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How to Learn a New Language Effectively

by Gabe Wood
How to learn a new language effectively header image. Two women in a city navigate using a map.

There are many words you could use to describe what it’s like to learn a new language, but “fast” isn’t one of them. Depending on the language you’re learning, it requires hundreds to thousands of hours of practice to become fully proficient. 

But, with the right methods, you can feel comfortable speaking a language long before you reach proficiency. For the most effective ways to learn a new language, read on.

Total immersion

The most effective way to learn a new language is through total immersion, the practice of putting yourself in an environment that uses the language you want to learn. In a fully immersive environment, people around you are speaking it, signs and menus are written in it—it’s everywhere and unavoidable.

With total immersion, you naturally pick up pieces of a new language because you’re constantly exposed to it. You’re encouraged to understand and speak the language so you can better fit into your social environment. Plus, you have ample opportunity to interact with native speakers of the language who may be able to help you recognize mistakes and correct them. 

The most common way to experience total immersion is by going to live in a region where your target language is spoken for at least a few months. There are also language camps you can attend that try to create a total immersion environment.

The problem with total immersion is that it’s not feasible for most people. Unless you’re a college student with a chance to study abroad or your job has a generous relocation policy, most people can’t just move to another country or a camp for several months to learn a new language. 

DIY immersion

Just because you aren’t able to go to a whole new country doesn’t mean you can’t create some degree of language immersion in your everyday life. We now have a variety of ways to unlock partial immersion from anywhere. One classic example is to put sticky notes on the objects in your house with the name of each object written in the language you’re learning to help build your vocabulary.

You can also surround yourself with media in your new language. For instance, if you’re learning Spanish and you keep up with the news, then try reading a Spanish-language newspaper or listening to a “news in slow Spanish” podcast. You could even set your phone and social media account languages to Spanish for extra language exposure.

Use a language program

For the majority of people, using a language program is going to be the most effective way to learn a language that’s also easily accessible. No language program can completely replicate the experience of total immersion, but some key things to look for in a program to get as close as possible are:

  • It lets you listen to native speakers
  • It has you practice speaking out loud
  • It gives you feedback on your answers and speech

Most language programs include audio recordings of speakers demonstrating how to say words, but not every program gives you an opportunity to practice speaking on your own. Even fewer respond to your speech and offer corrections when you make a mistake. 

An example of a feedback feature to look for is Rosetta Stone’s TruAccent technology. When you practice speaking out loud, Rosetta Stone compares your voice to native speakers of the language you’re learning, and gives you immediate feedback on how you did as well as ways you can improve.

TruAccent is just one part of Rosetta Stone’s program, which is based on the Dynamic Immersion method. Dynamic Immersion adopts the key elements of immersion learning to tap into humans’ innate ability to learn languages.

Develop good learning habits

Speaking a new language means learning and retaining a ton of material, including vocabulary words, grammar rules, and potentially a whole new writing system. You’ll need to dedicate time to memorize all of these, and the best way to use that time is to adopt study techniques that have been proven effective. 

For example, one technique to make the most of your learning time is called distributed practice, and it involves breaking up learning into small, consistent sessions. If you decide you can spend five hours a week practicing your new language, it will be more effective to spend one hour a day, five days a week, than it would be to cram for five hours one day a week.

It can also help to get in the habit of using the small amounts of downtime you have throughout your day to learn. Having a language learning app on your phone can be great for this. In the Rosetta Stone app, for instance, many lessons can be completed within 10 minutes. Flashcards are also a cheap and easy way to keep practicing when you’re on the go.

Additionally, you can improve your focus by making sure you’re in a good state of mind when you study. Being tired, stressed, and distracted will all take a toll on your ability to retain new information. You can absolutely still learn if you’re sleepy or anxious, but you won’t be as sharp, and the process will likely take longer. Try to schedule your learning sessions for times when you tend to be relaxed and alert.

Lean into why you’re learning

Everyone has a reason for why they want to learn a new language. Whatever yours is, try to incorporate it into your practice routine to keep yourself motivated. If you’re studying a language to travel, see if you can find a community of expatriates from the country you want to visit near you, or join an online community of speakers. Or, if you’re learning a language to enjoy media from another culture, try reading comics or watching movies from that culture a few times a week.

It takes a while to learn a language well enough to feel like you can understand and speak it confidently. Making the learning process more fun and reminding yourself why you’re dedicating time to it will help you power through when you encounter a part of language learning you struggle with.

When you use these methods to learn as effectively as possible, you can be confident that the time you spend practicing your new language is time well spent. Start your language journey today at www.rosettastone.com.

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