By: Jessica L.

Statistics show that one in five Americans are bilingual. Compared to the rest of the world, where about 50% of people speak two languages, the United States has some catching up to do. However, many people find learning languages an unconquerable feat. How does everyone do it?

According to several researchers, there are four methods to this madness. One way to learn a language is through oral practice. Speaking a language helps your brain connect the words to the sounds. Listening to the language also helps to strengthen these relations. Writing out words and translations helps you recognize similarities between the languages while also teaching you proper spelling. Finally, reading the language solidifies spelling and adds the importance of proper grammar not often used in everyday conversation. You can also use context clues to familiarize yourself with new words. Here are several uses for these tactics to learn languages.


One way you can practice speaking a language is through an application. There are several apps that can teach you a language. Often, they have a mode that will listen to you and give you feedback on how well your pronunciation was. Apps like Duolingo are free while you can pay for other ones, such as Babbel or Rosetta Stone. Since different languages have different pronunciations and sounds for letters, it often takes a while to relearn what you’ve been taught since kindergarten. Remember, patience is a virtue.

Another way to get comfortable speaking a new language is to go to a country where they speak it. While this is the more expensive method, anyone who has experienced it will tell you that this is the best way to learn a language. By jumping into the fray, you often have no choice but to adjust to the situation. By learning from native speakers, you will learn the way people actually pronounce words, slang, and the natural flow of conversation, rather than learning by the book.


If you are not quite confident enough to converse in a new language, you can familiarize yourself with it by watching movies or TV shows. Put both the subtitles and audio into the language you are trying to learn. If you are familiar with the movie, you can figure out somewhere along the lines of what they are saying and start to recognize common phrases. If you can not find a movie or TV show you know by heart, try a kids TV show. The plot is usually always very basic and they usually talk with basic phrases that are easy to understand. This is one of the more entertaining techniques.

Something else to listen to would be songs. If you have a musically oriented personality, then this would be a highly recommended strategy. Often artists will include phrases here or there in a foreign language. The translations are usually fairly easy to remember. To make this activity even more engaging, you could make a playlist of songs with the foreign language in their lyrics. If you find this technique works best for you, you can take the next step into memorizing the lyrics to songs completely written in another language.


One of the great things about living in America is the number of opportunities we have. One of those opportunities is the access to unique organizations. For those learning languages, the most intriguing of these organizations is pen pals. Typically, you would write back and forth between someone who is a beginner to  the language you speak (English) while their first language is the one you are trying to learn. This simple way of interacting with your community helps you learn a language as well as contributing to someone else's education.

A different approach you can take to trying to learn a language is by memorizing vocabulary terms. The simplest way to do this is through flash cards. While applications, like Quizlet, can be quick and easy, handwriting flashcards is the most effective way of memorization. To enhance your chances of remembering the terms, you can use a color code system. For instance, one language in one color and the other in a contrasting one. Or, since a majority of foreign languages have gendered nouns, you can base the colors on that. Another possible system would be writing adjectives, nouns, and verbs in different colors. There are many different ways to go about this.


The reading strategy is very similar to Listening. You would want to start off small with novels either set in a country that speaks the language or about a character who is from that place. Nine times out of ten, the author will sprinkle vocabulary from the language in every now and then. Often, they will also include the translation so you don’t have to jump into google translate. This introduces you to simple phrases from this language. Another type of book you could read is one written by a British author. British English shares a lot more words with foreign languages than American English does. Once you become familiar with the basic vocabulary in the language, it is shocking to see how many connections you can make that you hadn’t realized before.

Another tactic you can try after becoming familiar with the language is reading short stories or poems that are constructed entirely in the foreign language. This takes memorizing phrases a step further by seeing the use of fully formed, grammatical sentences. 

These methods are some of the best ways to learn a language. There are several different learning styles and this activity can be bent to encompass all of them. From flash cards to immersing in conversation to watching movies, this list ensures that everyone is accounted for. After all, language is universal.


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