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Learning a new language

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

Key Points:

  1. Everybody can try to learn a new language by putting some efforts and studying progressively. Many people can learn a new language by themselves through reading books or taking online courses.

  2. WikiHow has many articles talking about learning a language, but each standalone article can't form a solid and comprehensive solution. Therefore, we have rewritten and integrated several articles together to create a better version. However, this is still just a brief guide of learning languages instead of the actual learning materials.

According to Wikipedia, "A language is a structured system of communication. The structure of a language is its grammar and the free components are its vocabulary. Languages are the primary means of communication of humans, and can be conveyed through speech (spoken language), sign, or writing." "Estimates of the number of human languages in the world vary between 5,000 and 7,000."

Here we quote the best way to learn a new language provided by wikiHow, a wiki that is building the world's largest and highest quality how-to manual. Please edit the articles and find author credits at the original wikiHow articles on How to Decide What Language to Learn, How to Learn Any Language, How to Learn English, How to Learn Spanish Fast, How to Learn Mandarin Chinese. Content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons License.

Learning a new language can open up tons of possibilities: a new career, easier travel, or better tourism. Learning a foreign language can be difficult, but if you follow certain techniques, soon you'll be able to learn any language. Although there's no easy way to go about it, with some hard work and practice, you can be fluent in no time.

Part 1: How to Decide What Language to Learn

  1. What is the most useful foreign language to learn? If you’re in the US, Spanish can be really useful. It’s the second most spoken language in the country (after English). It can help you talk to people who already live here, and there are tons of resources to get you started. If you’re in the UK or Canada, French is pretty helpful. Many French-Canadians already speak French, so it can be a useful tool for talking to your neighbors. In the UK, you’re only a few hours by train ride from France, so it can be a good language to know when you’re traveling. If you’re anywhere else, English might be a good place to start. English is spoken in almost every country in the world, no matter where you go. It’s estimated that around 1.5 billion people speak English, so you’ll always have someone to talk to.

  2. What language is the easiest to learn? If you speak English, a Germanic language will be the easiest. That includes Afrikaans, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Swedish, Portuguese, and Norwegian. The general syntax is the same, so you won’t have to work as hard to figure out the rules. Any language that has a similar alphabet will be easier. Most Germanic languages use alphabets that are similar to the English alphabet. If you already know the letters, you’ll have an easier time learning the language.

  3. Which language is the most similar to English? Frisian. It’s a language spoken in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany. Almost 80% of it is the same as English, so you won’t have to spend a long time learning new vocabulary. German, Norwegian, and French are also fairly similar. Plus, they’re more widely spoken. They also share a lot of the same vocabulary with English, and the dialects are similar, too.

  4. What is the number one language in the world? Almost 1.3 billion people speak Chinese. However, there are over 10 varieties of Chinese that make up that number, and they’re all slightly different from each other. Mandarin is the most popular variation and the official language of China, so you may want to start there. More people speak Chinese than English, Spanish, and Arabic combined. Spanish is the second most popular language. It has about 460 million native speakers worldwide. If you’re thinking of visiting South America, Central America, Spain, and most parts of the US, this language is a good one to learn.

  5. Is it okay to learn 2 languages at once? If you have the time to devote to it, totally! Learning 2 languages can be harder than learning one at a time, but there’s no reason not to do it. Languages that are similar to each other, like Portuguese and Spanish, are easier to learn at the same time than ones that are different. You might mix up your vocabulary sometimes, but that’s okay. No one expects you to be perfect at any language you just started learning. Try to catch your mistake early so you can correct it without too much trouble!

Part 2: Getting Down to the Basics

  1. Learn from your past experience. If you've learned languages in the past, go over what you learned then and try to figure out what was most effective for you. What helped you learn? What didn't? Which parts of the process did you find easy? Which parts were hard? When you've sorted this out, you'll be ready to start learning the language.

  2. Learn pronunciation. Even if a language has the same alphabet as yours, that does not mean that the pronunciation is always the same. It will help to learn IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet, as most dictionaries use it. The Foreign Service Institute offers free online language learning materials, which include audio recordings which help with learning pronunciation. The Duolingo app and BBC Languages also offer various languages and useful pronunciation tips.

