Learning Languages made easy!

14 Aug

Learning a new language is easy when you know how!

Like almost every Irishman (and the vast majority of people on earth), I’ve been taught languages other than my native English since I was a child.

I started with Irish (Gaelic, for my non-Irish readers) in primary school. It was an academic journey that lasted 12 years (until I finished secondary school) and like the majority of Irish people (unfortunately) I hardly speak a lick of my ancestral language (much to my own shame).

The next language I had any academic exposure to was French. For my first three years in secondary school I didn’t really take it seriously but I studied enough to pass the tests although I could hardly speak it. That changed when I got a new french teacher for my last 2 years. She was a terrifying woman who ruled that classroom with an iron fist. I remember once she quizzed me on some vocabulary. I didn’t know the answer and was so scared that my vision blurred and the room felt as if it was shaking…seriously!

Fear is a great motivator and I did learn quite a bit of French in her class. More importantly she instilled me with a desire to learn the language and I’m very grateful to her for that (she was actually a really nice person, just terrifyingly strict). It was because of her that I decided to work in France for a summer to up my level.

The next and most important language I was exposed to was Japanese. I moved there to work in 2006 and lived there for 4 years. I was determined to get fluent and I was very lucky that my job afforded me a lot of free time to study Japanese and try lots of different methods.

Over my years in Japan I learned a lot about language acquisition from an excellent website called alljapaneseallthetime.com. I still use a lot of the philosophies I learned from that site when I try to learn languages. It works; today I work part-time as a Japanese translator.

My current language challenge, while I live here in Colombia, is Spanish. For various reasons (mostly down to pure laziness on my part) I’m nowhere near as good at Spanish as I would like to be after 11 months here. However, I do think that I speak better Spanish than I should for the amount of work I’ve actually put in. For that I can thank the following tips that I’ve learned over the years.

*Please bear in mind that a lot of these tips are aimed at people living in a country where the target language is spoken but there are also plenty that are applicable regardless of your physical location.

Learning a new language opens up a whole new world of possibilities and people you can get to know!

Tips for success

Eliminate English (or whatever your native language is): avoid English whenever possible and use use the language you want to learn in it’s place. You should only resort to your native language when all else fails i.e. when you haven’t got a clue what is going on. It also gives you an excuse to avoid certain annoying friends who speak your native language… it’s for educational purposes.

Read everything (in the language you want to learn): I’m not just talking about books, magazines and comics (which are great by the way). Got a flier for restaurant in your mailbox? Read it. Cooking instructions on the back of a box of food? Read them. Toilet graffiti? Read it. Every opportunity you have to read the language you’re learning and increasing your exposure.

Get musical: load you’re MP3 player with as much music as you can get in your target language. Any chance you can get, have those ear-buds attached and just listen casually, you don’t need to focus on what they’re saying exactly. You can also download the lyrics and read them along as the song plays (do it on the bus like I do just to see everyone’s reaction to the crazy foreigner singing to himself).

Learn new things through your new language: if you need to look up a fact, look it up in the language you’re learning. If you want to learn how to make ice-cream from scratch, find a recipe in your target language. The fact that the subject matter is important to you means you’ll retain more information. Wikipedia in your target language is your new best friend.

Try podcasts: Pod casts are basically web-based, downloadable talk-shows or radio programs. The topics are always incredibly varied so you’re bound to find something that interests you (I usually listen to cooking shows). Again you listen to them passively, while you’re driving or walking etc. it’s the constant exposure to the sounds of the language that helps.

Make friends: you need to practice the language and it’s much easier to practice with people you feel comfortable with (you’ll hold back much less). Also, you can ask friends to correct your mistakes and they’re much more likely to do it than people you don’t know well. My Colombian friends correct my mistakes all the time… after laughing at me (but that’s ok, we’re friends).

Join clubs: basically mix with local people as much as possible. Join a gym or a local sports team, take group dance classes, sign up for a cooking class. You have the joints benefits of doing something that interests you and meeting lots of new people to speak with. Public noticeboards are great places to look for them.

Carry a notepad: I always carry a little notepad to write down new words and phrases I hear so I can study them later. Most mobile phones these days also have a memo program so you can just note it on your phone for review later. My friends here in Cali get a kick out of it when I write down what they say (especially since it’s mostly slang and obscenities).

