Learning a new language opens doors to new cultures, enhances cognitive abilities, and broadens your personal and professional horizons. Sounds great, right? Well, from experience I can safely say that it is! However, nearly all language learners will tell you that they struggled in the beginning. Learning a foreign language can be tough, and it helps if you have some guidance along the way. That’s why we’ve put together this list of 19 best ways to learn a language.
So, if you’re ready to start learning a new language, or if you’re already entrenched in the language learning process, some of these tips should help you reach your language learning goals.
How to Learn a Language
If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language you’ll know that it’s not easy. And, while some languages are easier to learn than others, whatever language you learn takes time, patience, and sometimes a fair bit of money.
However, there are certain things that you can do to help you on your way, and there are a number of effective ways to make the process more enjoyable and successful. In this guide, we’ll explore 19 of the best strategies to help you learn a new language and give you a head start on your language-learning journey.
Many of these tips worked for me when I was learning Spanish, so I hope that you find them useful too!
I’ll start with the things that you can easily do by yourself from home, before expanding into other techniques.
1. Have a Reason for Learning
Before embarking on your language-learning journey, I believe that it’s vitally important to identify a meaningful reason for learning a new language. Whether it’s for travel, personal enrichment, career advancement, or connecting with a partner or friends, having a purpose will fuel your motivation and commitment. This will help you keep going even when it feels like you’re not making any progress, which can be quite frequently when you’re learning a new language!
Having a strong and personal motivation acts as a driving force, and will help you overcome these challenges and stay dedicated to your language-learning goals.
2. Set Language Goals
Setting clear and achievable language goals is a powerful motivator. Define milestones that align with your proficiency level, such as holding a basic conversation or passing a language proficiency exam. Break down your goals into manageable tasks, creating a roadmap for your language-learning journey.
Regularly reassess and adjust your goals as you progress, celebrating each achievement along the way. Clear objectives provide direction, focus, and a sense of accomplishment, keeping you motivated throughout your language-learning adventure.
3. Start with Common Vocabulary
Begin your language-learning journey by focusing on common, everyday vocabulary. The most common English words are often the most common words in other languages, so you don’t need to overcomplicate it.
Mastering essential words and phrases enables you to communicate in a foreign language from the outset. Create flashcards or use language apps to reinforce your vocabulary regularly and try to learn new vocabulary words each day.
Starting with common language elements for practical situations not only builds a solid foundation but also boosts your confidence in engaging with native speakers and navigating everyday scenarios in the new language.
4. Use Language Learning Apps
A great way to get started with learning a new language is through language learning apps. They have revolutionized the way people acquire new languages and many of them are free to use. Provided you have your phone with you you can use them pretty much anywhere.
With user-friendly interfaces and gamified lessons, language learning apps turn the learning process into a fun and interactive experience. The bite-sized lessons are perfect for short, daily practices, fostering consistent engagement, which is essential for learning languages. Many apps also employ spaced repetition algorithms, ensuring that you revisit and reinforce previously learned material at optimal intervals.
Depending on your reason for learning a language they also allow you to see how you get on with it before you commit more time to it. If you find that the language just isn’t for you this can save a lot of time and money down the road. Plus, they are very easy to use so it only takes a few minutes each day to find out.
The convenience of having a language tutor in your pocket encourages frequent and spontaneous learning moments, making language acquisition a seamless part of your daily routine.
5. Practice Every Day
Consistency is the key to successful language learning. You should dedicate a small amount of time each day to practice all target language skills; speaking, listening, reading, and writing. This daily commitment helps solidify what you’ve learned, making it easier to retain information and progress efficiently.
Learning a language requires regular practice, and you should create a language practice routine that fits your schedule, whether it’s during your morning commute, lunch break, or before bedtime. Regular practice ensures that language learning becomes a natural part of your daily life, increasing the chances of successful and sustainable progress.
6. Watch Movies
One way to practice is by watching movies, so there’s no excuse if you like spending time on Netflix! Learning a language through movies offers a great blend of entertainment and education. Start with films that have subtitles in your native language to grasp the context. As you progress, challenge yourself by watching without subtitles to enhance your listening skills.
Movies provide exposure to colloquial language, diverse accents, and cultural nuances. Take notes on phrases and expressions, and mimic the intonation and rhythm of native speakers. This immersive approach not only helps you understand the language in context but also turns language acquisition into an enjoyable pastime.
