How to Learn a New Language in 2017

Pro-tips for the average Joe that wants to speak ______ this year!

Photo Credit: alexisrbrown.com

If you thought I was going to give you some secret formula, this may not be the read for you. But, if you’re dedicated to learning a second language this year — I got you…

Learning a new language sucks. It’s challenging, time consuming, sometimes expensive, and frustrating as hell. But, it is also freaking awesome once you finally break into that new world. No matter what technology, or techniques come into play, the process of learning will never change completely. I’m sure innovation will help speed up the process. Maybe cut out a few hours of learning here and there, but in the end, you cannot replace cultural understanding, colloquialisms that simply do not translate, and the adventure all second language speakers have experienced.

So, where do I start?

Before you book your flight to Nicaragua for a year abroad, middle finger raised as you glance back, take a moment to think about why you want to learn this new language, what part of the world fascinates you, and then you can ask yourself how you will make time to practice.

When I first started learning Spanish it was because when I went to work at fifteen years old in a pizza kitchen, all the cooks spoke it. Once I decided to learn Japanese at nineteen, it was because I had always wanted to speak with my Japanese grandmother. Just this past year I decided to learn Portuguese because I would be traveling to Brazil for work and needed to know how to talk to girls at the bar, give directions to the UBER, or order some pastel with more than a pointing gesture. In all these cases, I was drawn to the culture, which gave me a huge incentive to learn more.

You will eventually have to use this language…

A good friend that once asked me what the best way to learn a new language was. I told him that the most important aspect is to (1) practice pronunciation, (2) learn common phrases that you can use now, and (3) kick off a conversation with a native speaker.

“No way in hell. That sounds exhausting.”

Believe it or not, this is what stops a lot of people from learning a new language. People think too much about this extensive investment into the learning process, and the unknown thought of what jumping into a new culture 100% feels like. Let’s be honest, it really scares the shit out of people. My advice? Be bold, have some thought on where you would like to plant your feet, and just fucking own it! If you really want to learn, it’s worth it no questions asked. You can start slow, but start….

“So, I can’t just learn from Rosetta Stone or something?”

It is 2017, but you still have to do it old school, homie! Language is about connecting with people. It’s about tearing down a language barrier for the sake of communicating and learning about somebody else. Such platforms such as Rosetta Stone, Duolingo (Duolingo Bots for a few languages), or Babbel are great, but you need more to complement your time working on grammar, verb structure, and vocabulary.

Learning a new language opens up an entire new world for you. You are now a part of that world, just as much as it is a part of you. If you don’t “vibe” with the culture you’re getting into, find one that you do like. At the end of the day, if you never use that language, or have no incentive to learn, you will never become fluent or completely immersed in the world of that language (which is most of the fun).

How can I make time to practice?

To keep me honest, I scheduled time to practice on my Google Calendar. This dedicated time to practice your new language should be sacred time. Once a notification “pops up” on your iPhone or desktop, get serious, hide in your bedroom and just try to focus for one hour on learning that language.

If you want to make it fun, talk to a buddy and get them to join you! It’s as simple as adding them to your Google Calendar invite, and starting a Google Hangout where you can go back and forth with vocabulary or just sit in silence together as you read through flashcards. You can even schedule an in-person coffee meeting if your friend lives in your city. With technology today, you can be face to face with friends and family anywhere, so make use of it.

How do I even meet native speakers?

Ok, so you don’t know any native speakers of your second language. That’s fine! I hear it a lot, but don’t let it stop you. If you want to meet native speakers, try out Verbling, HelloTalk, or even Tinder (if you’re single).

With Verbling you can use their “groups feature” and meet plenty of other language learners for online language exchange. You can also pay for an online teacher to help you with a handful of languages via private or class lessons. It’s an awesome way to get professional tutoring while learning in a comfortable environment — your bedroom.

Still not sold? HelloTalk is great for practicing text, and voice conversation. Believe it or not, it makes a lot of difference! If you want a simple way to chat with people in your target language, but aren’t sure you want to go out in public quite yet, or even show your face on a web cam, this is your best bet. There is also the option to have voice to text, or voice calls so you can still receive a similar experience. How hard is it to text a few times a day in that language you’re learning? We all know that your phone is already in your hand as you read this… Just try it out!

Oh, you’re traveling soon?

Perfect! Make an account on Couchsurfing.org ASAP! This is your best bet for meeting locals in the city. Yeah, yeah, it’s that hippy-site where people share couches in different cities…. relax… The people on the app are great, and not all hippies. This community is for anyone that wants to exchange culture and experiences around the world. It’s more for the younger generation I have noticed, but try it out no matter your age.

Once you’re online, type in the city you’re traveling to, or your current city. You can view all the local hosts, incoming visitors, events, groups, and hangouts! It’s awesome, seriously. If you do need a couch to stay on, you may just kill two birds with one stone and find a language exchange partner that can host you for a night or two.

Getting further into the platform, you can also go to your “Dashboard” and share your itinerary. It will make it well known in the community that you’re in town. You can expect a few direct messages in your inbox from people that want to meet up, share culture, and practice their English if you’re abroad. For you, take advantage of this and find locals that may speak your target language. Let your intentions be known, and pick somewhere public to hangout! It’s a cool experience, but as you learned as a kid, be careful with strangers. I personally have had only positive exchanges, but you never know. It’s 2017. People are nuts.

If you have a free week, I would also recommend you download Meetup.com! If you’re traveling for work, it may be a little hard to coordinate, but most of the time, local groups organize their “Meetups” around 6pm-8pm depending on the city and day. It’s a good chance to meet locals, find someone who speaks your target language, and an opportunity to add something exciting to your itinerary. You can meet a lot of friends at these, so make the most of it, and know that everyone is welcome there, so don’t be shy!

These are only a few ways that you can become fluent in your new language, but the idea is that you always hunt for more. The end goal is not fluency, it is the adventure that you will enjoy along the way. Learning about new cultures, meeting people you never would have met before, and the experience of entering a whole new world you knew nothing about just a few months ago, is all worth it in the end.

Signing out.

Matt Wright