Learning a new language is one of the most rewarding things you can do, yet also one of the hardest! It’s during those challenging moments that a little support and encouragement can go a long way! So I reached out directly to my social media community and asked them to share stories from their own language learning journeys—from the funny, to the embarrassing, to the fulfilling. In responding to and sharing these stories, I discovered that we all faced very similar challenges, regardless of what language we were learning. I decided that for this blog, I wanted to share my answers to some of the most common questions I received.
How do you learn a language when it isn’t spoken around you?
This is a challenge because, understandably, the easiest way to learn a language is to fully immerse yourself in it and speak with others. Of course, not all of us are able to do this and it should absolutely not dissuade you from learning whatever language that you’d like to learn. I was living in the UK when I started learning Vietnamese and didn’t have anyone around to practice with. The Rosetta Stone Live Tutoring sessions were an incredible supplement to my studies during this time because I was able to converse with a real person. Having conversations with others and speaking phrases out loud (even if to yourself in front of a mirror) is how you will get more comfortable with the language and gain the confidence you’ll need when it’s time to speak for real!
What’s the biggest challenge you have dealt with while learning Vietnamese?
The tones are the hardest part of learning and speaking Vietnamese. Vietnamese has 6 tones and what appears to be the same word can actually be vastly different words depending on how you pronounce it. These tones are natural to a native speaker, but it’s really difficult for outsiders to familiarize themselves with the specifics. For instance, I understand quite a lot when Vietnamese people are speaking but they often have a hard time understanding me because of my pronunciation.
Did you ever feel cool when you were able to speak a language you just learned?
All the time! Learning a new language and then using it in real life is one of the most rewarding feelings! I especially love the reaction I get when I speak Vietnamese because nobody expects it. Vietnamese speakers tend to be quite forgiving too when I make mistakes because they know that I am still learning and appreciate the effort.
What inspired you to begin learning another language?
I grew up bilingual (English and Spanish) and have always had an interest in languages. Fortunately, English and Spanish are so widely spoken that I have been able to speak with locals in many of the places I traveled to as a child. But when I started traveling to Asia and encountered languages I’d never heard before, I felt a strong urge to be able to have that same experience and connection that I was so used to. I am fascinated by how language is such an important element in shaping who we are, our communities and our culture, so I love to learn as much about languages as I can, even if I can’t speak them all. With Vietnamese though, it started out as a joke. My boyfriend (who is a native Vietnamese speaker) bought me Rosetta Stone for my birthday and bet me that I wouldn’t be able to learn it. Challenge accepted! I went to the UK to film for 3 months and when I came back I took him out to eat in Little Saigon and ordered the whole meal in Vietnamese. He was shocked!
When learning a language, do you ever get stuck at “Hello, how are you?” Or is it just me?
Yes! But don’t let that get you down. I think it’s normal for beginners to plan out what we want to say and memorize, rather than fully comprehend and listen. That’s why I love Rosetta Stone’s approach to learning. It forces you to listen and at the end of each unit there’s a final recap where you have to have a conversation and apply all the new phrases you learned in order to pass on to the next level.
How hard it is to learn a new language?
I’m not going to sugarcoat it—it’s hard. But rather than get frustrated, enjoy the journey. Learning languages is not only about becoming a fluent speaker. It’s so exciting when you can use little phrases that you learn along the way in real life. Or when you hear someone speaking in that language on the street or in a movie and you can understand them. It’s little milestones like that that make it fun and motivate me to keep practicing.
How can I learn Spanish really quickly?
Unfortunately there’s no secret shortcut. You really do have to commit your time and energy to your lessons. Studying abroad or living somewhere where the language is commonly spoken is, of course, a huge help, but you can immerse yourself in other ways like watching movies and TV shows in that language, reading books, and utilizing all the great Rosetta Stone Extended Learning features, like Audio Companion (I like to listen to these when I am driving) and live chat sessions with a tutor.
Any tips for practicing?
- COMMIT! I can’t emphasize this enough. Set aside 30 minutes to 1 hour a day to your lessons. Repetition and consistency are crucial because eventually your mind will begin to familiarize itself with the language.
- DON’T BE SHY. Speak whenever you have the opportunity. If you are learning Japanese, go to a Japanese restaurant or market and try to speak only in Japanese. Find places in your city where people will be speaking that language and go talk to them, hang out, make friends!
- Watch foreign movies and TV shows, YouTube videos, read the newspaper or books in that language. Anything that will help train your mind to familiarize the language.
What language do you think in?
This is an interesting question. Most of the time I think in English because when I am home it is the language I use most. But I notice that when I am in a Spanish-speaking environment I almost instantly start thinking in Spanish. When I am in Spain or Latin America, by Day 2 I am already talking to myself in Spanish!