4 Ways to Learn and Keep up with a New Language

Learning a new language is hard. And keeping up with it is even more difficult. The problem with the classroom setting alone can be that you interact with the language for a little while each week before interacting with it again for days, weeks, or--as can happen during breaks--even months later. If you’re preparing to go abroad, or even just want to "up" your proficiency in a language, then this kind of relationship with the language just won’t do. Especially if you’re preparing to go abroad--it's good to prepare for being completely surrounded by a language, rather than casually running into it every now and again. Here are four ways to start this immersive journey without leaving your home. 

1. Listen to songs that you know in a different language.

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Disney songs are a go-to for me. The tunes are familiar and the meaning of the words are well known, even if the exact lyrics are not. The familiarity factor will be a huge help when trying to familiarize yourself with a different tongue. This can be especially helpful for perfecting the pronunciation of the language. Once you get better at the vocabulary, you can even explore some of the differences between formal translations and direct translations. One step further from this, once you’re comfortable, is to explore new music in the language of your choice.

2. Listen to a language podcast. 

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Similar to music, podcasts will allow you to get used to the differences in pronunciations. Hearing natives speak will help you gain a better understanding of the intricacies in differing sounds. The podcast is a bit of a step-up in difficulty, though, because there is generally less repetition.

Within the podcast realm there are also multiple strategies you can use. There are podcasts that focus on building vocabulary and explaining different topics in both English and the target language. Or, if you find that a bit boring, you can find fiction podcasts in your target language. These might be a bit more scarce and have more complex vocabulary. It may even be difficult to follow at times, but the payoff is amazing when you finally can understand everything.

3. Find a book you love in the language you’re trying to practice.

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Again, the familiarity of the book with be a helpful crutch for the added difficulties that come with literature, such as a vast vocabulary and complex grammatical structures. Still, reading will place the language inside your head rather than staying as an external stimulus. Additionally, reading is a great way to increase your vocabulary by looking up and taking notes on words that you don’t know. 

4. Try to think in your target language.

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Especially at the beginning, thinking in your target language can be extremely difficult. It's very easy to just slip back into your native language, but the outcome is worth it. By thinking in your target language, you'll get yourself into the habit of engaging with the language. It also gives you practice explaining the concepts of words that are more difficult to translate. By making all of those stumbling and clumsy mistakes in your head over and over again, you will slowly become more eloquent and gain more confidence in your speaking ability. Lastly, thinking in your target language is the first step to moving past a word-by-word translation of everything you hear or read for understanding. Instead, you’ll be able to hear or read something in your target language and just know its meaning. 

That, of course, takes a lot of time and practice. So, focus on what you can do now and keep trying to learn a little more everyday. The more you engage with the language, the quicker you’ll improve. And starting this language engagement before immersion in the language will make the transition much easier.