5 Simple Steps to Learn a New Language

5 Simple Steps to Learn a New Language


Happy New Year!

Is one of your New Year’s resolutions this year to learn a new skill, such as a foreign language?

Learning a new language provides multiple benefits, including improving your executive functioning, ability to switch between tasks and encouraging you to learn about another culture, country or way of life.

(See more about the benefits of bilingualism here.)

It also allows you to look at the world from different perspectives, which can help to maintain a sense of wonder and well-being in a busy world.

(See some untranslatable words here or some unique words from other countries here.)

So, now you’ve decided to learn another language, where do you begin?

The amount of language learning courses, resources and apps can be overwhelming, so much so that many people who start with the best intentions find themselves losing steam after just a few weeks or months.

Follow these five simple steps to get your language learning journey off to a great start, regardless of which language you will be learning this year:

1. Brush up on your English grammar

This may seem counter-intuitive, but many language textbooks assume that you have a strong grasp on grammatical terminology and this can quickly become impenetrable when you are already grappling with learning a new language. You don’t need to go into very complex grammar, as many will be unique to the language you will be learning. However, a quick refresh on the basic word classes/parts of speech will put you in good stead!


(Anecdote on the side: When I studied Italian at university, the first book I checked out from the library was called ‘English Grammar for Students of Italian’ after becoming completely confused in one of my first lectures when the teacher talked about the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. They’re not quite as scary as they sound: Transitive verbs need an object, i.e. something that is acted on by the verb, whereas Intransitive verbs don’t necessarily need an object. Some verbs can be both depending on the sentence!e.g. He opened the window -transitive – the verb open only makes sense in this context if we explain what he is opening. The window opens – intransitive – there isn’t a person (subject) involved so we don’t need an object.)

2. Choose one resource and stick to it

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I would recommend thinking about how you’re most likely to learn and starting from there. For example, if you often listen to podcasts or music on your way to work, why not download some podcasts in your target language to listen to?

This alone will not be enough to take you to fluency in a language, but it is very easy to buy tonnes of textbooks, flashcards, language courses, etc, then get bogged down in too many resources.

There are also lots of great resources available on the internet, many of them free, but it can be easy to spend so much time researching various resources that you leave yourself very little time to actually study the language.

Choose one resource and stick to it – then you’re ready for Step 3!

3. Increase your study gradually

person covering woman with blanket
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

It is easy to go in with all the guns blazing and tire yourself out. ‘New Year You’ is still the same you as ‘Last Year You’, with all your pressures from work, chores, etc. You do need to set aside time if you want to see an improvement in your language level or to learn a new skill, but it’s unrealistic to go from doing nothing one day to studying for three hours the next. Instead, you’re more likely to create a sustainable language learning routine if you start small and achievable:

For example, you could start off with your podcast, three times a day. Then, when that’s become a habit, add in 5 flashcards every morning, lunch and evening. Then add a chapter from a language textbook, a game on a language-learning app, a song in your target language etc.

This way learning a new language becomes an ingrained habit and it stays (mostly!) enjoyable, rather than becoming a stick for you to beat yourself up with when your language-learning resources start to gather dust in March.

4. Study what interests you

Photo taken by me at Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan

It’s great to start off with language you can use straight away (like these Top 25 phrases in Korean or German), but there is equally no point in spending a long time learning about topics that do not interest you and that you’re unlikely to use in your target language.

After learning the most common 200 words in a language (enough for some basic conversations), then the first 1000 (enough to give you a fair understanding of a wide range of media), study words about topics that interest you. If you want to visit Italy to visit art galleries, learn about Renaissance Art in Italian, if you endeavour to try everything on the menu in Sichuan, learn about foods in Chinese (and be prepared for some very poetic names which bear no resemblance to the ingredients!)

(For me, I studied archaeology, ancient history and mythology in Japanese and art history, manuscripts and printing in Italian –Β  and loved it! I am still learning new words in both Italian and Japanese, due to hearing them in the news or coming across them in books, but I am also still learning new words in my mother tongue, English, a process which I never expect to end. So, don’t try to learn ‘all the words’ but, instead, the words you need and will use!)

5. Cut yourself some slack

Comic from the brilliant Itchy Feet – check out the website by clicking on this image!

Learning a new language is alternatively exciting, frustrating, fun, arduous and many other things. Some days it will feel impossible, while on others, you will be able to see the progress you have made. Don’t give up, just keep going, even if you miss a day!