If you don’t have time to watch movies, watching videos in your target language on YouTube can also be highly beneficial.
7. Read in the Foreign Language
Reading in your target language is another great way to learn a new language. Reading exposes you to diverse vocabulary, sentence structures, and cultural references. It allows you to explore different cultures, perspectives, and storytelling styles, enriching your overall language-learning experience.
Begin with simpler texts in the early stages so as not to feel overwhelmed and gradually advance to more complex works as your language skills improve. Consider starting with children’s books, then progressing to news articles, and eventually tackling novels.
Annotate unfamiliar words, and use a dictionary to look them up and understand their meaning. You can then use them in your daily conversations to reinforce your understanding.
8. Carry a Pocket Dictionary
A pocket dictionary is a practical tool for on-the-go language reference. Having one readily available allows you to look up unfamiliar words instantly, facilitating continuous learning and comprehension. If you’re worried about carrying a book around you don’t need to be. Many of the popular dictionaries now come in apps that can be installed on your phone and even come with sound.
Choose a dictionary that provides clear definitions, examples, and pronunciation guides. Incorporating this handy resource into your daily life will ensure that you can quickly address any language challenges that arise, reinforcing your vocabulary and promoting a smooth transition to conversational fluency.
9. Teach Yourself
Many of the tips I’ve already covered involve you taking charge of your learning. However, you can also set out to teach yourself a new language. There are a vast amount of language learning resources that cater to this, and you can utilize textbooks, online resources, and the aforementioned language learning apps to create a customized study plan that suits your learning style.
This self-directed approach empowers you to explore topics of interest, emphasizing the aspects of the language that are most relevant to your goals. While self-teaching requires discipline, it offers the freedom to tailor your language-learning journey to your preferences and pace.
10. Do an Online Language Course
If the idea of teaching yourself isn’t that appealing but you still want to learn from home, you might want to consider an online language course. Online language courses bring the classroom to your fingertips, allowing you to learn at your own pace. With interactive multimedia lessons, quizzes, and real-life scenarios, these courses cater to various learning styles.
There are a range of language learning programs available, and many offer progress-tracking tools to help you monitor your advancement, providing a sense of accomplishment as you complete modules. Additionally, the gamification elements often incorporated in online language learning can turn learning into an enjoyable experience, motivating you to consistently dedicate time to mastering the language. Plus, the flexibility to schedule sessions at your convenience makes it suitable for those with busy lifestyles.
11. Take Language Lessons
If you’d like to interact with a real person take some language lessons. Language learners of all levels can benefit from lessons and they can quickly help you identify where you need to improve. Immediate feedback from teachers allows you to correct mistakes promptly, reinforcing proper pronunciation and grammar rules.
When you opt for language lessons, you embark on a structured learning path that caters to your specific needs. In a classroom setting or through virtual lessons, you benefit from a curriculum designed by experienced educators. Interactive activities, group discussions, and role-playing exercises make the learning process dynamic and engaging.
The camaraderie with fellow learners also provides a supportive environment, creating a sense of community that encourages you to persevere in your language-learning journey.
12. Go to a Language Exchange
Another way to meet fellow language learners is through a language exchange. You can find a language exchange partner, either in person or through online platforms, to engage in regular conversations.
Participating in a language exchange is a two-way street where both participants benefit from each other’s language skills. Usually, you’ll get paired with a language partner and spend some time speaking your native language before switching to their native language. That way you both get to practice your target language, which is a huge bonus. This not only enhances your speaking and listening abilities but also provides cultural insights and practical language usage.
Share your experiences, correct each other’s mistakes, and develop a lasting connection that goes beyond language learning. A language exchange is an excellent opportunity to broaden your cultural understanding and build friendships across borders.
If you’re ready to go to a language exchange or find a language exchange partner, check out this list of the best language exchange apps and websites. Most of them free so you can give several a try to find the best language exchange app or website for you.
13. Make Friends with a Native Speaker
Building friendships with native speakers of other languages is an invaluable aspect of language acquisition. Ideally, this should come naturally by attending language exchanges, traveling abroad, or just through everyday life. There are also language exchange apps and websites that can facilitate connections.
By being friends with someone who speaks your target language, you get to immerse yourself in the language by engaging in casual conversations with your friends. This real-world exposure allows you to learn colloquialisms, slang, and cultural nuances that may not be covered in formal lessons. Native speaker friends can also provide immediate feedback, correct pronunciation, and share personal experiences, making the learning process more authentic and enjoyable.
