Learning a second language is something we can all do and should do at some point in our life. Not only does it exercise our brains, but it also helps us to appreciate the differences in cultures around the world.
I am very lucky to be living in South Korea, one of the most vibrant, exciting cities in the world. The culture here is very different from the culture in which I grew up in. And while there were some customs and cultural differences that were immediately obvious when I arrived here—such as taking your shoes off when you enter someone’s house or in some more traditional restaurants—it was when I began learning the language that I came to fully appreciate the more subtle and fascinating differences.
Learning a new language can be very difficult and for most of us, our experiences of learning a foreign language has been tainted by a school system that focuses on repetitive rote learning and memorisation so we can pass an exam and make our school look good instead of being able to communicate effectively in the language.
But the way we learned languages at school doesn’t have to be the way we learn a new language today. We do not need to take an exam, we can test ourselves by speaking and communicating with a native speaker of our target language at any time. The internet has opened up so many exciting avenues for learning languages that there has never been a better or easier time to learn a new language.
In this article, I will give you my top tips for getting to grips with a new language as quickly as possible without having to feel the stress you may have felt when you were at school.
1. Have a Purpose for Learning the Language
Confession time: I arrived in Korea nearly 17 years ago. In the first few weeks, I told myself I would learn to speak Korean as quickly as I could. I had no goal and because the level of English ability here in Korea is good, most places I went to always had an English speaker. I never needed Korean. So, after 16 years, all I had was what could, at best, be described as “survival Korean”.
It was not until I set the goal to do a TEDx type talk in Korean in twelve months time when I sat down and got serious about my studying. Six months in and I am on target to do my TEDx Talk.
Every time I sit down to do some studying now, I begin with a two-minute visualization of standing up in front of an audience speaking in Korean about how to become better organized and more productive. It focuses my mind on the goal and it gives me the focus I need to do some quality studying.
2. Learn How to Say “Hello” and “Goodbye” Naturally First
Okay, I know this might be obvious and I know you probably already know how to do this. But, when I first began learning Korean, I used the language CDs that came with the textbook I bought to learn from. The voices on those CDs over-pronounced the words and when I copied them, I sounded like a person learning a foreign language.
I quickly discovered that Korean people never sound like that and a few syllables I was adding were dropped by native speakers. Once I started listening to how native Korean people said hello and goodbye, I soon changed my pronunciation and I began getting compliments on my pronunciation. A great boost for my confidence and enthusiasm right from the start.
If you cannot find anyone locally who speaks your target language natively, then use YouTube to find clips from dramas or news programmes. Listen to how they speak and talk to each other.
3. Find the 100 Most Common Words and…
Now a lot of advice about learning a foreign language will tell you to learn the most common 100 words. And that is good advice. But it is only half the story.