Becoming Fluent: How to Learn a New Language

Use These Tips to Reach Fluency 

When you’re an avid traveller, learning basic words and phrases in different languages is incredibly helpful for navigating new towns and cities. Things like “Excuse me, where’s the bathroom?” and “Yes, I’d like another beer, please.” ensure you have the courtesy and wherewithal to communicate effectively with locals. However, if your knowledge of a certain language tops out at a few common phrases, you may want to consider digging a little deeper to learn a new language!

If travelling to countries that speak a specific language is your thing, it makes sense to gain a better command of that dialect. “But, learning a new language isn’t easy!” you might say. 

Although we agree (to a point), learning a new language simply takes some drive, dedication, and commitment to the task. Any task can be considered difficult if you aren’t willing to put a little elbow grease into it!

In this article, we’re going to share some highly effective strategies and tips to learn a new language and get you speaking fluently in no time!

Make it a Habit

Whether you’re trying to learn Spanish or Cantonese, teaching yourself something new takes daily commitment. There’s no such thing as someone that’s inherently “good” at learning new languages, just someone that is truly dedicated! 

The number 1 reason you’ll fail at learning a new language is if you give up too easily. Building a habit is the hard part. The sooner you lose interest in what you’re studying and give up, the sooner you’ll say you failed. However, this doesn’t have to happen!

Think about it this way: if you go to work in the morning without brushing your teeth, you might feel “off.” Like you’re forgetting something. You should treat learning a new language the same way. Engrain the time you spend daily dedicated to studying the new language of your choice into your day, so if you don’t do it, it feels wrong.

Forming Habits

Forming new habits is generally an (on average) 66-day process comprising 3 steps—cue, routine, and reward. A cue can be something like a reminder in your day planner or on your phone, the routine is the actual process of the habit you’re trying to make, and the reward can be anything that makes you feel good!

Let’s try an example. Say you’re trying to learn Russian before your visit to Moscow and work a standard 9 AM to 5 PM desk job. Your cue should be something that triggers you to start your routine during a time you aren’t busy. A good time would be 6:30 PM.

So, you set a reminder on your phone to beep at you at 6:30 PM every day, just after dinner. When this happens, you pull out your language workbook (or app, if that’s more your style) and study for 20 minutes. You set a timer to know you’ve studied for the appropriate amount of time. When the timer goes off, you’re finished with the routine and can reward yourself! Since it’s right after dinner, your reward is a piece of your favourite chocolate.

Doesn’t seem so hard, does it?

Study the Right Things the Right Way

a man and a woman learning from an instructor during a language class

Learning a new language has less to do with memorization and everything to do with technique. Even if you can’t remember what you had for lunch, you can adopt a new language if you know how and what to study!

Some things to keep in mind:

Cognates

Have you ever heard a word in a different language that sounds incredibly similar to a word in English? This is called a cognate! Romance languages, like Spanish, French, and Italian, have hundreds of words that are similar to English words, and these can easily be found online. 

This works for other languages too! One of your first steps should be to look up these words and write them down. Familiarity is a great way to start learning.

Commonly Used Words

In English, some of the most commonly used words are “the,” “be,” “to,” and “of.” As native English speakers, we use these words hundreds of times daily to communicate our wants, needs, and interests.

If you’re trying to learn a new language, learning its most commonly used words will benefit you greatly. To achieve conversational fluency, you’ll need to learn between 2000 and 3000 of these words – so focusing on them and ignoring the complex, less-heard words is a great tip.

Focus on Relevant Terms

Think about why you’re learning a new language or the purpose you travel for. 

For example, if you’re travelling for work in the automobile industry, learning words relevant to driving, sales, mechanics, or anything else useful in the industry is helpful. That way, you’ll know the words and phrases you’ll likely be using the most, rather than spending time learning things you won’t need.

Flashcards! 

Flashcards use a concept called spaced repetition to train your brain into remembering information. Using flashcards to practice words or phrases you have a hard time remembering is a great way to burn them into your brain.

Keep a Notebook With You

This tip is especially helpful if you’re still learning while travelling to a place that speaks the language you’re trying to learn. While most of us have smartphones with the capability to look up a translation, writing down words and phrases and physically looking it up can train your brain to remember it better.

Speak With a Friend

While reading, writing, and listening to a language to learn is great, the best way to achieve fluency is to practice out loud. If possible, find a friend that wants to learn a language with you. Not only can you keep each other accountable, but you can speak out loud with each other to practice!

If you don’t know anyone willing to commit to learning a new language, consider joining a class. Although this may not be the most cost-effective option, it can ensure you always have the chance to practice speaking out loud! Plus, classes often have fluent or native speakers, who are much more likely to notice mistakes and give you accurate corrections. 

Don’t get down on yourself if you make lots of mistakes as a beginner. Making mistakes and learning from them is the best way to learn! And remember, we all have to start somewhere.

Use the Internet

We are surrounded with abundance in the 21st century, from free apps to podcasts. There’s a wealth of information available to us to use. Take advantage of it! 

Make sure to choose resources that are slightly above your comprehension level. You should be able to kind of understand what’s being discussed, so you have room to study and learn.

TV and films are a great way to start because there’s some visual context behind the dialogue. It makes it a bit easier to decipher what’s being said if you find yourself lost. International news channels feature broadcasters that speak very clearly (almost like that’s their job!), so consider starting with some classic news.

Enjoy the Language Process!

Whether it takes you 6 months or 6 years to reach the level of fluency you desire, be sure to enjoy the process. We recommend striving for conversational fluency, which means you’re able to communicate with others but won’t always understand native speakers, as this level of fluency can effectively be attained in under a year. 

However, remember that just like any new skill, learning a new language takes time, motivation, and effort. Try to spend some time every day practicing the language, and if possible, immerse yourself fully in it. Make it fun for yourself! 

Think about visiting restaurants where the waitstaff might speak the language you’re learning, or start planning a trip to the country where they speak it! Whatever your choice, be proud that you’re taking steps to learn something new. 

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