The best way to learn a language
Learning a new language is “like a full body work out for the brain”
Dr Thomas Bak, cognitive neuroscientist.
Polyglot, writer and filmmaker Alex Rawlings presents the new series of More Than Words, Rosetta Stone’s podcast about all things language learning. In Episode 1, his three expert guests – cognitive neuroscientist Dr Thomas Bak; Rosetta Stone German-language tutor Talli Menchion; and polyglot vlogger Lindie Botes – talk to Alex about the best ways to start learning a new language.
Watch the full podcast above, or read on for their top tips for getting your language learning abilities into good shape:
What is the best way to learn a new language?
“Is it for work? Is it because you fell in love with somebody? Is it because you moved to a new country?” Talli Menchion explains that when language learners find something they can use straight away, the process immediately becomes more fun.
All three experts recommend getting a good grasp of vocabulary right from the start . Lindie advises using “thematic vocabulary lists so you start to pick up connections between words.” Whilst Alex suggests looking round your room or out of the window and trying to name what you see.
Let yourself make mistakes
Talking, listening and speaking as much as you can, and going out of your comfort zone are also the key to improving language skills. As Lindie Botes explains, “If I make mistakes, native speakers are there to help me”.
Language learning methods to train your brain
Consistency is all according to Talli. It’s sometimes hard to find time, but even 10 minutes a day can make all the difference. “People that are very consistent, those are the people that make the biggest progress,” she explains.
While some people worry that learning gets harder with age, Dr Bak is quick to reassure older learners that adults tend to be more focused, bringing greater discipline and a wider knowledge of the world to their learning journey. This can make them more adept at learning a new language. It’s never too late to start!
Languages can even help keep our minds fit and healthy as we get older and help us to de-stress and stay cheerful. Dr Bak talks more about how languages are good for our mental health in his campaign Healthy Linguistic Diet.
How to learn a language by yourself – and stay motivated
“Enjoy the journey, not just the destination” Dr Bak suggests finding something in the culture of your chosen language that you are interested in.
Lindie wants us to turn “motivation into discipline” with scheduling and planning: “I have a journal where I map out what I do, and at the end of the week […] I go back and review and continuously iterate on my process.”
“Have fun with it, why not?” Talli suggests watching your favourite films with subtitles on, using sticky notes, even talking to yourself in the mirror! But mostly to try and talk to others; “If you make a mistake, laugh at yourself, but just go out there and practise.”
Agile language learning methods
Lindie talks about how to apply agile learning methods when you learn a new language. If you do start keeping a language-learning journal, she suggests noting down how much time you spend on every aspect of your language learning eg, talking to a native speaker, reading, writing, listening to the radio, etc. You can then review your progress and how you’re learning: “Focus on your processes and see if there’s anything you could change to learn more effectively,” she advises.
For more ideas on how to time manage your language learning see Alex Rawlings’ the 15/30 method.
How ancient tribes become polyglots
Learning multiple languages throughout life has been common since early hunter-gatherer societies, according to Dr Bak; what he refers to as the rule of linguistic hexagon. This meant, “you could only marry someone speaking a different language”. Thus being a polyglot was considered a normal part of life in earlier communities!
How to measure your language learning
“You have to look at it way more long-term,” says Lindie, “we’re so focused on short-term results.” Use your journal or calendar for this and don’t necessarily expect to make huge leaps in two weeks. But if you but look back six months or a year, you’ll see how far you’ve come.
Alex reminds us that Rosetta Stone’s customised learning plans “help you achieve your specific learning goals.” You can create your own plan based on your existing level and your motivation for learning a new language. “It’s like having a virtual language coach to make sure that you succeed.”
How to know when you are fluent in a language
All our experts agree that fluency in a language can be hard to define. For Lindie it’s when the words are just flowing out of you, for Dr Bak it’s when you are “able to really express yourself in a rich and interesting way.” Whilst Talli recalls that on her journey to fluency, “The moment I allowed myself to go out and make mistakes and talk to people, it just got better and better.”
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*All quotes from the transcript of the full podcast which you can view above