How to Learn a New Language

Pershendetje! (Hello in Albanian)

Have you ever wanted to learn another language? Have you been turned off at the thought of learning a new language? Maybe it’s too hard or too time consuming? Maybe the language is confusing?

I call bullshit on those excuses! Learning a new language is totally doable, and I am going to show you how! Remember, you already learned at least one language as a child. You can also learn a new language as an adult.

Speaking more than one language is amazing! It’s been proven that speaking two or more language has a very positive impact on the human brain. Being able to speak another language actually increases the grey matter in your brain and also allows you to think differently than those who only speak one language. As a bilingual or multilingual brain, you are able to problem solve more quickly as well as switch between tasks with more ease. This is because speaking more than one language teaches you to “switch” between languages when necessary.

The actual learning of a new language also engages many parts of the brain that other cognitive learning does not. There are even studies that show that learning a new language can stave off diseases like Alzheimers for several years. Why? Because you are actively using  both sides of your brain. Your brain is exercising and staying fit!

In a multicultural country like the United States, or for those of you looking to travel abroad, being able to speak another language is a huge win! Have you ever been abroad and found it a bit disheartening that you can’t speak the same language as everyone else? I know I felt like that when I first went to Italy and Germany. I felt like I missed out a bit.

Your resume would also stand out to future employers if they say you are able to speak multiple languages. Think of the audience you could reach if you were in a client facing role? With science showing the positive impact speaking different languages has, this would make you stand out as top talent!

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You are probably wondering: What does this guy know about learning new languages?

Well, I was born in the US, but I was born to non-English speaking parents who mainly spoke Albanian. Naturally, my twin sister and I (first born children) started speaking Albanian as our first language. My parents also spoke Serbian (which very common for Albanians). They had tried speaking Serbian when they didn’t want my sister and I to understand then. My mother told me that I had started to speak Serbian words so that did not work out very well for her. This was because as children, our brains are much more “elastic” so learning a new language is so much easier. We are almost like sponges!

My twin sister and I started pre-K and did not know a lick of English. We had to take ESL (English as a Second Language) so that we could learn English to speak with our peers and teachers. We were in ESL for a lot of elementary school. At that point, we had been so immersed in the English language that we picked up and were fine.

After that, I took a couple of years of Spanish in high school. I was an A student. Spanish was easy for me because I understand the structure of the language because some of it was like Albanian. For instance, in both Spanish and Albanian, the adjectives are placed after the noun. So a “big house” in English is a “house big” in Spanish and Albanian.

Just a couple of years ago, I took a German class in school and learned some basic German. Again, my brain was able to grasp the language with the help of having another language in my mind. I was a B+ student here. I had just bought a house and was redoing the kitchen, is I couldn’t focus as much as I wanted.

With that experience, I am going to share with you what worked for me, what didn’t work, and what I could have done better for more success.

  1. Be passionate about the language you want to learn. Ask yourself, “Why do I want to learn this language?” You have to be motivated to learn a new language. Your “why” has to be your rock throughout the learning process, especially when it gets tough. Keeping it relevant to yourself will keep you dedicated to learning.
    • I took German because I fell in love with the German language and the country/culture of Germany.
    • I am relearning Albanian because it is my culture and a large part of who I am today.
  2. Sign up for classes in your community, or use free apps/sites like DuoLingo. Local community centers or churches of different nationalities sometimes offer classes in their language. DuoLingo works just like Rosetta Stone, but is entirely free and offers a multitude of languages.
    • I personally recommend DuoLingo because it follows the different learning styles that a person would need to learn a new language. You are able to read, type, and even speak your target language. After some time has passed, DuoLingo will let you know that you need to revisit certain vocabulary to strengthen your memory and skills.
  3. Become immersed in your desired language! Learning a language is more than just learning and speaking new words. It is about reading, writing, understanding grammar, and being able to express yourself.
    • Start reading websites or newspapers in your target language. With just learning some words, you will be able to pick up the context of the article you are reading while learning the language.
    • Listen to online radio stations in your target language.
    • Watch TV shows in your target language. Do not use subtitles as they will confuse your learning brain.
    • Start writing in your target language. Use vocabulary that you are currently learning or have learned.
    • If possible, travel to the country of the language you are learning, or find local community happenings for that culture.
  4. Practice, practice, practice! This is the most CRUCIAL step of the process! In order to successfully speak a new language, you have to practice speaking it! Remember, you are teaching your mouth to make new sounds that it is not used to, and you are rewiring your brain to be able to recall and apply these new words/conjugations/forms. Practicing is what will make you successful! Practice full conversations while you are by yourself in the shower or car.
    • I was an A student in Spanish because I focused on reading and writing. I did not practice like I should have, so I was only able to (and still can) read and write in Spanish but I can’t properly speak it like I should.
    • My understanding of Albanian is really good, but growing up I became accustomed to listening to my parents speak Albanian while responding in English. Now my pronunciation of words could be a lot better. I am working on this.
  5. Find a partner. Having someone to practice with will make this process so much better/easier! Use this partner to write email/letters in your target language. Meet with this person regularly to have conversations in your target language as well. If both your native languages are English, you will find that it will be easy to switch to English when you don’t know what to say. Do NOT do that! Ask each other in your language how to say something in that language.
    • I used to use the expression “How does one say _____ in ______?” When learning German, I would say “Wie sagt man “car” auf Deutsch?” if I forgot how to say car. That would be my way of asking my partner without switching to English.
    • My mother is going to be my partner for relearning and practicing Albanian.
    • Meetup is a great way to meet people who are also learning the same language you are. Groups normally meet from once a week to once a month. It is a great way to make new friends while practicing.
  6. Stay consistent! Continue practicing the language in all aspects every day! You will find it will get easier the more you do it. If you stop learning/practicing the language, you will forget what you have learned and will set yourself back a great deal! The expression “If you don’t use it, you lose it” applies here 100%. Your brain will actually start to lose the awesome grey matter that was created when learning the language. This is going to be the key to continued success and learning. You will make mistakes along the way. You will mispronounce words. You will forget words or conjugations completely in mid sentence. You will use the wrong form. It’s all okay! That is how you learn! Be comfortable with being uncomfortable, don’t quit, and you will be fluently speaking a new language before you know it!

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Some specific things to avoid or be aware of are:

  1. Memorization drills. Learning a new language is not just a memorization game. All you will be able to do is recall the word. That is not the same as applying the word in conversation.
  2. Learning multiple languages at the same time when starting out. This works for children because their brains are able to absorb everything easier. As adults, you will just confuse yourself if you try to learn multiple languages, no matter how similar or different they are.
  3. Many languages have different dialects. When learning a new language, you will most likely learning the “standard” or “official” version of the language. Focus on the main language. You can adapt to the other dialects later.
  4. Language apps. Do not become solely reliant on these to learn a language fluently. They are a tool in the process, not a means. The other steps above will help you become successful.
  5. Using English. As mentioned above, do not switch over to English when practicing a new language. Using English while learning a new language is going to confuse you and your first instinct will always be to lean on that.

There is a certain beauty in speaking another language. You are part of something that you weren’t before. A culture. A country. A mindset. The doors of communication that you open to people whom you couldn’t otherwise communicate with may also open many opportunities for success, new experiences, friendship, or even love.

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These are all tips that I am following for myself as well. Please let me know how these tips work out for you and/or any questions you may have!

Viel gluck! (Good luck in German)


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