Tips on Learning a New Language – Guest Post!

My friend Gabriella has been lovely enough to write a guest post for my blog whilst I’m away on holiday and I’m excited to share these tips she’s written for me about learning a new language!

So enjoy and please leave her comments down below letting her know what you thought of her post for me.

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Learning a new language isn’t like learning to play an instrument, play a sport or bake like Mary Berry. You have to change how you think and interpret things, particularly when it comes to grammar and sentence structure. And to be truly proficient, you need to be able to not just speak the language but understand the subtle nuances of that language, such as the change in tone based on context, which is something we don’t have to think about when it comes to our own.

The language that I am in the process of learning is Japanese. It’s certainly not the easiest language in the world, and there is little in terms of similarities with English, unlike languages such as French and German, so people learning the more Latin-based languages may not always relate to my experiences. However, so that this article is helpful, I thought I’d keep my tips as general as possible, so that they may hopefully help you regardless of what language you’re learning.

After almost two years of learning the language, and just over a year of full-on learning, these are the five tips/words of advice that I’ve figured out from my own experiences.

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1. Start off small

It can be very daunting to know where to start when it comes with a language. Think of how many words you use in a day. The chances are it’ll be in the hundreds without you even realising. Because of this, it’s better to start small. Learn to say hello and to introduce yourself. Learn to say goodbye, please and thank you. You’d be surprised at how useful these are.

2. You will struggle at times

I am not being cruel here – this is a fact. You will hit a roadblock at some point and it will frustrate you and make you want to give up. This has happened to me a few times. One example is being able to read and remember the Katakana alphabet, where for some reason my mind would just not compute with the symbols and it would leave feeling incredibly frustrated. In the end, what I did was what I advise you do as well: I took a step back from it, concentrated on other areas and went back to it. Looking at it with fresh eyes always seemed to help. If not, perhaps try a new method of remembering it. Regardless, the most important thing is to not give up completely. You will get there eventually.

3. Repetition is your friend

One of the best ways to get new information to stick in your head is repetition. Read it, write it, say it out loud over and over again. Keep going until you know the word off by heart. To start off with, do it with just one word, and then build a sentence around that word and memorise that. Keep going with this, adding more and more information until you feel confident on that topic. Then start again. One useful tool for helping to memorise words is a website called Memrise. You choose which courses you want to learn about (there are several on there, ranging from Chinese to Vulcan) and it plants the word in your mind and then tests you on the word every four hours initially, and then as it enters your long-term memory, it reduces how often it tests you from 12 hours, to a few days, all the way to a few weeks. Furthermore, there is a free app for you to download so that you can test yourself on the go. This system may not suit everyone, but I’ve found it incredibly helpful, particularly when it comes to learning Kanji.

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4. Surround yourself in the language

The easiest way to do this is to be in the country where the language is spoken, but for most people this isn’t possible. Instead, you can do this in several ways, so do it in whatever way suits you. As long as it’s helping to immerse you in that language, use whatever method you want. One method I’ve found to be quite useful is looking for TV programmes/films in that language, or even find your favourites with a dub. I found Disney to be very good for this, because the language is simple enough due to the intended audience being children, and it has the added bonus of including music. Music for me is particularly useful because I find learning lyrics to be a strength of mine, so look around and see if you can find any music that you enjoy in the language you want to learn.

Another way to surround yourself in the language is to think about how to say what you’re doing right now in the language you’re learning, and if you don’t know, then look it up. For example, I would look up how to say “I am writing a blog post” in Japanese. Keep doing this as many times are you’re able to throughout the day. That way, you’re giving context to what you’re learning within your own life. I’ve learned so many new words and phrases from this!

5. Ask for help

This seems pretty obvious, but it’s a lot harder to do this than I’d expected. I believe it’s because of the worry of being wrong or embarrassing myself, but I found myself positively terrified of asking anyone, particularly natives. This is why websites like Lang8 are useful, because you get the advice but there’s a level of anonymity there. Just think of it as asking a teacher questions in class: it’s a little awkward, but it’s for your own benefit. If it’s related to Japanese, then you can always ask me too. I’m happy to help a fellow learner!

6. Learn the alphabet

For almost every other language, there is a separate alphabet with different pronunciations. For some, there’s just a few differences, like with French and German, and for other there’s a completely different alphabet that needs to be learned (e.g. Japanese, Russian, etc). Regardless, Irecommend learning this fairly early on in your study, otherwise you will struggle later on. A common mistake people make when they’re learning Japanese is that they focus too heavily on the Romaji (Japanese with Latin letters – eg. Japanese is 日本語/にほんご and in Romaji that would be Nihongo) for too long that they end up relying on it too much. I only ever come across Romaji in Learning Japanese texts – it’s certainly not common in Japan itself. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use Romaji, or the equivalents in other languages, but rather use it while you’re learning the alphabet. For Japanese, I’d personally recommend Hiragana, Katakana and then start on the behemoth that is Kanji. The pronunciation for Kanji is often in either Hiragana or Katakana, so learning those two first will certainly help.

Anyway, sorry for rambling on. I hope these tips helped you. Maybe it’s even made you go back to a language you were starting to learn but had given up on, or perhaps encouraged you to start. If you have any questions at all, feel free to send them my way by leaving a comment.

Until next time all take care and I hope your weeks been going good!

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