  3. Pay attention to the grammar. This is probably the most important part of the language besides the vocabulary. "Paul want Mary go store" may communicate an idea, but it is not at all correct English. If you do not pay attention to grammar, you can sound equally incomprehensible in another language. Look at the structure of the language and how the articles work (masculine, feminine, neutral). Getting a handle on the structure of the language will help you understand how it fits together once you start learning different words. Ensure you know how to express questions, affirmative and negative statements in the past, present and future using the 20 most common regular and irregular verbs.

  4. Memorize 30 words and phrases each day. Start with the most common words. Memorization is half the battle and there are many different ways to memorize. You can practice writing each word a dozen times, which will get you used to using the word itself. Try using the words in various and different sentences. This will help you practice the words and make it easier to recall the words when you need them. Don't forget to keep practicing the words once you move on to memorizing other words. If you don't practice them you will forget them.

  5. Practice the alphabet. Especially if you're learning a language which operates on a different alphabetical system, you will need to know what the letters look like and how they operate. For example, this can be a crucial step if you're an English speaker who's learning Chinese.

Part 3: Practicing the Language

  1. Listen. Listening to the language, be it through movies or television shows, through audio language courses or music can help you retain the words you're trying to learn. Just listening won't help, though. You will need to repeat the words and speak them yourself. The method called "shadowing" is considered by many polyglots (people who know many languages) as a useful technique. Put your headphones in and go outside. While you play the language, walk briskly. As you're walking briskly repeat aloud and clearly what you're hearings. Repeat, repeat, repeat. This will help you connect kinetics (movement) with the language and to retrain your focus so that you aren't obsessing about memorization. Use audio books or audio language lessons. You can listen to these while you commute to work or while you jog around the park. This will help your listening skills. Repeat listening to short segments of 30 seconds to one minute until you feel you have complete comprehension. Sometimes you may have to listen to the course completely more than twice to fully catch all that it teaches. Watch television shows and movies without the subtitles. This includes soap operas, news shows, even shows you already know that have been dubbed into the language. It's a fun way to practice and apply your knowledge. Listen to music in the language you're learning. This is fun and easy and will, hopefully, keep you interested in what you're doing. Just put on some music while you're doing the dishes or going for a walk and pay attention to the words in the songs. You might also want to listen to classic songs because they are easy to catch on to.

  2. Read in your chosen language. Start off with simpler books and, as you get better, move on to more difficult ones. Challenge yourself to reading without a dictionary and let yourself puzzle the meanings out by yourself. Children's books are a great place to start because these books are meant to teach children how to read and understand their language. Since you are just starting out, you will want to start somewhere easy. Find books that you have enjoyed in your native language and read them in the language you are trying to learn. Your knowledge of the book's contents will help you decipher the words and keep you interested in the reading material. Try popular magazines or newspapers in the language you wish to learn. Choose a topic that interests you. Magazines are a good way to learn common idioms in context. Magazine and newspaper articles cover a variety of subjects, and they're generally much shorter than reading an entire book. You can purchase a quality dictionary of the language you wish to learn or you can use a free online language dictionary. When you encounter a new word, highlight it in the dictionary. Then, copy the word, definition, and an example sentence using the word into a notebook. Then, study the notebook. This activity helps you think in the language.

  3. Speak with native speakers. If you don't speak the language, you are unlikely to learn it well and keep it in your memory. There are programs that link people learning a language and native speakers via Skype. If you can't do that, look around your city or town. Chances are someone will be able to direct you to a person who can help you practice. A language school is a good place to start. Learn some idioms, proverbs and expressions. As your level advances, learn about some of the idioms and even slang in the language. Even if you don't end up using them much, they will help you recognize and understand these elements when you hear or read them. Don't be embarrassed if you aren't speaking the language properly yet. It takes time to learn. This step cannot be stressed enough. If you don't practice speaking the language you won't be fluent in it. Talk to native speakers, get a friend to learn the language with you and practice with them, talk back to the t.v.

  4. Practice. Do not hesitate to speak the language in public and with native speakers. It will be helpful in improving your mastery. Also, don't be ashamed to allow other people to correct you if you pronounce something wrong. No one knows everything. Welcome constructive criticism. Test your knowledge at every social occasion you have. Keep watching movies and television shows. If you are learning Spanish, for example, and if you like soccer, watch it in Spanish to keep the language fresh in your memory. Make sure to yell at the t.v. in Spanish when the game isn't going your way. Challenge yourself to think in the language you are attempting to learn.

Part 4: Learning English

  1. Improving Your Spoken English. Attend an English class or discussion group. Another great way to incorporate some extra English conversation into your weekly routine is to sign up for a class of discussion group.

