Many people believe that they are not ‘good at languages’, or will tell you that they were hopeless at languages in school. Some even claim that they don’t speak their mother tongue very well, so couldn’t possibly learn other languages.
It’s true that learning a language takes time and effort, but with sufficient interest, motivation, dedication and perseverance, anyone can do it. Having an enthusiastic teacher or tutor can also help a lot, though it is possible to learn languages on your own.
If you fall in love with a language, and/or with some aspects or the culture associated with a language, you will want to spend as much time as possible with that language. The more exposure you get to the language, the quicker you will acquire it.
There will be periods when your enthusiasm lags and you may become frustrated with your apparent lack of progress. These mights be times when it’s a good idea to take a short break, or to try studying in a different way. Seeking out other people who are learning the same language and discussing your frustrations can also help.
The key to learning a language is regular study and practice, and also as much exposure to the language as possible. Studying for a short time, such as half an hour every day, is more effective than studying for an hour or two a week. The more often you study, the better you remember. Short study periods might also be easier to fit into your life.
There are many resources and materials available for learning languages – classes, books, CDs, DVDs, online lessons and so on. What you need to do is find a combination of resources and materials that interest you and teach you what you want to learn.
Language classes are excellent for those who like a structured approach; they give you opportunities to practise what you’re learning with your tutor or other students; and the teachers provide useful feedback. The advent of online language classes means you don’t even need to leave your home to be taught regularly by a native speaker! Self-study language courses enable you to learn at your own pace and in your own way, though you can get into bad habits if you don’t practice often enough with native speakers.
Some people make sure they can understand and read a language before actively using it in speech and writing. Others prefer to jump straight and use whatever they know whenever the opportunity arises. The former type of learners tend to take longer to acquire fluency in the language, but also make fewer mistakes. The latter type of learners will become fluent more quickly, but will probably make many more mistakes.
Making mistakes is part of the learning process, as long as you learn from them. If your goal is to communicate, you don’t need to worry too much about mistakes. If you want to become an interpreter or translator however, mistakes need to be minimised.