Learning a new language is often a goal that arises over time – we intend to learn a language for a country we want to travel to or work in, or perhaps we aspire to learn a language we share with new family members, our ancestors or our future colleagues. It can also be a personal goal to master a second language to expand our knowledge of the world – plus, there are many personal and professional benefits to learning a second language, such as improving your memory and your problem-solving skills.
When learning a language becomes an act of necessity rather than a ‘nice to have’ hobby, however, the focus turns to how you can achieve this task and, just as importantly, how quickly. Building your level of fluency step by step is overtaken by a need to understand and be understood at a useful level – in record time!
So, with that in mind, here are five tips to help you get started and achieve your short-term language-learning goals, as well as lay the groundwork for advancing your skills in the longer term.
- Remember your motivation
Motivation can make or break your commitment to anything new, and if you do not have a solid practical reason for learning a language, it will be easy to veer off course. However, thanks to your new-found need to learn a language – fast – you already know your motivation. You just need to remember it when you are feeling overwhelmed.
Your motivation could stem from any reason that is important to you personally or professionally, such as starting a new job working with international clients or connecting more fully with your future in-laws (if you do not share a common language). Remember your motivation for learning a language to help you remain focused on your end goal.
- Focus on the words and phrases you need to know
Imagine starting a conversation with a new acquaintance at work. What might you talk about? Write a list of useful phrases you can use (and that it would help to be able to recognise) so that you have the confidence to embark on a conversation sooner rather than later.
As well as focusing on what may seem like ‘essential’ beginner’s phrases – such as ways to introduce yourself, ask for directions and order in a restaurant – consider learning vocabulary that will fit with your motivation for learning. If you are learning for business reasons, is there any vocabulary or terminology that it will be helpful to know? Turn to a phrasebook for inspiration or sign up for a language-learning course designed with business in mind.
If your motivation is taking a hit, it may help to remember that the 100 most commonly used English words make up around 50% of all written English! In the hope that the same can be said of many languages, it is reassuring to think that so few words can contribute to so much understanding.
- Speak and be heard!
This is no time to be shy. If you want to upskill quickly in a new language, you need to practise, and the best way to practise is to use the language in contexts where – shock horror! – you might make a mistake. In fact, making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn!
Look for opportunities to connect with other language learners, or – even better – native speakers who can gently correct your mistakes and help you learn from them. While spending time in a country that speaks your language of choice would be one way to do this, it may not be an immediate option for you (especially as the coronavirus pandemic continues to run its course). As an alternative, ask your language school for advice on suitable local or virtual ways to practise speaking with others.
- Immerse yourself in the language
Look for ways to include the new language in your everyday life – through listening to foreign language music, podcasts and radio; watching TV programmes and films (use subtitles, especially at first, to help you translate the words); and reading news websites, books and magazines. When you combine this with regular speaking practice, you are exposing yourself to the sound and musicality of the language, as well as deepening your understanding and correcting your pronunciation. Keep a language app or dictionary to hand to make sense of any new words as you go.
- Fast-track your learning with a language course
Time may not be on your side, but even a short language course could lay a strong foundation for future learning – and, as with so many things these days, you can access a range of language-learning courses virtually from wherever you can connect to the internet. Look for opportunities to customise a course to meet your needs, whether you are learning for personal or professional reasons.
It is possible to learn a language to a useful level in a short amount of time, but it will take time, energy, determination and, of course, motivation. If you would like to support your learning with some extra language training, we can work with you to create a bespoke training programme that fits your requirements.