Language-Learning Tips and Tricks

Learning new languages as an adult is undoubtedly a longer, more difficult process than it is for children – but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. As a student majoring in Mandarin Chinese and self-studying Russian, I have tried all sorts of methods to improve my language learning. Though I still have a very long way to go, the following simple tips have all proven helpful to me. No matter whether you’re studying using language apps, enrolled in a course, or taking casual classes, hopefully you can use something from this article to supplement your language-learning.

  1. 1. You need to make time for it

    Sadly, vocabulary is not going to osmose into your memory the way those “Learn French While You Sleep” YouTube playlists promise. Scheduling in committed and regular (ideally daily) language study sessions, even if they’re short, is going to bring about the bulk of your progress. It also feels much more manageable to do a little each day rather than catching it all up in one overwhelming, weekend-long study session.

    I recommend incorporating spaced repetition methods into your routine, such as flashcards or apps like Anki, to regularly review vocabulary and grammar. This kind of reviewing will ensure that the content you’re learning enters your long-term memory. Basically, the idea is to review the content several times over a long period, just as you start to forget it, rather than trying to cram it into your memory in one or two sittings. You can read more about how this method works and about the Anki app here:

  2. 2. Consume your daily media in your target language

    This is probably the easiest and most enjoyable way to integrate language-learning into your everyday life. Passive learning methods like listening to music or podcasts, watching videos, and reading appropriately levelled articles or books can make studying fun. When it comes to written resources, authentic materials such as children’s stories or specially graded readers for language learners are both great options. 

    Perhaps the biggest challenge here is finding helpful resources. The types and amount of resources you can find will vary depending on what language you have chosen to learn but, as a general rule, a solid Google search and an afternoon in the library should bring up enough material for you to at least get started with your chosen language. 

    If your phone or other devices allow it, you could also try to switch the display language to your target language (the language you’re learning). That way, you’ll see words from your target language every time you look at your device.  If you want to gain the most from this tip, I would recommend taking note of the new vocabulary you find as you use the device, rather than simply relying on your muscle memory as a guide. 

  3. 3. Find an IRL or online language partner/s

    It took me a long time to accept that I would have to actually practice communicating in my target languages regularly, with real people, if I wanted to see progress. For an introvert and perfectionist, that was (and probably always will be) a challenge. 

    If you’re studying your target language at a university or in a class with other students, you can try to incorporate casual speaking practice into your conversations with one another – even if you just make a point of greeting in your target language, it’s a way of gaining confidence. Better yet, set up an extra session with your language-learning friends for conversation practice and review outside of regular class time. 

    Otherwise, you might want to try looking into apps like HelloTalk to test out your language skills and get feedback from native speakers in a kind of online language-exchange setting.

In the early stages of language-learning, it can be so frustrating to try to express yourself while bound by your limited vocabulary, simple grammar, and shaky pronunciation. To combat those feelings of impatience, self-doubt, or embarrassment, remember that everyone needs to start somewhere and you can be proud of yourself for getting this far! Hopefully these tips will help you to take this amazing, challenging process even further.