Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Maybe you learnt a little bit of French in school.
Maybe you had a Spanish girlfriend on summer holidays with family when you were 15.
Or maybe you have tried to learn another language for 10 years now, but, somehow, all you know is still only how to say "Hi" and, erm, "Fuck you".
Now, I'm not saying learning a language is easy. But here's an old truth - once you start, it IS all going to get easier.
As a person who speaks 4 languages, I know what I'm talking about. If I wasn't "forced" to learn 3 of them in elementary, high school and university, I probably wouldn't be here writing this article now.
Why is it so difficult to learn a language?
Well, why is it so difficult to learn anything?
Because we all love excuses. We all love to procrastinate.
We all love to say how busy we are. How tiring this week has been and how we actually don't even need to learn it.
Doesn't matter, what you need the language for. If it's on your mind, and it's not leaving it, it means you want to learn it.
And here's how to start:
1. Stop downloading apps
I can't even remember how many apps I'd downloaded when I was first trying to learn all of the languages I now know. So many of them were supposed to magically turn me into a fluent Spanish speaker or a Mandarin Chinese master by suggesting to me all these word games and videos for me to watch. I'd tried to do crosswords, fill in the blanks, listen to a calming voice speaking to me in a foreign language while I'm trying to relax in a dark room with my eyes closed (yes, really).
Hey, I even tried to talk to strangers through these apps. Like Tinder for languages.
How many of these had helped me with my language skills?
I would honestly recommend just one type of app - dictionary. There are hundreds of online dictionaries out there, and some of them are really helpful.
But binge-downloading different language apps and then letting them eat your phone memory without you even opening them (because I just KNOW you won't) is not the way to go.
Do your research, see what suits you, feel free to download something, but not ALL of them.
2. Pay for THE course
The reason why I used "the" instead of "a" is because, just like the apps, not all courses are suitable.
I know people who attended some of these language courses. Forced by parents they went to a couple of classes, but ended up smoking behind the school at the end.
Or some, who paid for these classes and were disappointed and disgusted with the non-native speaker's absence of creativity and their progress (non-progress) even after buying 5 workbooks she suggested.
But I also know people, who found a class that worked for them so much, they are now fluent speakers - after 1 year! And they're happy too.
As I mentioned before, and I will multiple times again, research is the key.
You need to know what you want and what you can do.
Answer these questions truthfully, do your research, and I guarantee you will find what you're looking for:
• What is my goal?
Is it to speak the language fluently? Is it to develop yourself outside of work/school? Is it to learn something new? Have you been always attracted to the country and fascinated by the language - do you just want to get a little bit closer to the culture? Have you found that customers at work speak it a lot and you want to be able to understand at least a little bit?
Whatever the reason, define it for yourself.
Some of the language school/classes/tutors provide you with conversational knowledge of the language; just for you to be able to have a basic (or advanced) conversation.
Some will treat the classes similarly to school - you'll learn grammar, conversation, reading, you'll get homework etc.
Define your goal and search for a place that will help you achieve it.
• What type of learner am I?
When I went to school and university, one of my biggest fears was always to be put on the spot. To be asked to answer a question in front of all my classmates, to be examined while everyone is listening and to be in a class with less than 10 people.
I am an introvert; a person with a high level of (social) anxiety, and I like to "hide". I am that type of quiet person, who never speaks in a class, but always makes notes and listens. I don't raise my hand, I don't try to show my knowledge to anyone; I prefer to be in a crowd and let others speak, while I'm observing, listening and learning.
Because of that, I prefer to learn in a class, where the chances of me being asked to talk are little. If I miss a class, it's not a big deal and they can continue without me.
On the other hand, that is something that makes it a bit difficult for me to learn sometimes. If I'm the only one expected to come (a one-to-one tutor classes), I just have to show up. Yes, I can call and cancel, however, I don't know how about you, but I just feel ashamed and bad if I do so.
There is no right or wrong way. All of us have learning styles - the most common known ones are visual, aural, verbal or physical. Which means, try to figure out how you prefer to learn - do you prefer to see or hear a lecture or an example? Do you prefer to speak yourself and try it all? Do you like to sit down and make notes like me and rather watch and listen to other people having a conversation, making up examples rather than do it yourself? Or do you prefer all the attention on you; do you want to speak all you can?
• What can I afford?
Maybe quite obvious question - but a very important one if you want to achieve your language goals.
Be honest with yourself; what can you afford?
When it comes to the financial side of things, I'm sure you can budget and calculate what you can afford to pay to a tutor or a language school so you don't go broke by the end of the month. Or if not, there are tons of websites and articles that'd help you with that.
Most importantly - what can you afford time-wise?
Most of us go to work, school or university and can't or don't want to attend regular classes.
But there is always a way.
Language schools and tutors offer evening classes, weekend trainings and a lot of them are willing to work around your schedule.
Make sure you know what days and times you are and you will be available.
Research and find out when and how your goals can be met.
Make a commitment, set it as your priority and incorporate learning a new language in your life.
3. Break down your goal and schedule
It's interesting how we schedule everything - we have to leave the house at 6:30 to stop by at Starbucks for a quick cup of coffee to go and a croissant, drop kids off at school and be at work 9:05 the latest. Then we plan our weekends, holidays, we plan shopping, entertainment, gym, dates.
It seems like there's no space for other things.
Having a busy lifestyle doesn't mean we can't do anything else.
It's all about scheduling and planning.
I'm not gonna lie, learning a new language requires time and energy. It's going to take a while to achieve language goals.
But with all the progress, it's just going to get easier and easier.
It's the same as with everything - for example gym or sports. At first, you're tired and lazy. No motivation whatsoever, it costs money, it is not bringing you any progress, you say you don't have time for it.
But once you get through the phase, that's when magic starts to happen.
Whenever I have to do something that doesn't really bring me joy or I'm not in a mood for, or even if I love it, but I just feel like procrastinating instead - I schedule.
I make a commitment - not long ago I bought this book I've wanted to read in a long time. Honestly, it's not the best read ever, it's quite hard to read, but I know that, every time I open the book, it brings me something. It teaches me something and it makes me feel good about myself.
I can't stop talking about the book.
So when I got the book and I found out I can't force myself to read it often and when I do, I only read a couple of pages, I decided to plan when and how I'm gonna read.
I set some reminders in my phone calendar that say "Read". And whenever the reminder goes off - I go read. I sit down, grab a coffee, put phone on silent. And I read.
I do this with everything. I am a huge planner; I plan all of what I mentioned before - shopping, coffee, gym, dates; I plan almost everything I can.
Now, that doesn't mean everyone has to do it this way, it can be overwhelming.
But one thing is for sure - once you set your priorities, plan them out (and the best would be if you tell someone about your plans, too) and stick to the plans, I promise you won't need any reminders.
You'll just want and need to go to your class, open your workbook or watch a movie with subtitles on just to meet your goals ASAP.