I was on the phone with a friend of mine who’s recently found the inspiration to learn Spanish. We talked about language learning and the process and what he should expect and it got me thinking about the “pre” learning stage. A lot of people give up on languages because they didn’t prepare or put enough thought into it before hand. This has happened to me many times before too. It took me two tries to learn German and four and counting for Russian. Will I ever learn Russian? Your guess is as good as mine. All that being said, when you have a well thought out plan of attack, you’re more likely to take the language you’re learning to a higher level. In this post I’m going to run you guys through the steps I generally follow before actually starting to learn a new language.
Step 1: I Choose a language!
The first thing is do is choose a language. This can happen in many different ways. I can just randomly decide to learn a different language for no apparent reason, I could hear somebody speaking it and derive random inspiration from hearing it. I could see it written down and want to understand the writing system which 9 times out of 10 would eventually result in me just starting to learn the language in general.
A good example of random inspiration is Catalan! I went to Barcelona and was instantly taken a back by how all the signs were written in Spanish AND Catalan at the airport. I found it cool, but also slightly weird to be in a place where I couldn’t speak the language because that had never happened to me before that point due to my very limited amount of travelling experience up until that point. Yes, I knew that they obviously spoke Spanish too, but I felt mildly disrespectful for being in a place where I didn’t know both languages. There was also something very interesting about Catalan and the Catalan people. I really wanted to learn about them and their language through the language itself, so I decided I’d learn it when I got back.
Step 2: I Prepare for battle!
Grab your swords… I mean bookmarks! Damn auto correct is at it again *Face palms* Anyway, as I was saying: prepare to charge, soldiers! Today we shall conquer the bookstore in the name of knowledge and language acquisition! Ok ok fine… the second step isn’t that epic. Preparing for battle is a metaphor for planning out the language learning process. Obviously there will be tons of unexpected variables and general surprises, but I try to plan it out as much as I can so that I don’t get caught off guard as frequently.
One of the first things I do is ask myself why I want to learn the language and if my reasoning is conducive to success and if my motivation will hold. The whole motivation thing is a more recent phenomenon. Hearing a “cool sounding language” used to be enough to keep me motivated for months. Now I need a bit more of a push.
I then ask myself if the new language will have a negative effect on the languages I already speak or vice versa. Portuguese RUINED my Spanish for the longest time and I really struggled with speaking Dutch without subconsciously adding in German grammar or words for a long time and I probably still do. If you’re learning your first language, this shouldn’t really be a problem because the new language shouldn’t have that big of an effect on your native language. I feel like this problem strikes you after you get passed 2 or 3 languages. Everyone is different though.
The next thing is do is imagine myself speaking the language with people or in the country it’s spoken in. This is very important because I find that if I can’t imagine myself speaking the language from the beginning, I’m usually more likely to drop it prematurely.
Step 3: Resource hunting!
If you’ve gotten this far, it’s time to drop your weapons.. I mean bookmarks. Damnit! Twice in a row! *Sighs* and politely enter the book store. There will be no siege today. This is Canada, remember? Don’t forget to say sorry upon entering the store and after you’ve paid. I know, I know my epic metaphors aren’t funny. Anyway, if I’ve gotten this far and still feel like learning the language would be a good idea, I hop online or head to a bookstore like I mentioned above and start searching for resources. I’m very strict when it comes to language learning resources, so I gravitate towards, Assimil, Lingq.com, Spoken World, and to a lesser extent, Teach Yourself. I also use Memrise.com if the language is either very different from the languages I already know or if it has a different alphabet. It’s not uncommon for me to get to this point and then drop the language because either Assimil didn’t carry the language or because I couldn’t find it on Lingq. Everybody has a different learning style, but Assimil, and Lingq seem to be the most suited to my language learning style at the moment.
Step 4: I Find people to talk to!
Steps 3 and 4 don’t necessarily always go in that exact order. Sometimes I search for people to talk to before I look for resources if it’s a common and popular language such as Chinese or French because I know I’ll have no problem finding resources later on. I gravitate towards language exchanges and free websites that allow you to meet people who will help you learn their language in exchange for your native language. I used to really really like real life language exchanges because I got to meet cool people and talk to them face to face, but the downside is that most language exchanges seem to play really loud music which makes no sense to me at all if the point of them is to talk to people. I still enjoy them, but I don’t go nearly as often as I used to. The music thing seems to be global. I unfortunately noticed it in Europe a bit too.
As far as free websites are concerned, I generally use sites like conversationexchange.com to find language exchange partners. I’ve been using sites like this a lot more recently to avoid the loud, ear rupturing music of real life language exchanges.
Step 5: I Find bloggers, vloggers and news stations or anything I can listen to or read!
The last step I normally take before actually beginning a new language is scouring the internet for bloggers, vloggers, news stations or podcasts so that I can get as much natural input as possible from as many sources as possible. This part is normally the most relaxing because I only really have to sit back and either listen to a few podcasts to see if I like them or watch a couple of videos on a couple of YouTube channels. This is another stage that can cause me to get discouraged and drop a language. I wanted to learn Czech for example, but could hardly find any good podcasts or YouTube vloggers, so I opted out. The natural input you get from listening to people talking naturally in podcasts or in Vlogs is indispensable (Especially for improving pronunciation) and the language learning process can be a lot more difficult without it.
Step 6: I start learning the language!
If I make it this far and have a plethora of resources too choose from, people to talk to and a strong, logical reason for wanting to learn the language, then I actually start learning it! This is one the most rewarding parts!
Wrappin’ it all up
Alright, folks! Those are the steps that I generally follow before beginning a new language. Sometimes there are more and sometimes there are less. It all depends on the language I’m planning to learn and why I’m planning to learn it. This post’s sole goal was to show you, the reader, that you should plan out as much as you can before you actually start learning. Your planning process doesn’t necessarily need to mirror mine, but just make sure you have resources, a logical, well thought out reason for wanting to learn the language and native speakers to practice with and you should be alright!
Good luck and try to stay motivated!
This picture was taken in Quebec City, Quebec in Canada