How many of the subjects you learned in school are now on your to-do list again? Not that many, right? But it's not uncommon that out-of-school adults go back to relearning a foreign language that they took in school.
Interest in traveling, foreign friends, trips for work overseas, curiosity about one's heritage, or even just a broader outlook on the world - all these can be reasons for unpacking a language you had mentally stashed away.
However, resurrecting a language that you started in school and building on it needs a little planning.
Here are five tips for easing yourself back into a foreign language.
1. Develop a new mindset
When you're no longer in school, time has a way of becoming scarce. Work and/or family life tend to fill our your schedule. And, going to evening or lunch-hour classes may be out of the question. All that makes learning from your home using resources on the Internet a good option.
However, learning from home requires a new mindset. You're now your own boss and in charge of your own learning. It may also be time to reassess your goals. Rather than being anxious about grades and not making a fool of yourself in front on your classmates, you can direct your attention to acquiring practical language skills.
For example, perhaps you never really learned to speak the foreign language when you were in school. That's no surprise given class size and the importance of reading and of written tests. But now, by choosing the right resources, you can easily take your understanding and speaking to a new level.
Give thought to how you learn best. There are many options to consider as you'll see below.
2. Find something that makes re-entry into the language fun
Instead of worrying about homework and test scores, you can now focus on what you enjoy and find interesting.
It can be anything you like: listening to music, scanning news headlines on your tablet, watching a tv soap, reading an easy ebook, playing language games, etc.
In school, fun is usually not a big factor. But believe it or not, learning a language can be hugely fun. A new language gives you the tools to break out of your routine, to meet new people, to experience a new culture, to engage with locals when you travel.
If you've ever searched the Internet for anything language related, you may have seen that there are lots of language-learning groups, language-exchange sites, Polyglot events and conferences, multi-language forums, just to name a few. Most of the members of these groups and communities love languages and and pursue one or more languages - just for fun.
3. Start putting together your resource list
Everyone's list of resources for learning a language looks different, and yours should too. At best, the list reflects your personality, your learning habits, your language skills, your interests, etc.
Take some time to read reviews of different language programs and apps, try out free demos, look at online courses, or consider online tutors, etc.
While many of your resources will probably be online, a well-rounded resource list also contains some hands-on paper grammar books, phrase books, dictionaries, novels, stories, magazines, etc.
Here are some categories of online resources you may want to explore:
- Flashcard programs and apps
- Programs that use and adapt web texts
- Programs that use internet video content
- Comprehensive language programs with apps
- Game-based programs and apps
- Online dictionaries
- Online sites for practicing writing
Don't let “experts” or friends talk you into using (or even buying) programs, especially, if they have not used them successfully themselves. Try them out yourself and work with the ones you like. Stay with those that keep you interested and motivated.
(We, personally, like and use GamesforLanguage and the programs and apps of our Partners. However, it's up to you to try out and find the learning tools that motivate and engage you, ideally with daily practice!)
Remember: The "best" program won't help you learn and practice, if you don't use it!
4. Your most important goal: Do something in your foreign language (almost) every day.
This is the one goal you should start out with: daily engagement with the language.
Just think: A goal of just learning 10 new words a day, for 300 days, will amount to 3,000 words, sufficient for many conversations!
The amount of time you spend is less important than the daily routine. Try to apply the 20-minute rule. (i.e. Doing something for 20 minutes is manageable for almost everyone.) It works for many people.
If you weren't a big procrastinator in school, this is one school habit that could be helpful now.
And, if you were – now is the time you can acquire a new habit quite easily.
Even though progress may seem slow at times, the benefits of daily practice will also become obvious: things are starting to click; you'll hear sound differences; you'll remember words and phrases; grammar rules begin to make more sense, etc.
Language learning is not a linear process. Think of it more in terms of “weaving a rope” that consists of many strands. This is an image for language learning suggested by Michael Erard, author of Babel no More and a topic of one of our recent posts: Are You Weaving Your “Language Rope?
Learning to do something regularly is an important habit. If you can learn to use the 20-minute rule for your language, you can apply it to other tasks as well. Not a bad habit to have.
5. Find a native speaker to talk with.
As soon as you can, find someone to converse with. Be it a language-exchange partner in an online community or an occasional tutor on Skype. It could even be someone in your own neighborhood who is eager to speak his or her own language with you.
Your language course in school was probably not an ideal place for learning to speak in a foreign language. You had to compete for “air time” in class and deal with fears about speaking up.
Learning to freely converse with others in a language you formerly struggled with in school is both a huge achievement and a special pleasure.
So, don't delay. Take charge of your own learning and take advantage of the resources available on the Internet. It's really worth it.
How do I know?
Language have always been part of my life. I'm both a language learner and a language teacher. Once out of school, I continued learning languages on my own; I really enjoy “language hacking” - learning languages quickly and efficiently - to use one of the new terms.
It's been exciting to see the Internet start providing fantastic tools and resources for learning languages.
Benny Lewis, the “Irish Polyglot”, may be on to something, when he invites you to get you started with a FREE week-long email course: Speak in a Week.
Will you become fluent in a week? Clearly not, but changing your School mindset and getting into a daily learning habit with materials that interest you, will get you into “language hacking” in no time...
Disclosure: Certain links above are to partners' programs with revenue sharing, should you decide to subscribe or purchase.