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One of the most beautiful things about cultures different from our own is the language that binds it together. Many people get the opportunity to learn a language in earlier education. I am one of those people. I learned Spanish for about six years in public school. I will say that I learned a lot, and had experiences that introduced me to other elements of the culture overall, but I didn’t leave those six years behind feeling like I was fully confident in my proficiency of the language. A majority of graduating students from high school are inclined to find their language curriculum not satisfactory for their learning ambitions. This is to be expected though. Language courses you may have gone through do their job in making you familiar with the grammar and vocabulary of the language. When it comes to making a student proficient in speaking or communicating in other terms, that is where students feel at a loss.


For some people, basic proficiency in a language is great. For others, they want to go above and beyond. While you can major or minor in a language in college, there is always the possibility to take on learning it by yourself as a side hobby. However, beginning to navigate that process alone can be daunting.


Everyone has different motivations for learning a new language. I outlined some tips below that are helping me and might help you to visualize your own language learning journey or re-motivate you wherever you are in one.


1. Limit Use of Textbooks

So, you’re ready to learn a new language. Fantastic!


You go to a bookstore, online or in person, and you search for that language and get lots of results for textbooks that have practice sheets, explanations, the whole deal. There are seemingly too many options. Don’t get overwhelmed though. At most, you probably only need one good grammar book. Grammar is important to learn, but you’ll only need a basic grasp of it to start speaking. Getting caught up in grammar can be the demise for your language learning journey. Also, don’t blow your budget on grammar textbooks unless you think you really need to get a bunch. Grammar can be trickier in some languages than others (so, be conscious with this tip considering the language you’re learning), but remember that there are tons of free grammar resources online if you really need more than one or two.

2. Know your Goals

With the idea of not blowing your budget on textbooks and resources, it’s important to think about how much you want to invest in learning your language. What level of proficiency do you actually want? Why do you want to learn this language ultimately? What are your lurking motivations?


This can be helpful to outline as you search for resources. There are tons of language courses that are available on websites or apps, but it depends if you want to spend a lot of money on that. You don’t necessarily have to spend money to learn a language though if you don’t want to. There are ways to become really proficient in a language on your own without putting money towards it.


Know what you’re looking for, and the options will become more apparent.


3. Utilize the Internet

It’s up to you based on those goals how much you intend to spend on courses or resources to learn a language. Now that you have your goals set and ambitions on the line, it’s time to learn.


There are tons and tons of resources online. YouTube videos, movies, TV shows, podcasts, music, the list goes on and on. You don’t even necessarily have to seek out something new, although hearing native speakers’ pronunciation and word usage is important, maybe you have a favorite movie you know by heart. Turn on the subtitles and/or audio in your target language and learn from that. You can learn a boatload of vocabulary and pronunciation from doing that consistently in your daily routine, in replace of watching and listening to things in your native language.


It’s been really helpful for me to find YouTube creators who speak English as their first language but now have mastered another language and have tips on the process of being a native English speaker but learning said language. Balance that sort of content, the experience of someone who speaks your native language and native speakers of your target language, in your content consumption.


Once you start seeking them out, you’ll be surprised to see how many language creators there are.


Change your phone to your target language. We use our phones many times a day, so repetitively seeing the information displayed on your lockscreen, email, social media, in the language you’re studying can be so helpful and allow you to familiarize yourself with the common words of the language. It’s tricky at first, but with the muscle memory of what certain functions and words are, you will learn a lot.


Switch up your social media feed. Follow influencers or creators on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube that speak the language. Not only will you get to hear and see the language more often in your daily scrolling, but you might also get to see insights to the country where that language is spoken, learning more about the culture gradually. Also, I know the translate button is tempting on these apps, but challenge yourself to try and translate in your head what they are saying in a caption of a post before clicking it.


4. Prioritize Words you Use

Any vocabulary you learn is going to be useful. Try and be intentional with the vocabulary though. If you have goals of being proficient by a certain time, or even not, it’s important to consider if you’re sounding too much like a textbook. Not that the vocabulary in textbooks isn’t helpful. However, if you don’t see yourself skiing or snowboarding, maybe you can hold off on the winter vocabulary sections.


The point I’m trying to make is that when learning a language, it’s important to prioritize the words that mean something to you. How do you normally speak? Look back at recent emails, texts, and essays even, and see how you word things. If you’re talking like how a textbook wants you to talk, you’re going to become drained with the process and think you’re doing something wrong. This was a game-changer for me because I suddenly had that excitement about learning and incorporating words into my daily routine and practicing them more. I sought out slang words in my target language, because as a young person, I wanted to feel like I could relate to other young people if I were to travel to that country. If you’re into fashion, sports, or a certain type of music, learn the words for that specific subject. Those are the things you’re going to be talking about, so it makes the most sense to prioritize them in your learning.


With vocabulary as well, make sure you are practicing for at least 10 minutes a day. The biggest key to language learning is consistency. Learn five new words a day and then every day practicing the pronunciation and memorization of the words you have accumulated. You can write them in a journal, make flashcards, or even put a sticky note on your wall or mirror so you can refer to them when you’re getting ready in the morning or winding down in the evening.


5. Be Consistent


I already mentioned this before, but the biggest tip of them all for self-learning a language is to be consistent. The desire to be consistent is a result of taking all these other tips into consideration. You have to feel motivated to learn a language, otherwise, it’s not going to be a walk in the park for you. 


How enthusiastic you are about the language learning process is going to dictate the results of it for you. There are undoubtedly going to be patches where it gets hard or confusing, but at the same time, there are going to be patches of the process where you feel you could hop on the next plane to another country and strike up a conversation with a native speaker. 


Hold onto the moments that motivate you, and learn from the ones that challenge you.


I may sound like a broken record, but do what feels right for you! It’s the most important thing, alongside being consistent. These tips are adaptable for your language and situation. I find that when in doubt in learning a new language, I can refer to these tips and feel secure in my journey.


Good luck in your language learning journey!

Emily Mackin

Lafayette '24

an admirer of all things that make life beautiful
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