Use an SRS: an SRS (spaced repetition system) is basically a computer program that helps you remember things better and faster. I use a free SRS program called Anki. You can find all the information you need on the anki homepage. I cannot stress enough how incredibly useful an SRS is for language acquisition. The SRS is a language learning game changer.

Watch movies: or TV or anything for that matter, in the language you want to learn. A great place to start is watching movies you’ve seen before dubbed into your target language. You already understand the basic plot so it helps you understand what’s going on. If you can get movies with subtitles in the language you’re learning (not in your native language), all the better.

Use a native dictionary: as you progress and you understand more and more of a language you can start using a dictionary completely in that language. That means you’ll be learning new vocab through your target language which means more exposure and better retention in my opinion. Use a children’s dictionary if you can (they usually come with nice pictures as a bonus).

Change your settings: change the settings of your computer, your phone, your, camera, your email account, your facebook to the language you’re learning. You already know how to navigate them well so it shouldn’t be a hindrance and you’ll learn a whole load of essential words. It also means your friends probably won’t be able to fool around with your settings when your not looking.

Keep it interesting: You retain much more of the language when you’re learning about something that interests you e.g. cooking, sport, celebrity gossip etc. (and you’re also much more likely to remain motivated and keep studying). If you have no interest in the history of turn of the century South American politics, avoid it. Don’t get bored. Boredom is death.

Make mistakes: one of the greatest obstacles that people have to making progress with new skills is being overly concerned with making mistakes and looking foolish (this is very applicable to language learning and dancing salsa). Stop worrying about looking stupid, we all look stupid anyway and get out there and make as many mistakes as you can. Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn (at least that’s my excuse)

Practice: as I’ve said before in this article, practice makes perfect. The more time you put into actually speaking the language, the faster you’ll get better. Practice doesn’t have to formal either, just make friends and above all have fun with it and you’ll be speaking a new language in no time.

If you like this article please share it with your friends via the Facebook or Twitter buttons below and if you use Stumbleupon please give it a “Thumbs Up”. I’d really appreciate it 😉

3 Responses to “Learning Languages made easy!”

  1. Peter Murray August 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm #

    Hey Richie,

    Another great post. Just wondering 日本語音楽はお勧めがありますか?このごろに日本のヒップホップをいっぱい聞いています、しかし ヒップホップのアーテイストはとてもはやい話します。



    • The Dancing Irishman August 14, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

      質問についてはね、俺が好きな日本の音楽はかなり少ないんだ。でも、次のアーティストやグループをお薦めする;Sotte Bosse、グリーン、オレンジレーンジ、ウルフルズ、サザンオールスターズ、コブクロやSuper Butter Dogs。

      • Peter Murray August 15, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

        理知さん (お名前は漢字で格好いいですよ!

        答えはありがとうございました・ いい音楽情報を貰った。
        激しくて強い流派だと?えぇー 知らなかった、でも 言われてみれば 先生はちょっとこわいです。

        そうね、日本の生活は楽しいです、しかし 来月にアイルランドに帰ります、そして非常に楽しみにしています。家族と友達に本当に会いたい、久しぶりです。

        理知さんは カリも生活を満喫にしてるみたい。次のブログルポストは読みには楽しみにしています。



Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Fiona Uyema

Japanese Cookbook Author

ZoukSide Down - A journey with Brazilian Zouk

A personal blog aimed at contributing, and paying homage, to the most sensual, beautiful dance of Brazil.


Spanish as it hits my ears

SoraNews24 -Japan News-

Bringing you yesterday's news from Japan and Asia, today.

Rhapsodies of the Barefooted Gypsy

Just another WordPress.com site

Carina Of Devon

Adventures of a family afloat


Cycling: A Great Excuse to Eat More

Alicia en el País de las Maravillas

Las Maravillas del Mundo


Create a Life That Matters!

Surfista Travels Siargao, Philippines

The most fun, personalized & professional SURF LESSONS and SURFING EXPERIENCE in the Siargao Island, Philippines!

Zacki Zacki Miyazaki - Sascha's Blog


Raymond D. Murphy's Portfolio

My graphic design portfolio, displaying all of my work working in Tokyo

DMS Photograph

Dreams. Memories. Stories.

Oh what a world!

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

My Brailzian Adventure

A record of my time living and teaching in Brazil

Just Dancing Salsa~ Cape Town

Feel. Play. Express.


Cuba reflected through food

%d bloggers like this: