When you think of learning a foreign language, what comes to mind?
I’m reminded of studying vocabulary and grammar from a book, practicing to speak the language with fellow non-native speakers, and proving my skills in written tests. Now that doesn’t sound very stimulating or promising, does it?
Personally, I had medium success with the traditional approach to learning a foreign language. Yes, it does help to study vocabulary and grammar. And exams are a good enough motivation to push you forward. However, that alone will hardly get you to the point where you fluently speak a foreign language.
So when you want to learn a foreign language, what makes the difference? Motivation, tons of practicing, and the right tools to keep it fun and interesting. Maybe one of the following ways to learn a new language is the right starting point for you.
Listening to language podcasts is a great way to get started. First of all you develop a feeling for the sound of the language. As you advance and learn more and more words, you also gain an understanding of how sentences are put together. In other words, you pick up the language just like a baby: first it’s all strange sounds, then it’s starting to make sense, and in the end you’re starting to speak.
For a start, you can go with the tools you already have. Browse iTunes for your language of choice or navigate to > Podcasts (source column) > Podcast Directory (bottom right) > Education (category) > Language Courses (more information) to get an overview of what’s available.
Frankly, podcasts are a one sided affair. Your iPod won’t object when you make mistakes and thus you will soon reach a premature learning plateau. This is where communities come into play.
A great benefit of communities is that you don’t just digest lessons and learn a foreign language passively. Instead, you can interact with others, communicate with native speakers, practice understanding the language, and receive feedback regarding your skills. Here is a selection of communities with different emphases:
RhinoSpike is the natural advancement from solitary podcast studying to exchanging audio files socially.
Lang-8 focuses on writing in a foreign language. You write, native speakers correct your mistakes, and you can contribute by correcting texts in your native language.
Busuu provides not only a community and a chatroom, but also courses, writing exercises, vocabulary training, and tests.
You may also be interested to learn about LiveMocha, which Saikat covered in this article LiveMocha – Smell The Coffee & Learn The Lingo.
Once you start speaking fluently, casual conversations won’t do the trick anymore. Improving the language further now is a matter of accumulating more words and expressions into your active vocabulary. In other words focus and close your gaps.
This is the perfect tool if you’re studying for an English language test. It lets you pick the type of test and a quick diagnostic determines your skill level.
Flash Cards (any language)
You know best what your gaps are. So gather up what you want to learn and create your own flash cards. Karl wrote an article on how to Learn A New Language With Anki’s Flash Card System. Varun introduced Pauker – An Easy-To-Use Freeware Java Flash Card Program. Shankar compiled 30+ Online Resources to Expand your English Vocabulary.
Are you interested in more free resources to learn a foreign language? Have a look at these articles:
- 18 Great Sites to Learn a New Language by Angelina
- Improve Your Language Skills With Google Translate and Dictionary by Tobias
- Top 3 Tips To Motivation Yourself While Learning A Second Language by Dean
What works best for you?