Real Tips for Learning a Foreign Language

I have clicked on many a links promising “secrets” and “solid tips” for learning a foreign language, and so far I have found them to be pretty vague and uninspiring. Well, as someone who is fairly fluent in Spanish and on her way to becoming conversational in Korean, I have a lot of experience in really digging my heels in and learning a second language purely through schooling and self-education (bless my parents’ souls, but languages are not their forte). I am also a TEFL teacher, so I have the added benefit of having been trained in actually teaching a foreign language and seeing what clicks and what doesn’t.

First and foremost, let me tell you. Language learning isn’t a magic trick, and there are no “secrets.” It takes:

PATIENCE

CONSISTENCY

PRACTICE

Now, because I get so annoyed when I see posts about learning a second language that just give generic tips and not an actual starting point, here’s what I’m doing with Korean, and little things I try to do with my third-graders as this is their first year with English class.

LEARNING A NEW LANGUAGE

1. Learn the Alphabet. If it doesn’t use the ABCs, learn the alphabet of the language before you do anything else. I learned Hangul in an afternoon, and now, even if I have no idea what something says, I can read it. The more you read the alphabet, the better you’ll be at reading in general. I like to think I will master reading Hangul when I can keep up with subtitles for a movie.

2. Learn about 500-600 Vocabulary Words. A friend actually recommended this to me, and it makes total sense. Grammar and conversation are hard to teach without a strong vocabulary foundation. Here are some tips to learning those words.

Download flash card apps: G flash and Quizlet are great.

Use pictures instead of the English translation.

Learn them every day.

Quiz yourself.

Create games.

And here are groups of words you should try to study:

colors

numbers

body parts

house ware

basic greeting questions (where are you from, how old are you, etc)

prepositions

commonly used verbs (to be, to say, to do, to eat, to like etc)

buildings

modes of transportation

directions

3. Learn the Grammar Basics.Now that you have a basic vocabulary down, it’s time to learn the grammar basics. In order to start talking properly, beyond just pointing and stringing words together, you’ve got to memorize some easy basics.

the singular and plural persons chart (I, You, He/She/It, We, You-all, They)

the present tense of the verbs you’ve learned

sentence order

4. Join some sort of language community or class. Of course, with Spanish I was always in class, and I lived in Spain, so becoming “masterful” at the language was going to be a given. However, we’re not all in school forever, so it’s important to find out how people in the real world are learning your respective language. My one friend goes to a conversation class in Korean every week, and another loves Duolingo. Talk to Me in Korean has also been hugely popular. I actually signed up for classes with the Cyber University of Korea because they offer Korean classes in Spanish. I’m killing two birds with one stone! And I’m becoming more confident in my Spanish again. Find people, both native speakers and those with interest, and get practicing. Take grammar notes along the way, and just start speaking.

5. Utilize realia. Newspapers, entertainment, books, podcasts, and more. Use these to increase your comprehension and fluency. One of the reasons my ability to understand Korean is coming to me a lot faster than Spanish did was because I was significantly more interested in Korean dramas and music than I was in Spanish entertainment. Find your interest within the language, and use it. Heck, buy translations of what you know you love in the language. For example, I’m sure Harry Potter has been translated into a million languages. Did you like reading those books? Pick them up in that language. I learned a lot of random Korean expressions and phrases just from watching Korean dramas.

6. Use the language every day. TV show, class, conversation, reading. Use it every day. For at least 1/2 an hour. It’s going to happen over a long period of time, but I promise you, it’s possible to become fluent in a language. Even if it’s just little phrases, pick them up and use them. For Korean, and this came from watching wayyyyy too many dramas, I started saying, “chincha.” You’d use it the same way you’d say, “Seriously?!” or “Really?!” Like if my kids start complaining about something, I say, “chincha” or if they tell me something surprising, I say, “oh, chincha?” You might feel a little silly at first, but, hey, go for it! Even if it’s just starting with calling your mom and dad, madre and padre.

7. But seriously consistency is key.  You’re not going to learn anything if you learn a bunch one day and then don’t think about the language for another month. It’s not fun. It’s not glamorous. But if you want to learn and even master a foreign language, this is the most important thing to take away from this. Practice the language every. damn. day. Download Quizlet on your phone and practice vocabulary while you’re waiting for whatever makes us fiddle with our phones. Waiting in line for the bank? Long trip where you’re not driving? Waiting for the Youtube video to load on your computer? Have five minutes to spare while waiting for water to boil? Get a few words in.

Those are my tips, and they seem to be working for me. Let me know what you’ve done or are trying to do. Also look out for our “Introduction” posts where we give you a quick guide to different world languages!

Want some real, non-vague tips for learning a foreign language? This post is for you. Filled with in depth tips based on my personal study experience.

Written by Samantha
Photo by Roxy of CGSCreative

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