It’s a new year! 2021, the year of promise, hope and opportunity (fingers crossed). You’ve got your resolutions lined up and ready to go, but where exactly do you start? If your plan is to learn a new language, you might be wondering whether you’ve set the right goals for yourself, or how long it’ll actually take you to learn.
The journey starts with getting your mind in the best shape possible, so you can immerse yourself in the culture and communicate with others. Sound confusing? Don’t panic. Here are some useful tips on things to remember before jumping into learning a new language.
1. Be prepared to put the effort in
Learning a new language will take time and effort on your part. Sorry if that’s not what you wanted to hear 😐 but if motivation came easily, the world would be a different place. Everyone would be running faster than Usain Bolt, making millions with viral TikToks and giving Jamie a run for his money in the kitchen. We know life’s not that easy. There’s work, family pressures, heading to the gym. Often, that feeling of “I can’t be bothered” is a familiar one.
This is when it’s key to find ways of learning that you enjoy (or more specifically, understanding how to use topics/things you enjoy to help you learn!) They have to be motivating enough to allow you to put the time in.
It’s all well and good saying that you want to discover a new culture, but go deeper than that: maybe there’s a French true-crime podcast calling your name, or you love reading Vogue and want to buy the Spanish version to expand your vocab. Finding your “why” is important. Not sure where to start? We’ve got an app for that. 😉
2. It’s okay to feel like you suck when you start
Breaking news: You're not bad at learning languages, you’ve just not found the right way to learn yet! Honestly, the beginning is always tricky, and you’ll be FAR better than you think you will be in no time at all. You don’t have to learn like you did at school. In other words, f*** tradition. Sure, if you had a great teacher or a brilliant textbook then you were lucky, but most people find that language lessons made them feel inadequate and uncomfortable.
You probably have strengths you don’t even realise yet, like picking up vocab or easily striking the accent. Undoubtedly, you’ll feel more natural when there’s less pressure, so take some time to ease yourself in! Research has also found that language anxiety affects around a third of learners, so you’re not alone.
So, what can we do to make you feel less like you suck? While language anxiety is a tough nut to crack, it will subside with practice. There are several things that you can do to help this. Learning relevant words and phrases that meet your needs will help you to feel more knowledgeable about situations. If your fear is around comprehension and understanding people, it can be helpful to see and hear language spoken in different contexts by different people. Practising expressing your thoughts and responses to questions is also a useful way to help you grasp your new language. Guess what? Memrise actually does all of that. Check it out here.
3. Forget about the F-word
No, not that one! We actually mean fluency. Whilst being something that many new language learners aspire to, fluency is hard to define and can seem miles away when you’re starting out. Whilst it sounds like we’ve swiped this straight out of a self-help book, focus on the “journey” rather than the end goal. This journey can be defined in different ways. Why not work to make yourself understood without perfect grammar, or try to expand your vocabulary so you can find alternative words for what you want to say? When learning a language, understanding context goes a long way. For example, ‘voler’ in French can mean both ‘to fly’ or ‘to steal’ (one to watch out for when you’re in the airport).
We promise that you don't have to be fluent to reap the benefits of a language. Linguist and polyglot Kató Lomb argues that “languages are the only thing worth knowing, even poorly.” In other words, if someone plays the violin badly, they’ll just cause earache with the few notes they know. Similarly, someone who has a bit of knowledge about medicine won’t go far if they try to practice as a doctor without qualifications. Lomb also says that “Solely in the world of languages is the amateur of value.” Deep, right? She essentially means that even phrases that are full of mistakes can build bridges between people because they’re well-intentioned. Despite her knowledge of many languages, Lomb claims that she’s not a perfectionist. She does believe, however, that the main purpose of language is communication.
4. Contrary to popular belief, that ship hasn't sailed
The idea that there’s a cut-off point for language acquisition is incredibly common. People think that unless you learned a language when you were a child, there’s no hope and it’ll be near-impossible to grasp.
Good news: That’s not the case! You can grasp a language, no matter your age. The difference is that children are fearless when it comes to making mistakes. They have the confidence to jump in unreservedly and when corrected, they learn and it becomes part of their vocabulary. Conversely, adults are aware of the judgement they may face when making mistakes, which has a serious impact on our ability to learn a language through practicing. Through this fear, we miss out on the value of making an error and learning from it faster.
(Look at us, throwing caution to the wind with two Simpsons GIFs in one post. Groundbreaking)
We’re here to give you that confidence, that courage to jump into a new language armed with the knowledge that you can do it - you might just need a helping hand along the way (and we’re more than happy to play that role - find out how we can help here!)