The best way to learn a language: what the linguists say

What are the best ways to learn a new language?

Are you struggling to learn a new language? Relax, you’re not alone! As a linguistics graduate, I was struggling learning foreign languages before. Like many other kids in Hong Kong, I started learning the second and third languages (English and Mandarin Chinese) at age 4. I studied them throughout school and learned some Japanese during my first year at university. Even after many years studying English and Mandarin Chinese, I found it difficult to have long, authentic, and comfortable conversations with native speakers. My friends who studied German for 3 years also found it very hard to communicate with native German speakers when they travelled to Germany.

After struggling many years to learn a language, my linguistics degree has given me completely new insights about the best way to learn a language. Here’s what I learnt:

1. Get more out of listening
How do babies learn language? By listening! Listening comes very early in the language acquisition process. Without listening, babies would have no building blocks from which they can build their own repertoire of sounds. Linguists found out that children who suffer hearing problems early in life experience delays in their expressive and receptive communication skills. Listening is the first step to develop a language.

Understanding the early childhood learning process has key implications for adult language learners. Even if you are just a beginner and barely know any words, you can still learn by listening. Pay attention to how native speakers speak and let yourself take in the sounds of the language. Your ears need to get used to the sounds of your new language. Without listening, you can never be fluent in the language.

With tons of resources online, you can do this step easily by finding radio programs, music and news in your target language.

The best way to learn a language is to start with listening

2. Speak as much as possible
After listening for awhile, you will master the rhythm of the language you want to learn. Then it’s time to train your mouth muscle to speak. After learning some articulatory phonetics from my linguistic degree, I suddenly found speaking Mandarin way more easier, as I understand exactly where my tongue, teeth and lips should be. For language learners, it’s important to learn the pronunciation and speak as much as possible. It’s the time for you to make mistakes, speak to your language teachers when you get a chance and ask them to correct you. Listening, speaking, repetition…it’s the best way to learn a language.

Speaking as much as possible is your best way to learn a language

3. The use of flashcards
The best way to learn a language is to develop vocabulary. You can’t express yourself without enough amount of vocabulary and the best way to develop vocabulary is using flashcards. Try writing words or sentences in your target language on one side and a picture or translation on the other. Create flashcards every time after your language lesson and revise them once you have time. There is a old saying in Latin: Repetitio mater studiorum est. Repetition is the mother of all learning. It’s also the best way to learn a language.

Using flashcards is the best way to master the vocabularies

4. Stay motivated
After reading the article, you know the best way to learn a language. But the problem is, how can you stay motivated? Yes, we tend to not have the time. Yes, we are so busy at work. Yes, the language is so difficult. But when I went to Japan after several months studying Japanese, even with my limited Japanese skills, I could understand some Japanese announcements in the train stations and had some basic conversations with the Japanese people: the joy is in the journey.

To stay motivated, finding the best tools and environment is important. Learning online is a great choice as it offers flexibility and convenience. Finding a support network is good as well as you know you are not alone.

Over the last few years the internet has exploded with online language learning resources which are helping people connect and support each other in all ways. Currently, FluentUp connects you with accredited language schools all over the world offering live online courses Click here to learn more and see how you can learn better with the online marketplace for languages.​

Trust me, you can do it!