The best ways to learn a foreign language

The other day a friend asked me to show her ways of improving her English. I get this question quite often, so it was worth writing about it here.

 How my passion for learning foreign languages started

For me, it all started when I was 7 years old. My parents took me to a music school to study violin. And I HATED everything about it: the fact that I was supposed to “guess” which notes the teacher was playing (“What kind of sorcery is that?” wondered 7 year old me and “How come is nobody else as outraged as I am?”); the constant pain in my tiny fingers and nail-clipping to the bone; the fact that you are supposed to enjoy being in a hunchback position while playing. Not to mention the University-style exam that took place 3 times a year, judged by a commission of 5 scary men and women that never smiled. I dreaded every day, until 3 years later, when I went to my parents, all dressed-up in a tiny red pantsuit, and said “Enough is enough!” On the first day at a “normal” school I discovered English and everything started to make sense. I was always looking forward to the next class, to the next grammatical solution I could find to the teacher´s question. None of my parents spoke any English or any other foreign languages for that matter. Later on I learnt French and Spanish, but soon enough I wanted something out of the latin family, so I went all Norwegian. Of course, I didn´t stop there, but that´s enough to paint the picture for now.

Here is what worked for me during my language learning process:

  1. Reading newspapers, magazines, books in the target language. Finding the unknown words and writing them in a separate notebook, together with their definitions and examples; revising the list every week until it is no longer necessary. I always find it easier to remember something if I write it down. I even had a special wall in my room, dedicated to special words and mathematical formulas. If I would go back to my teenage room, I would still be able to see that wall.
  2. Practice in unusual situations. I would practice while being active, exercising, jogging, doing the dishes. Instead of counting in my own language, I would do it in the target language, for example. I made rhymes and logical associations between words and letters that made it impossible to forget. You know you´re on the right track when you find yourself thinking in the target language.
  3. Watch movies with subtitles. I was lucky enough to be from a country where subtitles are the norm; dubbing just seems unnatural. Once my Norwegian was at a good level, I would watch Norwegian movies with Swedish subtitles, to kick it up a notch.
  4. On the subject of “fun learning”, music helps a lot. I would find the lyrics to my favourite songs and “karaoke-it-up”. This way, I had many “a-ha” moments about colloquialisms.
  5. And finally, the nitty-gritty, web resources:
    1. http://www.duolingo.com – if you are really a beginner
    2. readlang.com- combined with my first point, reading newspapers, books.
    3. http://www.memrise.com
    4. lingvist.com  – promises that you will learn a language in 200 hours
    5. podcasts. You will most likely find podcasts in your target language and on the subjects that interest you. For Norwegian, my favourite is Språkteigen because it talks about the origin of certain words and grammatical phenomenon, explaining them logically; it also deals with the changes in language that appear at this moment. For English, I like A way with wordsGlobal pillage and No such thing as a fish.

 Pro tip from an University teacher

My University teacher used to say that one year of learning a certain language outside of the place where it is normally spoken equals one month of learning in the place where it is actually spoken. So moving might be the best option.

Doing all this with passion can make you very language-savy. If you want to increase the speed of your learning, you could hire a private tutor or even contact me. If I´m not horseback riding

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or about to hop on my jetski,2017-02-18-18-03-48-567

I might be able to help.

25 thoughts on “The best ways to learn a foreign language

  1. Moving to a place helps even more if most people there are monolingual.

    When I lived in Lithuania and Romania for one year each, I hardly learned anything because most people both in Lithuania and in Romania spoke very good English, German and lots of other languages.
    In Italy and in Bolivia on the other hand, I got to a conversational level within a few months because it would have been impossible to get around without Italian or Spanish. Italy would be harder, by the way.

    Another thing that helps is to limit one’s circle of friends to speakers of that language. In South America, I largely refuse to meet with North Americans or Europeans and only meet with Latin Americans to keep speaking English.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I also noticed that in Italy and the Spanish speaking countries, the inhabitants would expect you to speak their language, even if you are just a traveller. Whereas me, and most of my friends from back home in Romania, were aware that such an expectation is crazy.

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      1. In Romania, people often asked me “Do you prefer to speak English, German or French?” as soon as they noticed I was not Romanian. I had similar experiences when I lived in Lithuania.

        I was also very impressed by people who had gone to German schools in Romania, for example. Even of the graduates who did not come from an ethnic German family, many spoke fluent and flawless German that could pass for a native speaker.

        My worst experience was in Brazil, where (a) almost nobody spoke a second language, (b) people who said they studied English didn’t speak more than a few hundred words, and (c) I seriously encountered people for whom the concept of another language was foreign. They simply thought everybody speaks Portuguese except for some indigenous tribes. (Of course there were also many exceptions.)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love all things related to language learning so I knew I had to check out this post. I have never heard of lingvist so I’m definitely going to be checking that out very soon..considering that I’m now living in Colombia and studying Spanish intensively 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great to hear, keep up the good work. Watching movies with subtitles has really helped me a lot, as well as listening to music, because we tend to learn a language better if we’re having fun while doing it.

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  3. I enjoy learning new languages as well. At the moment I speak fluently three languages: Albanian, English and Italian(I live in Italy) and also Spanish to an intermediate level. I sometimes mix the words and respond in Italian :P.

    I remember being passionate about new languages since I was maybe 4 years old, when I started learning Italian.

    Reading and watching non dubbed movies and TV Shows definitely helped a lot.

    I am now an English tutor for children here in Italy even though I am not a native speaker.

    Liked by 1 person

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