and set new challenges for the coming weeks, so your learning will accelerate and become part of your new routine.
Some good tips for setting achievable goals are:
• Be realistic
• Keep your long-term objective in mind
• Make short-term goals and reward yourself for achieving them
• Challenge yourself (but don’t make it too hard or you may lose enthusiasm)
• Write down your goals and cross them off as you achieve them
• Maintain a regular learning routine to inspire you
• Be proud of your achievements – tell your friends and family and show off your new skills
2. Learn the Right Language for You
Choosing a language to learn can be almost as tricky as getting started on your learning journey, but selecting the right one for you will make the process easier and more sustainable in the long-term.
Tips for selecting the best language for you might include looking at your country preferences, asking friends and family which languages they can speak (it is always handy to have someone to practise with), linking it to your favourite holiday/work/travel destination, or simply choosing the language which sounds like music to your ears when you hear native speakers.
After choosing the language you want to learn, the next step is learning the right words.
Bear in mind that there are around a million words in the English language, but only about 1000 of these are used frequently with the top 100 words making up half of all English texts.
Choosing the right words (the most commonly used ones) to learn first will give a great basis for forming sentences, reading a foreign article or book, and engaging in a conversation with someone else who speaks the language.
3. Know your Learning Style and Study Preferences
Understanding how, and when, you are most receptive to learning is key to your success.
Some people are visual learners who learn best by using colourful flashcards which will allow them to memorise words and then test themselves, while audio learners absorb more information by listening and speaking, but others learn through action such as, labelling items around the home and saying the word every time it is viewed.
Understanding your own learning style will help you achieve results faster by playing to your strengths.
This also applies to study preferences – if you retain more information in a morning study session than an evening one, choose a morning session to study that suits. Similarly, if you are a night owl who prefers to work later, then set aside an hour for your language study while all is quiet and you are free to concentrate.
If you aren’t sure which type of learner are, you can take an online test to find out. There are many free tests available (you can try an Oxford College one here or find one of your own), that will ask you a few questions to assess your preferred style.
4. Learn About the Culture and the Language
Language is intricately linked to culture. There is a history linked to the words we use, a reason for their spelling, meaning and importance.
Understanding the culture linked to the language you are learning, will reinforce your knowledge, improve your grammar and linguistic choices, and give an insight into why the native-speaking people communicate the way they do.
As your new language skills progress you could try reading online news articles (to give an insight into current affairs), read some classic literature written in the language you are learning (this gives additional historical and culture knowledge) or watch a few films set in your chosen country (this will also help with improving your pronunciation).
5. Use your Language Skills
Learning a language you’ll never have the opportunity to use would feel like a waste of time and effort. It also means you can never try out your new talent, test your pronunciation, or perfect your listening skills.
A fast way to progress your learning is through active use – talk to a friend who speaks the language, visit the country on holiday, join a local language group or an online language partner site, which will give you the chance to talk to native speakers, improving your grammar and giving you confidence to have face-to-face conversations.
6. Have Fun Learning a Language
Learning, which is fun and enjoyable, is more readily absorbed and improves the chance of long-term recall.
If you have a hobby you enjoy, try linking your language learning to that in some way to support and reinforce your knowledge.
For instance, if you are a big football fan and you are learning Italian, find out all you can about the Italian football clubs; where they are based, how many supporters the stadiums hold, the names of their star players, the history of the clubs, an so on. This will submerse you into the Italian culture, country and people, while also giving you essential language information.
There are many benefits to learning a new language – it’s good for your health, improves your empathy and understanding of other cultures, and gives an opportunity to make new friends, communicating with them in the same language.
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