  2. Speak a little English every day. The absolute best way to learn any new language is just to speak it. It doesn't matter if you only know five English words or if you're practically fluent -- speaking English with another person is the fastest, most effective method of improving. Don't wait until you "feel more comfortable" speaking in English -- you probably won't reach that level for a long time, so push yourself outside of your comfort zone and start speaking English today. You'll be amazed at how quickly your language skills improve. Find a native English speaker who is willing to spend some time speaking English with you -- you may be able to offer them a language exchange, where they spend 30 minutes speaking English with you and you spend 30 minutes speaking your native language with them. If you live in an English-speaking country, you can practice by starting simple conversations with the people you meet, whether it's saying "hello" to a shopkeeper or asking a stranger for directions.

  3. Work on your pronunciation. Even if you have an acceptable grasp of the English language, with good grammar and an extensive vocabulary, native English speakers may find you very difficult to understand if you don't work on your pronunciation.

  4. Expand your vocabulary and use idiomatic phrases. The wider your vocabulary and the more English phrases you learn, the easier speaking English will become. Once you have learned a new word or phrase, you should make an effort to use it in a sentence -- this is the best way to commit it to memory. Another easy way to commit new words to memory is to make labels for everyday household items and stick them around your house or apartment. Then every time you use the kettle or look in the mirror, you will see the English word for these items staring back at you.

  5. Carry a dictionary. Carrying an English dictionary with you at all times (whether it's an actual book or a phone app) can be very useful.

  6. Improving Your Writing, Reading and Listening Skills. Listen to English radio or podcasts. One of the best ways to improve your English listening comprehension is to download English-language podcasts or radio apps on your phone or MP3 player. You should then make an effort to listen to the podcasts or radio shows for at least 30 minutes per day. Do it in the gym, on your commute to work, or while you're sitting at your computer. Make an effort to understand what's being said, don't just let the English wash over you. Even if you find it too fast, try to pick out key words and phrases to get a general idea of what the conversation is about.

  7. Watch English movies and TV shows. Another fun way to improve your listening comprehension is to watch English movies and TV shows. Try to pick movies or TV shows that you will enjoy -- this will make the exercise feel like less of a chore. If possible, choose movies or shows that you are already familiar with, such as children's cartoons or blockbuster films. If you already know the basic story you will find the language much easier to pick up on.

  8. Read an English book, newspaper or magazine. Reading is an essential part of learning a new language, so don't forget to practice! Find something you are really interested in -- whether that's a famous English novel, The New York Times or a fashion magazine and start working your way through it. If you find the content boring, you will be less inclined to persevere with it.

  9. Keep a diary in English. Aside from reading and listening comprehension, you should also spend some time improving your written English skills. This may be one of the most difficult aspects of your language learning, but it is important nevertheless. Writing in English will help you to work on your sentence structure, grammar and spelling. Try keeping an English diary in which you write down a few sentences every day. It doesn't have to be deeply personal -- you could write about the weather, what you ate for dinner or what your plans are for the day. If you feel comfortable with it, get a native speaker to look over what you've written and check it for any errors. This will help you to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.

  10. Find an English-speaking pen-pal. Once your written language skills have improved, you could consider getting an English-speaking pen-pal!

  11. Committing to Your New Language. Stay motivated. When learning any new language, it is important to stay motivated and never give up on your goal of fluency.

  12. Practice every day. If you want to gain fluency quickly, you need to commit to practicing every day.

  13. Train yourself to think in English. One way to make the transition from being very good at English to being fluent is to train your brain to actually think in the English language.

  14. Make friends with English speakers. One of the greatest tests of a person's fluency in a second language is to put them in a room with a bunch of native speakers and see if they can follow and contribute to the conversation.

  15. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. The biggest obstacle that stands in the way of learning a new language is the fear of making mistakes.

Part 5: Learning Spanish

  1. Using Computer or Mobile Apps. Search for online courses. There are a number of online courses available that can help you learn Spanish as well as other languages. Many of them are free, while others charge a small monthly subscription fee. Many websites, such as Memrise and Duolingo, have mobile apps that allow you to take your learning with you wherever you go. This can make it easier to get in some practice with Spanish every day. Software programs, such as Rosetta Stone, can teach you Spanish relatively quickly. Rosetta Stone has been used by the U.S. State Department to enable new diplomats to learn a language quickly.

