13 Tips on Learning A New Language

My best friend once said learning another language is like discovering a superpower. 

Skin-tight spandex and villains aside, she's right. Language is culture. It is the main thread of all social fabrics, dictating how we interact with one another and convey our emotions, dreams, and fears. 

Understanding language allows us to better elucidate humanity's core by delving into identity and history across continents. So, the ability to effectively communicate with people from other cultures, countries, and customs is a superpower.

But don’t worry—you don’t have to fall into a vat of toxic waste or get bitten by an orb-weaving spider to speak another language. It just takes time, patience, and practice. Lots of practice.

While learning another language is challenging, it is also unbelievably rewarding. It’s an exercise in vulnerability and a slow re-wiring of your brain. To truly immerse yourself in another culture, you have to be able to communicate and connect with the community. This experience is more meaningful when conversations are in the local language. Words have history and are intrinsically tied to place. In fact, words hold power, and knowing words in other languages is a priceless skill.

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13 Tips for Learning A New Language:

1. Download an App: There are countless applications available online. How do you know which one to pick? Well, that depends entirely on your budget and commitment level. Duolingo is an excellent resource for beginners. The game-style learning will use repetition to help you beef up your vocabulary. Memrise utilizes flashcards to help retain vocabulary and grammar. Babbel and Mango are excellent subscription-based applications that help master pronunciation and the ability to form sentences.

2. Find a Tutor: While language apps are beneficial for building vocabulary, there is no substitute for live conversation. Finding a tutor, whether online or in person, is a fantastic way to deepen your understanding of a language. One of my favorite sites for booking a tutor is Italki because it offers private lessons with certified tutors for less than $20 an hour. However, finding an in-person tutor in most big cities or areas with diverse populations is also possible. Community Centers often have information on localized tutors.

3. Sit In On A Language Class: Most colleges and universities offer language classes for their students. Did you know that it’s possible to sit in on a class? Contacting the school and requesting permission to sit in on a language class is an informative way to learn a new language! Language courses usually begin at the start of every semester, so the best time to try this is in the fall or spring.

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4. Join a Club: Learning a new language should be a collaborative endeavor. Language clubs exist to give a more significant sense of community to learning and accountability. Facebook has online groups available for language learning, some based primarily online or in a specific area. Polyglot Club is the modern-day equivalent of pen pals, where you can connect with language learners worldwide. Meetup is another site that can be advantageous because it functions as a platform for people to connect over their common interests. As always, be careful exchanging information with strangers online. 

5. Watch a Series with Subtitles: Why not take marathoning a favorite series to the next level? Butter some popcorn and put on subtitles. Employing subtitles in a different language is an excellent exercise in learning catchphrases and slang. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: hasta la vista, baby. 

6. Listen to Music: Hopping onto Spotify, YouTube, or Apple Music and finding songs in the language you want to learn can be an entertaining way to spice up your listening experience. Google the most famous artists in the region of the language you wish to learn and check out the existing playlists. It’s useful to Google the lyrics in your language and also in the foreign language you want to learn!

7. Check Out A Podcast: Listening to a Podcast is an incredibly beneficial way to hear a language in action, allowing you to pick up on slang and tonal changes in conversations. CoffeeBreak is a favorite of mine because it offers short lessons on how to successfully converse by focusing on greetings, introductions, and hobbies. Duolingo, Spotify, Audible, and Lingopie also provide a variety of valuable podcasts for all types of listeners.

8. Read Children’s Books: Checking out your local library’s children’s section can be an amusing way to pick up on new words and flip through adorable picture books. Additionally, libraries have many key resources and sometimes offer free subscriptions to Mango or other language-learning apps. They might also have information on local tutors or language clubs. 

9. Change the Language on Your Phone: Going into your phone’s settings and changing the language is a guaranteed way to pick up new words quickly. In fact, you might be forced to learn several words to change the language back to your mother tongue. 

10. Download a Dating App: Now, this tip may seem a little crass, but the best way to learn a new language is experiential. I have learned the most Spanish words by flirting through a conversation with a local speaker. ¿Crees en el amor a primera vista o tengo que pasar otra vez?

11. YouTube or TikTok Videos: There are countless channels dedicated to learning another language on YouTube. Creators offer help on everything from pronunciation to sentence structure to the cultural context behind words. Channels like LangFocus, Ted-Ed, and Pod101 are fabulous resources to explore. Additionally, TikTok offers quick and easy instructional videos for learning the basic greetings in another country. This can be exceedingly helpful when you do not have the time to burrow deeply into a language but still want to be able to say hello and thank you.

12. Travel: There is no substitute for full-on language immersion, whether that be from living abroad, staying with a host family, or talking with locals in a new country. Exploring a foreign country might be the best way to learn another language, and traveling is the most rewarding way to practice the words you've already learned. Remember that an amazing, life-altering part of living abroad and traveling is immersing yourself in another culture. It’s easy to bounce from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, bumbling along in the comfort of your primary language….but connecting on a linguistic level deepens an experience.

13. Volunteering Abroad with Globalteer: If you’re interested in learning Spanish and volunteering abroad, Globalteer offers several placement programs that focus on environmental conservation, human rights, and the well-being of animals.  Globalteer arranges a private teacher for you while offering the perfect volunteer match for your interests. What better way to learn another language than to make a positive change in this world?