Let’s start with an easy question. How would you approach learning the phrase “Want to hang out?” in a new language?
There’s a couple ways you could get there. Phone a friend who’s fluent in the language—let’s say Spanish—and ask them to say it. Or, you could find the translation online, listen to the pronunciation, and practice saying it out loud.
Now, let’s tackle a more difficult question. How would you approach learning an entire new language? Will you look up each word one by one? Memorize the whole dictionary? What about grammar rules? And how will you know how to speak in an office vs how to speak at a casual get-together with friends?
There are so many head-spinning factors to learning a new language and saying what you really want to say. Thankfully, this is a well-worn path, and there’s no need to forge it yourself. Our list of eight best ways to learn a language is based on decades of science, and backed by a language learning platform that really works.
With this list, you’ll be able to learn a language quickly and effectively by:
- Set your goals
- Choose the right language learning platform
- Identify resources for every skill
- Seek immersion opportunities
- Find tools that help refine your accent
- Discover more of what you love to help you stay motivated
- Embrace content made for kids
- Dive into culture
Most importantly, these tips work for every learning environment—no matter if you’re learning a language on your own or in a classroom—and every learning level, from novices to seasoned experts alike. Let’s jump in.
1. Set your goals
Learning a language is all about what works for you. That’s why we recommend getting to the root of it. Why do you want to learn a new language in the first place?
Taking a couple minutes to write down the reasons behind your language learning can save you months. You’ll be able to streamline your practice and narrow down the necessities. If your goal is to converse comfortably while visiting Paris, for example, there’s no need to learn the passé simple (a tricky verb tense you’ll only find in formal writing).
On the other hand, if your goal is to learn how to write in Japanese, you’ll learn faster and more effectively with resources that provide combined reading, writing, and listening opportunities. If you’re planning to learn a language online, Rosetta Stone’s Your Plan helps you define what you’re looking for, and curates your learning content to fit your goals.
For independent learners, our DIY Language Learning guide lays out three key questions that you can answer:
- Why do you want to learn a language?
- What goals do you hope to achieve?
- What’s your desired fluency level?
Once you’ve got that down, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
2. Choose the right language learning platform
If you’re doing it right, you’ll be leaning on a variety of resources to support your learning journey, from movies to online conversation clubs. Still, you’ll need a primary resource that can provide you with a curriculum that meets your goals. You might want a traditional classroom setting, to learn alongside your peers. Or, you might want to learn a language at your own pace and on your own schedule with an app or online platform.
Here’s what to look for when choosing how to learn a language:
- Does it help you learn immersively?
- Does it expose you to listening exercises with a variety of native speakers?
- Does it provide feedback on your pronunciation?
- Can it be tailored to fit your unique learning pace and goals?
- Is it flexible, or does it require a set schedule?
- Can you stick to it?
It’s up to you on what works best. Classroom learning is effective and often immersive, but you may not spend as much time learning what you want to learn, and the pace is dictated by your instructor. Textbooks are also helpful, but aren’t always accompanied by listening and speaking opportunities.
Online platforms—especially those with mobile apps—tend to check the boxes for most learners. They make it easy to build in study time on your own schedule and provide a clear roadmap of what you need to learn so you can stay motivated. Rosetta Stone has spent decades ensuring learners have access to comprehensive, expert-built curriculums with all the tools they need. And now, you can access it all through the Rosetta Stone app!
Whatever you choose, remember that you can always refine your strategy to meet your needs.
3. Identify resources for every skill
There are four primary skills you’ll need when learning a new language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. You have the power to prioritize what’s most important to you based on your goals—the hard part is identifying what resources can help you refine each skill.
The chart below outlines general resources you can learn with to strengthen your skills. We highly recommend diversifying the resources you use. Even if you’re using a platform or textbook that hits on all four of these skills, pulling from various resources increases your exposure to different aspects of speech (accents, vocabulary, etc) and culture, which can further inform your lingual knowledge.
|Speaking||Conversation clubs |
Local cultural events
Movies (with subtitles)
|Writing||Find a penpal |
Start a blog in your new language
Try translating your favorite book
4. Seek immersion opportunities
Language experts agree that immersion is, hands down, the best way to learn a language. If Spanish were a body of water, the best way to learn it would be to jump right in: Buy a one-way ticket to Nicaragua, strike up a new life for several months to a year, and forget that English exists.
Learning a language naturally, without the support of your native language, actually helps you learn faster and retain everything—pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar rules—better. We recommend trying out Rosetta Stone’s Dynamic Immersion learning for yourself, if you’re interested in fast-tracking your language skills.
The whole leave-your-life-behind thing sounds thrilling, you say, but it’s not an option at the moment. We get it. The good news is that immersive opportunities are accessible from anywhere in the world.