Learning any new skill takes time and patience. Some languages you will be able to pick up faster because of similarities to your mother tongue or exposure, while others will take more time. Learning a language is also a skill which is never truly finished – you will always be learning new words and phrases – but it is a skill which could take you far, either by travelling, in work or by making new friends. Don’t give up before you’ve even begun because ‘fluency’ feels unattainable; instead focus on just how much even a few words could help you in various life situations, or simply in the enjoyment of learning something new.

Ready to learn a new language?

Why not start by checking out some of my links to free language learning resources?

Or, perhaps, if you’re learning one of these nine languages (Italian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, German, Chinese, Polish or Irish), check out my multilingual flashcards to get you started with a few new words or plaster your house?

Learn about how you can harness Music and TV for Language Learning and don’t miss these 5 tips for fitting more language learning into your day.

Good luck and I would love to hear from you about your language learning journey!

Which language are you planning to learn?

What are you using to study it?

Do you have any tips for someone learning a language?

What have you found most interesting or toughest about learning a language so far?

Let me know in the comments!

Find me on Twitter , Goodreads or Instagram

Thanks for reading!

13 Comments Add yours

  1. (Kitty) Cat Strawberry - Meow! says:

    Great tips!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you – hope they are helpful! Are you planning to learn a language?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. (Kitty) Cat Strawberry - Meow! says:

        Yes, I’m trying to learn French, and if I’m honest I’ve wanted to learn japanese and go to Japan for years 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good luck with learning French and Japanese! They are very different languages, but it depends on which languages you already speak as to which you might find easier. For example, French has lots of vocabulary in common with English but the grammar is tricky. In Japanese, it took me a little while to get my head around the fact that the verbs come at the end of the sentence, very unlike English e.g. I to school go. Please ask if you have any questions as I would be happy to help! πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Debbie J says:

    I’m trying to brush up on my Chinese (Cantonese) this year so thankful for the tips, especially about slowly integrating habits rather than going full in! I find it difficult sometimes, however, because all the resources seem to be in Mandarin which can make it tricky sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good luck with your Cantonese! Funnily, I almost had the opposite problem when I first started learning Chinese (Mandarin) as almost all of the Chinese-speakers in my area are originally from Hong Kong or Guangdong, so we have tonnes of stuff available in Cantonese. Wikipedia has the option to choose traditional or simplified characters when reading articles which is great! I wanted to learn Mandarin as it is considered the ‘standard’ in mainland China, where I lived, but would love to learn Cantonese too. How long have you been learning Cantonese? πŸ™‚


      1. Debbie J says:

        My mum’s Chinese so it’s been an incredibly slow process for many years but because of that I haven’t made much progress. And that’s so funny to find such a place that’s the opposite to most of the country.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think that you can pick up a lot from family, but also have gaps in your vocabulary, simply because of topics you don’t talk about, etc. I think the main reason why so many people in my area of Ireland speak Cantonese is because they are families who moved over in earlier years, whereas many of the most recently-immigrated families speak Mandarin. Even when I lived in mainland China, I was surprised by how much local variation there was in the Mandarin and how many dialects are spoken! Good luck with your language learning!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Emma's Library says:

    I concur about understanding the basics of English grammar, and that book is very useful. I bought the French version in either my first or second year of university and I always go back to it when I need to refresh my grammar.

    I think one tip I’d say is to use grammar books solely as a reference or guide. Refer back to them if you want clarification on a certain point rather than relentlessly studying from them like we used to do at school because it just makes language learning tedious and unenjoyable. It’s better to be interactive and learn alongside your everyday interests than constantly learning through a grammar book. It does link back to the point relating to studying about what interests you, because if you’re learning about something interesting, the language and information will stick and you’re more likely to continue learning. Example – I often read the French articles relating to Disneyland Paris instead of being lazy and reading the English translations.


  4. Beware Of The Reader says:

    Well I am fluent in three languages and understand three more so I totally agree with you. My biggest advice would be to begin with listening. Example: find a youtube video on a topic you like and watch. Soon enough you will associate the words with the images. Exactly like babies learn their languages. Trying to study out of a context will not work. We have to follow the same process we followed as kids to learn our own language. Also immersion in the country is what works best. When I lived in Portugal years ago I learned quickly how to ask for food if I wanted to eat πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those are both great tips! Yes, I completely agree about listening – that way you pick up the natural rhythms of the language so, when you do start speaking, you sound more natural. Immersion in the country and language would be ideal but I think it might be out of reach for most people! Wow, you speak lots of languages! Which do you already speak and which are you learning at the moment? πŸ™‚


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