1. Make realistic, specific goals
You have decided1 to learn another language. Now what? On our recent live chat our panellists first piece of advice was to ask yourself: what do you want to achieve and by when? Donavan Whyte, vice2 president of enterprise and education at Rosetta Stone, says: "Language learning is best when broken down into manageable goals that are achievable over a few months. This is far more motivating and realistic."
You might be feeling wildly optimistic when you start but aiming to be fluent is not necessarily the best idea. Phil McGowan, director at Verbmaps, recommends making these goals tangible3 and specific: "Why not set yourself a target of being able to read a newspaper article in the target language without having to look up any words in the dictionary?"
2. Remind yourself why you are learning
It might sound obvious, but recognising exactly why you want to learn a language is really important. Alex Rawlings, a language teacher now learning his 13th language, says: "Motivation is usually the first thing to go, especially among students who are teaching themselves." To keep the momentum4 going he suggests writing down 10 reasons you are learning a language and sticking it to the front of the file you are using: "I turn to these in times of self-doubt."
3. Focus on exactly what you want to learn
Often the discussion around how to learn a language slides into a debate about so-called traditional v tech approaches. For Aaron Ralby, director of Linguisticator, this debate misses the point: "The question is not so much about online v offline or app v book. Rather it should be how can we assemble the necessary elements of language for a particular objective, present them in a user-friendly way, and provide a means for students to understand those elements."
When signing up to a particular method or approach, think about the substance behind the style or technology. "Ultimately," he says, "the learning takes place inside you rather that outside, regardless of whether it’s a computer or book or a teacher in front of you."
4. Read for pleasure
For many of our panellists, reading was not only great for making progress, but one of the most rewarding aspects of the learning experience. Alex Rawlings explains that reading for pleasure "exposes you to all sorts of vocabulary that you won’t find in day-to-day life, and normalises otherwise baffling and complicated grammatical structures. The first book you ever finish in a foreign languages is a monumental achievement that you’ll remember for a long time."
5. Learn vocabulary in context
Memorising lists of vocabulary can be challenging, not to mention potentially dull. Ed Cooke, co-founder and chief executive of Memrise, believes that association is key to retaining new words: "A great way to build vocabulary is to make sure the lists you’re learning come from situations or texts that you have experienced yourself, so that the content is always relevant and connects to background experience."
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