Developing connections with native speakers offers opportunities to practice outside of structured learning environments, reinforcing your language skills in conversations with more natural contexts.
14. Have Lots of Conversations
Engage in conversations as frequently as possible to enhance your speaking and listening skills. Regular interactions with native speakers, language exchange partners, or fellow learners will help you pick up language fast.
Conversations provide practical application of language rules, expose you to various accents and expressions, and build your confidence in using the language in real-life situations. Actively seek out opportunities for dialogue to accelerate your language-learning progress.
15. Embrace Mistakes
Embrace mistakes as inevitable and valuable components of the learning process. Rather than fearing errors, view them as opportunities for improvement. It’s important to accept that you will make mistakes and sometimes people will laugh at them. I once tried to have a conversation in Spanish about hiking and climbing and asked if they did it “sin ropa” which at the time I thought meant “without a rope”. Little did I know it meant “without clothes”, so that generated a lot of laughs!
In the language learning world, this is what is known as a “false friend”, where a word sounds similar to a word in another language but actually has a completely different meaning. Watch out for those!
At the end of the day, mistakes are all part of the learning process, and correcting mistakes helps solidify correct language patterns in your mind and refines your overall language proficiency. By adopting a positive attitude towards errors, you create an environment conducive to continuous learning and growth.
16. Make It Fun
Injecting fun into your language-learning routine makes the process enjoyable and sustainable. Incorporate games, music, or humorous content related to the language you’re learning. Word games and vocabulary games in particular can be great ways to pick up new vocabulary words, improve memorization, and re-learn vocabulary that you’ve already covered.
You can also find joy in learning a new language by exploring culturally relevant entertainment, attending language-themed events, participating in language challenges, or even traveling abroad. Making language learning enjoyable turns it into a fulfilling and engaging activity, motivating you to consistently invest time and effort into your studies.
17. Travel Abroad
If you’re ready to take your language skills on the road and your circumstances allow for it, traveling to a country where your target language is spoken is one of the best ways to learn. By surrounding yourself with native speakers you can accelerate your language acquisition by exposing you to authentic conversations and cultural contexts.
While exploring new places, you’ll find yourself naturally adapting to the language, gaining practical skills that extend beyond formal education. Everyday interactions, from ordering food to asking for directions, become valuable opportunities to enhance your language proficiency and cultural awareness.
18. Date a Foreign Speaker
This one all depends upon your personal situation, and once again it should be something that happens naturally if it happens. However, it remains one of the fastest ways to learn a language as you’ll be highly motivated to learn. Remember the first point on this list about having a reason or a purpose for learning? Well, you can’t get a much bigger purpose than this.
Dating someone who speaks the language fluently not only fosters personal connections but also provides continuous exposure to the language in various contexts. Communication within a relationship involves a range of emotions, expressions, and daily interactions, which you just don’t get anywhere else. The only way you might hear or speak the language more is if you lived in another country, and that brings me nicely to our last point.
19. Live in Another Country
Taking the leap to live in a foreign country offers an unparalleled language-learning experience. By immersing yourself fully in the language, you’ll be forced to communicate in various situations, drastically improving your conversational skills.
Living abroad exposes you to diverse accents, regional dialects, conversational phrases, and cultural subtleties that might not be covered in textbooks. Additionally, by moving to another country you’ll be forced to navigate the daily challenges of life in a foreign language. I can safely say this will contribute to your linguistic growth more than almost anything on this list, leading to a more profound understanding of the language and its cultural nuances.
What’s the Best Way to Learn Another Language?
The best way to learn another language often involves a combination of different strategies, as each person has unique learning preferences. And, if you combine the tips on this list you want go far wrong.
However, if I was to pick one tip above all others, it would be to go and live in a country where they speak your target language. This isn’t possible for everyone, but if you get the opportunity it represents the ultimate immersion and is the fastest way to learn a new language. Nearly everyone I know who has spent a significant amount of time abroad with the intention of learning the language would vouch for this!
Conclusion: The Best Ways to Learn a Language
Learning a new language is a challenging yet immensely rewarding journey that opens doors to new cultures and expands personal and professional horizons. I hope that by adopting some of the strategies in this guide you can successfully navigate the challenges with enthusiasm, and get to experience the joys of learning a new language.
If you have a meaningful reason to learn, coupled with clear and achievable objectives, you can reach your language goals!