  2. Sign up with free programs to learn vocabulary. If you want to learn Spanish fast, vocabulary words can help you get there faster than trying to memorize abstract grammar rules or spending time conjugating verbs. For example, Memrise has a specific course called "First 5,000 words in Spanish." Taking this course can greatly expand your vocabulary and give you more words to use if you practice diligently.

  3. Do a Spanish lesson every day. If you're trying to learn a new language through self-study, you must be diligent. Practicing every day will keep the Spanish words and phrases you learn fresh in your mind. All you need is a few minutes a day. Typically you'll learn fastest if you have 20 or 30 minutes each day that you can dedicate to language learning. Spend half your time reviewing and reinforcing what you've already learned, and then try to pick up something new.

  4. Contribute to Spanish blogs and forums. If the website you use has forums for members, these can be a good way to practice your Spanish as well as ask questions and get tips from other users who are also trying to learn Spanish.

  5. Practice speaking. Some online programs and mobile apps have ways to connect you with other users so you can practice your conversation skills. Otherwise, talk to friends and neighbors to find someone willing to help you practice. Some apps may have voice recognition software that enables you to get some practice speaking, but it's still no match for actual conversation.

  6. Learning through Immersion. Learn a few basic Spanish phrases. If you know how to say hello and goodbye, as well as ask some basic questions, you'll be able to have a brief conversation with anyone in Spanish. Travel to a Spanish-speaking country. If you have the means to do so, traveling to a Spanish-speaking country can be the ultimate immersive experience. When everyone around you is speaking Spanish, you find it easier to start thinking in Spanish instead of in English. If you're a student, visit your school's study abroad office to find out about opportunities to spend a semester in a Spanish-speaking country. Not only will you get course credit, but you'll also have opportunities to learn the Spanish language and culture. While in the country, try to speak only in Spanish. You'll learn more quickly when you force yourself to speak the language.

  7. Getting Help from Others. Search for local classes. If you learn best through interaction, a class may be your best option to learn Spanish as quickly as possible. Buy a Spanish language dictionary and phrasebook. A basic dictionary will likely be required if you're taking a local class. While this book can help you quickly find the word or phrase you need for a particular situation, try not to become to dependent on it if you want to become conversational in Spanish. Join a local Spanish conversation group. Most cities and towns have a number of Spanish-language groups and societies that meet on a regular basis. Joining one of these groups gives you the opportunity to practice your language skills and get live feedback.

Part 6: Learning Chinese

  1. Practice using the four Mandarin tones. Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language, which means that different tones can change the meaning of a word, even if the pronunciation and spelling are otherwise the same. It is essential to learn the different tones if you wish to speak Mandarin Chinese correctly. Mandarin Chinese has four main tones, as follows: The first tone is a high, flat tone. The second tone is a rising tone. The third tone is a dipping tone. The fourth tone is a lowering tone.

  2. Learn the sounds Mandarin uses. The popular phonetic system, pinyin (characters: 拼音), is very helpful. Learning pinyin can be tricky, but most letters you will encounter sound very similar to their English counterpart. The new sounds you'll have to learn include: "h", "x", "q", "j", "r", and "ü". There are also other letter combinations you need to learn, including "zh", "ch", and "sh".

  3. Memorize simple vocabulary. No matter what language you're learning, the more words you have at your disposal, the sooner you will become fluent. Therefore, the next thing to do is to memorize some useful Chinese vocabulary.

  4. Learn how to count. Luckily, the Mandarin numerical system is fairly straightforward and logical, and once you have learned the first ten numbers you will be able to count to 99.

  5. Learn some basic conversational phrases. Once you have a basic grasp of vocabulary and pronunciation, you can move on to learning basic conversational phrases which are used in everyday Chinese speech.

  6. Study basic grammar. There is a common misconception that grammar does not exist in the Chinese language, but this is not true. Chinese grammar rules do exist, they are just very different from those in Indo-European or other language systems. Unlike these languages, Chinese is a very analytic language which is both good news and bad news for language learners.

  7. Learn how to use Pinyin. Pinyin is a system used for writing Mandarin Chinese using the Roman alphabet. Hanyu Pinyin is the most common form of such Romanization and is used in many textbooks and teaching materials.

  8. Practice reading and writing Chinese characters. The final hurdle in learning Mandarin Chinese is learning to read and write traditional Chinese characters. This can take a very long time (even years) to master, as the only way to learn them is through memorization and continuous practice.

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