Only learn one language at a time. I have come across very few people who have been able to learn two or more languages simultaneously. I personally could never do this; the danger of confusing them would be too great. Spreading yourself thin is another way of not giving each language the attention it deserves.
- Begin with a basic vocabulary list and start learning the essentials of everyday communication immediately.
Hang out in parks, cafes and restaurants, spending as much time as you can listening to people talking in public places.
Immediately get started watching TV, movies and other videos to see and hear what your new vocabulary actually sounds like and how it’s used.
Watch children’s shows where the characters speak slowly and articulately about practical topics like shapes, colors and animals. Want an alternative to the purely authentic? Muzzy BBC has created animated video series for children that teach a variety of languages, and they may just be a great option for adult learners who enjoy going the fun and colorful route.
Put yourself in situations where you have to navigate typical customer service conversations.
Seek out at least one conversation partner early in your first month who has the patience to have slow, simple conversations with you as you build your skills.
Most important of all in your first month is to make mistakes freely and overcome your speaking anxiety. The shy and the introverted can find this part more challenging, but you’ll never start truly learning your language until you accept that you’re going to be making a lot of mistakes in the next three months. Each mistake is a crucial step in your learning process.
- By the start of the second month, you should have a few hundred words and several dozen handy phrases you’re able to use confidently in one-on-one conversation. Take a moment to congratulate yourself on your first linguistic steps, and get ready to break into a jog in your second month.
- As soon as you feel like you’re understanding a majority of what you hear on your children’s shows or other beginner TV shows, raise the bar.
Try out some documentaries and familiar animated films dubbed into your target language. The documentaries will usually employ a slow, exaggeratedly articulate speech that’s easier for learners to understand, and revisiting your favorite childhood Disney movies will help your comprehension by letting you hear your target language in a very familiar context.
As your vocabulary grows, pay closer attention to grammar and basic rules that will help you be better understood. Refer to a good book or website to learn basics like the past tense or noun gender, but try to do most of your learning by actively paying attention to native speakers and making mental notes about when they use different verb forms or articles.
Strive to have new and different conversations every day—repeating the same coffee order every morning is good for warming up, but it doesn’t count as “learning” anymore when you’re just repeating it over and over again. Try ordering some new things off the menu every day!
- Especially for experienced language learners and those in touch with their own preferences and learning styles, cherry-picking the best parts of existing programs, websites, apps, books, podcasts and social networks to design an individual learning plan can be the best way to go.
You know how you learn best, Focus on training yourself in your four main linguistic skills:
1. Listening. A good listener is a good language learner. If you hope to use a language effectively, you’ll need to train your ear and brain to recognize things like unfamiliar vowels and identifying where one word ends and a new one begins in everyday speech.
2. Speaking. Use it or lose it. As you listen and take in more linguistic input, using that new knowledge to form your own words, sentences and conversations is the practical application that makes the learning stick.
3. Reading. The emphasis on reading in a second language will differ from learner to learner. For some, learning to read captions and public signs will suffice, and others may want to be able to follow a trending Twitter hashtag or read the latest political news in their target language.
4. Writing. Like reading, the amount of time you devote to writing in a foreign language will differ based on your own learning style and preferences. For most, chatting on Facebook and keeping a daily journal are good ways to ensure you practice your active skills every day.
As you design your own language learning routine, keep these four skills in mind, never neglecting the first two. Here’s an example of how you might piece together a self-study routine to learn a language in three months.