Tips for learning a foreign language

Published May 03, 2012

| FoxNews.com

It is common in other parts of the world for people to speak English in addition to their native tongue, so some people shrug off the idea of learning another language. But there are many reasons to learn a foreign language, from being able to communicate better with loved ones to understanding a new culture. Here are four tips for learning a new language:

Choose a language you want to learn

If you love French cinema and dream of living in Paris, don't forgo learning French in order study Mandarin Chinese. If you know you want to learn a new language but don't know which ones to choose, start by checking the availability of resources and classes in your area. You will have more options if you decide to learn the language on your own, but if you want to take classes, see which ones fit into your schedule. 

Some colleges and universities require you to have a certain number of credits or reach a certain level of proficiency to graduate. If you tried to learn Spanish in school but hated it, maybe you will want to start from the beginning and learn a new language. Another factor to consider is the usefulness of the language. Being bilingual may make you a more appealing candidate for a job.

Dedicate yourself

You will get out what you put in, and it takes a lot of hard work and practice for a new language to click. Take an active approach to learning. You will not absorb new vocabulary by showing up to class and daydreaming for an hour. Set aside time to practice daily. Listen and read the language every day. 

Making flashcards and quizzing yourself with them is arguably the most effective and efficient way of learning new vocabulary. If you are learning Portuguese, practice by starting with the English word and naming its Portuguese equivalent. Do a little bit each day, rather than telling yourself that you will sit down all day on Sunday and study German.

Have realistic expectations

Although degrees of difficulty are all relative, some languages are generally more challenging for English speakers to learn than others. Languages that do not use the Latin alphabet like Arabic, Chinese and Japanese, provide additional hurdles from the get-go. Romance languages are often taught in schools in the United States, and may be easier to learn. 

If you have studied French, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese in the past, you may have less trouble picking up another Romance language. Some languages are harder to speak but may have easier grammar, while others can flow more naturally for an English speaker but be challenging to read and write.

Accept from the beginning that every language has its own set of grammar rules. Do not go into your studies thinking you can apply English grammar and punctuation universally.

Expose yourself to native speakers

Look at immersion programs that require you to only speak the foreign language while participating. You will be amazed how quickly your language skills improve when you cannot communicate any other way. Take advantage of study abroad and travel opportunities. You can practice the generic way to ask for help at a supermarket in a language class, but there is no script when you are conversing with an actual Italian storekeeper.

Have fun learning your new language and grow accustomed to hearing it spoken. Watch television shows or the news in the language you are studying. Listen to music from a country that speaks the language. Check out websites in other languages and set your social networking websites to the language you are learning. You can also download free podcasts and listen to them on the go. You will see your skills improve before you know it.

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