Saturday, October 6, 2012

Best Practices for Learning a New Language - 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

When learning a new language, it is important to consider the following.  Anyone is capable of learning the new language, regardless of the age, race, or anything else.  It is not the easiest thing in the world to do, nor is it the most difficult thing.  For most people, the main challenge is time.

Speaking a new language can have drastic impacts on your life.  Becoming bilingual will expose you to a new world of opportunities, friendships, and career paths that you wouldn't have otherwise.  But before embarking on this journey, you should ask yourself if you truly have the time, the motivation, and the ability to step outside of your comfort zone.

Here are some good questions to ask yourself:

1.)  Why do I want to learn the new language?  

Some common reasons we hear are the following:

  • I want to be more competitive in the job market.
  • I want to travel the world and have new adventures.
  • I want to better communicate with people in my community, including my children's teachers and my neighbors.
2.)  Do I have the time to learn the new language?

We love that Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur are spending a lot of money on marketing to get Americans excited about becoming bilingual.  10 years ago learning a new language was considered a nightmare by most, but has only recently become the cool thing to do.  Unfortunately, spending only 10 minutes a day in front of a computer or listening to CD's is not very realistic.  We need real human interaction, and we need time.  Truly the hardest part about learning a new language is finding the time to do so.

We always advise our students to spend as much time outside of the classroom studying and practicing as they do in the class room.  That means if you have a 1.5 hour long class on Monday and Wednesday evenings, you should plan on spending 1.5 hours on Tuesday and Thursday studying, reviewing flashcards, and doing exercises.

3.)  Do I have the patience to learn a new language?

Did we mention that learning a new language takes time?  On top of having good study habits, you need to set realistic expectations.  Most people can become somewhat conversational within 3 months if they have dedicated themselves to the new language.  However, to truly master the new language you should plan on spending at least one to two years to cover everything.  If you really want to accelerate this, doing a full immersion program to a country where they don't speak your native language will greatly help to cut down on the time, as you will be forced to speak the new language all throughout the day.

4.)  Do I have a sense of humor?

Being patient has other implications as well, especially the older you get.  For most adults, who have grown accustomed to being able to communicate and express themselves, it can be a very humbling experience to start learning a new language from scratch.  You are essentially traveling back in time to when you were two years old.  We can get aggravated quickly when trying to speak and coming to the conclusion that we simply can't say what we want to in the new language. 

So to get over this, have a sense of humor about it!  Don't take things so seriously - you will make mistakes, but at the end of the day it really doesn't matter.  Most people have a desire to help others, and therefor native speakers of the language will usually hear your mistakes, help correct you, and encourage you to keep trying.  Instead of getting frustrated, be prepared to laugh at your mistakes, learn from them, and move on with a positive attitude!

5.)  Do I have the resources to learn a new language?

There are some very brilliant people that can teach themselves a new language without ever picking up a book or attending a class.  Bravo!  For most of us however, we need some help.  That means finding people to encourage us and with whom we can practice, buying and using good books, and enrolling in a language program.

Everyone is different, so finding a program will depend mostly on you and your learning habits.  Private lessons with a professional language instructor are by far the most effective way to learn a new language.  You are the boss and will go at your pace.  Working with a private instructor will ensure you understand everything and cover exactly what you want to learn.

Another great option is to find a small group class, where each student still gets a lot of attention.  We recommend classes no larger than 8, so that everyone still gets a lot of time to actually speak the new language and practice, as well as ask as many questions as they need to.  This way they can feel confident they can actually use what they are learning.  An environment like this also will tend to be a little more fun than private lessons, and you can meet others that are doing the same, producing friendships that last forever.  Finally, lessons will be a little bit less expensive if you go this route, but the quality and comprehension should remain high.

Unless you plan on going into a career teaching the new language, we wouldn't recommend trying to learn a new language from a college or university.  Enrolling in a larger group class, you will quickly see that there are a few people that "get" the language, and unfortunately the teacher will tend to cater the class to those select few, while the rest get left behind.  The class will be very large, with usually at least 30 students, and they move incredibly fast.  Also, the focus tends to be more on reading and writing the language with perfection than actually speaking it.  Lastly, the vast majority of people tend to be shy when speaking their new language and have a fear of public speaking.  Being asked to answer questions or repeat words out loud in front of 30+ people in a different language can be very intimidating and scare you away from the language.

Learning a new language should be a fun and challenging experience, and anyone that has done it will tell you that it was the single best thing they have ever done it their life.  Anyone that hasn't done it will tell you it is the biggest regret they have in their life.  You are fully capable of doing it, just make sure that the time is right for you to do so.  Ask yourself the above questions, and visit a few specialty language schools to evaluate their programs to determine what is right for you.  If you live in Colorado and would like to study Spanish or English, please consider Bolder Languages and contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our advisors.  We have World Languages Schools in Denver, Boulder, and Longmont.

For more information and best practices for learning a new language, please download our guide:  "Top 10 Study Tips for Learning a New Language":

Budget Travel Blog

Cuba Central - The Blog