How to Learn a Foreign Language - Study Tips - Language Learning

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Hello, my Socratica Friends.

We’re here to help you be a GREAT student.

You probably speak English, since you’re watching a video in English.

But do you want to be monolingual all your life, or do you hope to be bilingual?

Or trilingual?

Or...even quadrilingual!?!.

I love learning new languages.

It’s opened so much of the world to me.

I speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian...so I have some experience that I

can share with you.

How DO you get good at speaking another language?

If your chosen second language is brand new to you, your first step

will be to just RECOGNIZE it.

First, what does the written language look like?

Let’s pull up a page in Wikipedia.

They have a nice feature where you can look at a subject in many different languages.

What do you notice?

Does it use the same alphabet as English?

Can you tell the difference between related languages, like French and Italian?

Observe the different use of accents, or special characters.

Now this next part is harder.

What does this language SOUND like?

International cinema is a great way to be exposed to a new language in real situations.

clip from "Zero de conduite" (French)

You may find that initially it just sounds like an unintelligible blur.

But eventually, you recognize where sentences end, and then you can start to

pick out individual words.

You’re training your ear to know what to expect in your new language.

You might feel most comfortable learning from a textbook, and that’s perfectly fine.

You do feel a sense of satisfaction each time you finish a chapter.

How do you pick a textbook?

You could always go online and see what textbook they are using at a school you admire.

Ask advice from friends who have studied the language before.

They may even loan you some books.

If you do get a textbook, try to find one that has extra materials, like audio recordings.

The more ways you’re exposed to the language, the better.

But what’s even more effective is making your own study materials.

We recommend “situational learning.”

Think about the situations you’ll find yourself in, and what you’d like to be able to say

and understand in your new language.

This adds a touch of PERSONAL motivation to be able to handle yourself in public.

For instance: You’re visiting Barcelona, and you really want some

hot chocolate and churros.

How do you ask for help - picking a cafe, finding it on a map, catching a tram, ordering

and paying when you’re finished?

This is a very specific scenario, with typical sentences that use specialized vocabulary.

I doubt you’re going to find this as a chapter in a textbook.

But if it’s important to you to be able to handle this situation in your new language,

start here.

Prepare for your scenario.

Referring to a textbook, or phrasebook, or even better - with the help of a native speaker,

write out a dialogue, and a list of vocabulary.

Practice with a friend.

And of course, don’t forget the power of flashcards.

Having the confidence to be able to handle yourself in one scenario lets you move on

to another, and another.

These scenarios will give you anchors to grab onto when you are in a new situation.

Now that you know how to buy a ticket for the tram, it will be much easier when you

have to buy a ticket for the bus or train.

If you know how to order in a cafe, it will be easier for you to learn how to buy things

in a department store.

Each scenario ties into many others.

To make your language learning really robust, along with learning scenarios, you should

also learn the basic rules of grammar.

These will come more easily to you when you have a set of 20-50 sentences you’re already

very familiar with.

Notice how sentence construction in your new language differs from English.

Are the words in the same order - Adjective, Noun, Verb, Adverb?

Or are they inverted compared with what you’re familiar with - does it go Noun-Adjective.

You can fall back on those sentences you already know very well from your scenarios, and those

will help you make sense of the grammar rules.

In this way, with focused study, you can learn a lot on your own.

Of course, there’s really no substitute for IMMERSION - listening and speaking the

language with native speakers with no English interruptions.

For many years, depending on where you lived, it was VERY hard to do this.

Imagine trying to learn Spanish in, say, Minnesota or Stockholm.

You’d have to look really hard to find someone to talk with.

I actually MOVED to Italy to become fluent in Italian.

Now, thankfully, you can do immersion online.

You can join classes and talk to native speakers, all without leaving your house.

We recently learned about LINGODA, an online language-learning service, and we thought

we’d give it a try.

LINGODA lets you work with group classes, or individual tutors who are native speakers.

Group classes are a little less expensive, and may be a good way to ease into your new

language, as well as give you a chance to meet other people you could practice with.

You start at Lingoda with an assessment test, to place you at the right level of instruction,

and then you progress at your own speed, taking classes on your own schedule.

You can start as an absolute beginner, and work your way up to fluency.

You can even get certifications that can help you with jobs.

Now, let me share with you some tips and tricks I’ve learned through studying languages.

Tip #1: Work very hard on your PRONUNCIATION.

Pronunciation first.

Start by imitating what the language sounds like when you watch a foreign film.

You may feel silly.

But you HAVE to master the sounds of your new language.

It may help to know there’s a finite number of sounds you will need to make.

For instance, the French phonetic alphabet contains 37 sounds.

- You can probably pronounce most of them just fine with practice.

Usually people have trouble with just one or two of the sounds.

For instance the French “r” is nothing like the English “r” - you have to hold

your tongue completely differently - so when you see r written down it can be confusing.

Many beginning students pronounce it incorrectly and then they have to break that habit, so

it’s better if you start pronouncing things properly as soon as possible.

It can help to imitate the way a French person speaks English.

This is NOT to be rude or mean or anything like that.

You’re doing this to learn how do they make natural French sounds.

Saying “zhe telephoan” lets you understand that “TH” is not pronounced the same way

in French as in English.

Tip #2: Grammar is easier to learn if you understand the grammar of your own language.

So check out our English grammar series!

The more languages you learn, you’ll start to notice things they all have in common.

All languages have a way to express an action: a verb.

You can say whether something is happening now, or in the future, or in the past.

All languages have a way of identifying the subject: who or what is doing the action.

Next comes replacing that subject with a pronoun.

Luke went to the store.

HE went to the store.

Soon you’ll figure out that there isn’t THAT much grammar to learn, and you can pick

up a lot of it by practicing properly constructed sentences - like with those scenarios

we talked about before.

Another thing you’ll get more relaxed about once you’ve learned more than one language


Each language has its own number system.

Some will feel more comfortable for you, because it’s similar to your native language.

Others, well, you’ll learn how to count by 20s and subtract 10 or whatever.

You can do it.

Tip #3 Build your Vocabulary.

This is the bigee.

This is the part of learning a language that will take you the longest.

In fact, you may never be finished building your vocabulary.

The trick is knowing where to start.

It turns out, the great majority of the time, you use a very small number of words.

Linguists have analyzed word frequencies in English, French - all the major languages.

By learning the 100 most common words, you’ll be able to understand about 50% of the language.

That’s an incredible head start!

Learn the 500 most common words, and now you’ll understand 67%.

1000 words gets you to 75%.

Buy a Frequency Dictionary, and commit yourself to learning first, the 100 most common words,

then the 500 most common words, then the 1000 most common words.

This will pay off rapidly.

The best way to learn vocabulary is with flashcards and spaced repetition.

Watch our video on flashcards to get some pointers on how to use them most efficiently.

We suggest you focus on PHRASES that use your vocab term, rather than individual words.

This is much more powerful, both because it helps your memory to learn a word in context,

and because phrases can immediately be used in speaking and writing.

Those cheap little phrasebooks really come in handy here.

You may be surprised to find you already know many of the words in your new language!

About 30% of English words are derived from French, 30% from Latin, and 30% from

the Germanic languages.

This isn’t going to help you very much if you are learning, say, Russian or Japanese.

However, one interesting side-benefit from learning SUCH a different language is that

you acquire new ways to express an idea.

For instance, the Japanese term “wabi-sabi” refers to the beauty in imperfection.

There’s no denying - if you speak English, you can get by in many places.

But to be a true citizen of the world, you’ll want to be able to say Bonjour.



Guten Tag.

Being able to make yourself understood is an important part of being a GREAT student.


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