Learning a new language

[Originally published on 5 August 2012]

Learning a new language is a challenge, needs hard work and takes time. If you’re not motivated you will not get it, like everything else in life. Taking classes is essential for you to get the structure of the language and the basics of how it works. After that it’s really up to you.

A great way to acquire vocabulary is to read. A lot. You can start by reading children’s books. They are very simple and easy to catch up. Then upgrade to newspapers and books. It is highly recommended to choose native speaking authors because you get to be familiar with the way people actually use the language. This is usually lost in translation and it is essential to understand the little differences in communication and in culture to avoid misinterpretations.

Before checking each new word in the dictionary, try to capture its meaning by the context. If it is not enough, then try to capture the meaning of the sentence. If you can understand the context but not the word, you can just ignore it and try to do the same exercise next time you see that specific word. If it does not work, then go to the dictionary. By now it will be easier to memorize its definition.

Two things are key for learning a new language: vocabulary and pronunciation. While reading if you don’t know how the words are said you’ll probably “make up” sounds closer to your own language and get used to it. Then you’ll fail to recognize the correct sounds and consequently it will become harder to figure out the real pronunciation.

The solution: listening to music, watching movies and TV, listening to audio books. The ideal is to hear while reading it. However, if that is not possible, just pay attention to the sounds, even if you may not understand the words being said. First is important to get used to the pronunciation.

Another good idea is to find a native-speaker with whom you can practice: a tandem partner.

For a more complete (and even scientific) explanation on how to get new vocabulary, check “Just forget it! The secret of learning new words” (also available in French).


Check other articles related to translation and languages.


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