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5 Tips for Learning a New Language

As someone who has learned two additional languages to my native one and is currently learning a third one, I wanted to share some of my language learning tips with you! My first language is, in fact, French, and I learned English as I grew up. I also learned Japanese before and during my high school exchange. In my opinion, learning a new language is a very rewarding experience, and there is no better feeling in my opinion than understanding something that someone has said or written in the language that you’re learning.  


Here are some of the strategies that I am currently using to learn Cantonese!  


1. A great start point is using a fun and interactive platform to learn vocabulary.  

My favourite website to learn vocabulary (and letters, if the language uses a different alphabet than the English 26-letter Latin one), is Duolingo. This platform of learning is great as it pushes recognition, long-term remembering, and an overall interactive method of learning. I tend to use the desktop website as I like to be able to type in the foreign languages that I’m learning, but they offer mobile apps as well. This website can be found here: www.duolingo.com. They offer a handful of different languages for you to choose from as well!  


This is generally something that I recommend using at least every other day. Incorporating it and making it a part of your daily schedule is something that I find helps me stay on top of my learning and not pushing it off. Practicing a minimum of 30 minutes is what works best for me. However, when you feel yourself losing motivation, your retention of new vocabulary and phrases will not be as optimal, so I suggest taking a break or ending your session for the day.  

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2. Textbooks are important for the nitty-gritty stuff! 

I tend to use textbooks to learn grammar. It’s important to be able to form grammatically correct sentences when expressing yourself in the language you’re learning. I see too many of my friends use solely vocabulary learning websites to teach themselves a new language, but this doesn’t allow them to apply their knowledge.  


Do your research and read reviews for different textbooks that exist on the market. Every language is different, so finding a textbook that a lot of other learners recommend is the way to go. Reddit is a great place to find what other learners recommend in terms of language learning textbooks for your given language. I would also say that from my personal experience, grammar is the dullest part of learning a language, but don’t give up!  


3. Surround yourself with the language that you’re learning. 

The best way to get habituated to hearing a language and letting your brain naturally dissect the words from one another (so that it stops sounding like gibberish) is by exposing yourself to it. As it’s not always possible to travel to the location where that language is spoken, great alternatives are consuming media in that language. This means listening to music, reading books, watching television in those languages are what I generally chose to do.  


In addition, I find that consuming all these different media allows you to learn more about the insights on the culture of the language that you’re learning, which can also aid your learning of that language!

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4. Force yourself to use it when you can, and allow yourself to make mistakes.  

If you’re trying to learn French and you have a French-speaking community in your area, for example, I advise that you go out there and use your new language skills! Learning a language on your own is one thing, but actually using it in everyday situations is completely different. This was my biggest shock when I first arrived in Japan and had taught myself basic Japanese.  


By forcing yourself to use the language that you’re learning and making mistakes, you’re going to learn quicker, and the information will stick much better! One piece of advice I wish I had known when I was learning Japanese was that people around you will not judge you for making mistakes. They can see that you’re trying to actively learn their language and most will support you. So go out there and shine! 


5. Make sure to consistently practice, but mix things up! 

Language learning should be something that occurs a little every day. Splurging long language lessons won’t allow you to retain the information long-term (as a university student, I know this all too well)! However, using the same methods to teach yourself that language consistently gets dull, and doesn’t allow your brain to think of that language in novel ways.  


Hence, what works best for me is perhaps watching a movie on Monday in that language, doing a few textbook lessons on Tuesday, learning vocabulary on Wednesday, and so on, and so forth.  


Best of luck in learning that new language!  

Emilie Kelly is the University of Guelph's Chapter Co-Correspondent! She is a Phase 1 OVC student who loves to spend her time with horses, cats, dogs, cows; you name it! (That does indeed make her an Aggie!) You can contact her in French, English, or even Japanese. 
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