Here’s a couple resources to start with:
|Immersion-focused classes||If you’re interested in learning in a traditional classroom setting, you can easily find courses that focus on immersive learning in any language.|
|Conversation clubs||Get together with native speakers or people just like you! These groups meet regularly to chat about anything and everything, as long as the conversation is in the language you’re learning.|
|Local businesses or cultural events||Practice speaking with members of your local community, like the owners of your favorite restaurant or fellow volunteers at a community organization.|
5. Find tools that help refine your accent
If you’re a native English speaker born in the US, you’re no stranger to the level of cringe evoked by an American putting on a British accent. It’s incredibly easy to miss the mark on accents, even when speaking in your native language.
The important thing to remember is that there’s no shame in botching an accent! Accents are difficult, and native speakers have a serious leg up—they’ve been building their listening skills and muscle memory since they were infants. If you’re two years into learning Spanish and you still can’t roll your r’s, that’s entirely understandable.
Here are a couple ways you can finetune your pronunciation:
- Listen often: Now’s the time to break out the playlists and queue up those podcasts. You don’t need to understand everything that’s being said. Simply listening to the language being spoken by a variety of speakers will help you better nail the cadence over time.
- Speak often: Practice with others in conversation, or read a book out loud to yourself. The more hours you spend speaking, the faster you’ll sound like a truly native speaker.
- Practice saying words that could be a source of confusion: 四 (sì) and 死 (sǐ) in Chinese sound similar, but are slightly different in tone. As a result, it’s common for new speakers to confuse “four” and “die”. You can avoid these pitfalls and finetune your accent faster by practicing your pronunciation on tricky pairs of words like this one.
- Use platforms that can grade your accent: There are a variety of apps that can provide feedback on your accent. Rosetta Stone’s speech recognition engine, TruAccent, is built into every lesson and can help you refine your accent as you pick up new vocabulary.
6. Discover more of what you love to stay motivated
Are you an accomplished baker? Big on sports? Obsessed with pop? Learning a new language can help you explore even more of what you love, and keep you motivated to learn in the process. Grammar, repetition, and the learning curve that comes with a new language could feel a bit robotic if it weren’t for the wealth of cultural opportunities behind every language.
We recommend identifying resources in the language you’re learning to find whatever it is that lights you up. Bookmark any top 10 list you can find, and work your way through recommended movies or books on the way to work. Choose a sports team to follow, and stream their games with audio and subtitles to maximize your language exposure. Or, join an online community on Facebook or Reddit to connect with people who speak your new language and love your hobbies as much as you do.
7. Embrace content made for kids
In the world of streaming, you might find yourself putting on the cartoons you watched as a kid, for old time’s sake. The perks of adulthood are vast—no one is stealing the remote from you this time—and cartoons are unique in their benefits to language learners of all ages.
Cartoons and media aimed at kids tend to have simpler language, which can help you focus on the basics of sentence structure. There’s no lofty vocabulary to work through, and repetition is plentiful, helping you commit those words and phrases to memory. The best practice for watching any kind of media in your new language is to turn on subtitles and audio. That way, you can better associate words with how they sound, especially if building your reading skills is important to you.
If you’re interested in uncovering the latest and greatest kid’s content, a quick Google search in the language you’re learning will bring up the most popular items. It’s likely, too, that the content you loved as a kid is available in the language of your choosing. Spongebob, for example, has been translated into more than 60 languages.
8. Dive into culture
What does learning about a country’s culture reveal about the language they speak? A whole lot.
If you weren’t aware of Sweden’s generous, nationwide paternity leave, you would find the word “lattepappa” (dad carrying coffee while pushing his child in a stroller) unusually specific. You might also be left wondering why there are so many Chinese idioms centered around family, if you didn’t know the culture’s long history in upholding familial ties.
Reading up on regional history, practices, and dominant religious beliefs behind the language you’re learning can level up your language skills and help you better navigate social situations.
Some languages that are spoken in many countries, like Spanish, have a multitude of cultures tied to them. As such, the Spanish spoken in Colombia sounds very different from Spanish spoken in Spain. Widely spoken languages present an awesome opportunity to dive into several cultures at once while learning the nuances of slang and regional dialects.
Now that you know the best ways to learn a language, it’s time to get started. Our last piece of advice: enjoy the process. It takes time to learn a language, but it’s incredibly rewarding. You’re guaranteed to meet amazing people along the way, because language requires you to connect with the people around you—whether that’s fellow language learners or native speakers in your community.
With 24 languages available, Rosetta Stone has exactly what you need to dive right in, from tools that help you perfect your accent to detailed lessons that help you learn through immersion. Start your first lesson today by visiting www.rosettastone.com.