1. A habit is better than a burst
I am a strong believer in building good habits. My approach to language learning (and also fitness) is that it’s better to do a little every day, than a lot just once. A corollary is that it’s easier when you add your language learning to your day-to-day life. For me, that means doing Duolingo exercises when I’m waiting for the train, listening to music in German or Spanish when I work, watching Netflix with my target language subtitles, or subscribing on reddit to /r/ich_iel.
Doing just 5 minutes of Duolingo daily for a year is better than an intensive hour-a-day with a teacher for just one week and then stopping because it’s not sustainable. I know Duolingo may not have the best exercises, or the best memorization or the best X. Duolingo is really great at helping me maintaining a habit, it’s one of the few times where all the annoying gamification and social proof methods are working for us instead of against us. Use it!
2. Listening to music
I love working with music. I love driving with music – although recently I’ve been listening to podcasts as well. Listening to music in your target language is very effective because once you get a song stuck in your head you get the memorization of the words and their pronunciation for free.
Imagine for a second your some music that you loved as a kid, in your own language – now imagine that in your target language there are some bands that you could have loved as a kid growing up – if only you were part of that culture. There is so much really great music that we are not listening to only because we are not exposed to it. So as an added bonus when you listen to music you also get exposure to a new culture, and a new world that so far has likely been hidden away from you, in plain sight.
(note for the German listeners: I started with Rammstein, I listen to a lot more besides that, these are only the first songs there)
I love reading, always have. To advance in German, I started with Duolingo stories, and as soon as I could, I started reading books. But not just any books. The first book in German I read was Roald Dahl’s “Der Zauberfinger” (The Magic Finger). It’s only 40 pages or so!
I then advanced with Roald Dahl’s books, then I read “Emil und die Detektive” (by Erich Kästner), then to “Die unendliche Geschichte” (The Neverending Story) by Michael Ende, then “Momo”, and then to proper sci fi – “Artemis” by Andy Weir. Since then I’ve read more adult books.
When starting, the trick is to get easy books that are still interesting for you to read. Later on, the trick is to find a book that is a real page turner in a genre that you like, so that with the help of the plot you overcome the difficult language and your own slow speed.
For my previous previous birthday, I decided to gift myself with knowing German. One of the ways I did that, was paying for Italki lessons. ITalki is a great platform for online language lessons, which could be formal test preparations, or just an easygoing conversation. The trick here is to find a teach you have great chemistry with. I tried 5 teachers until I found Marie Kleefman who I just had great fun talking to.
I strongly recommend doing something like italki. Tandem might also work for you – that means, finding someone who wants to learn your native language, and then doing some kind of free exchange. I decided to start with italki when I was already pretty advanced, but you could start earlier if you wanted.
5. Taking it easy
I don’t know if you need a language for work, or for another purpose. I just wanted to know another language. Don’t stress too much about it! Don’t force yourself if you’re not enjoying it, instead try doing the things you love to do anyway – only do them in your target language.
My best feeling of victory came when I travelled with my wife to Vienna, and she saw me speak German in some Coffee shop. Before that, I had many small achievements – finishing the Duolingo course, finishing the first book, etc.
Find your own moments of achievements. Celebrate them. You deserve it. Have fun learning your language!
Please share your own tips here in the comments :)