I love learning languages! I actually find it fun and interesting, and with some dedication and motivation it can end up being a really beneficial skill that provides you numerous opportunities in life. A relatively recent article published by The Guardian (published on Boxing Day) revealed the number of people learning a language in Britain has risen twice as fast as the rest of the world in the last year. And you’ll never guess which language happens to be the most popular choice among those Brits… That’s right: LE FRANÇAIS!
Although learning languages can be really fun, it is so important to stay motivated in the process if you want to make some real and lasting progress. I know it’s easier said than done but I’m going to share with you four tips that can help you stay right on track throughout the whole journey.
FYI: These are tips that apply for any language you chose to learn but to make life a little easier for me, I’ll refer to French (plus I’m kind of being biased here).
1. Write the three to five reasons explaining why you want to learn your chosen language, and match some objectives with them.
You’ve got to be honest and ask yourself why you want to learn a second language. There are tons of reasons out there and to help you get your thinking cap on, I’ll list down a few right here. You may want to learn a second language in order…
- to have the chance to live and work abroad in a completely new environment filled with new opportunities;
- to build extra confidence in networking with new people – whether its in a working environment or at social settings;
- to learn about the history and culture behind the language and the places it is spoken;
- to improve your skills in memory retention or multi-tasking, or;
- to save yourself some coins whenever you go on holiday (believe me, being able to speak French in Brussels saved me from paying tourist prices for loads of items, even waffles!)
Once you have written down your reasons behind your decision to learn another language, it’s time to move on to the next phase of your plan: objectives you want to achieve and that are realistic for you.
- Aim for a minimum of three and a maximum of five goals/reasons as to why you want to learn a language like French. Having too many goals and/or reasons runs the risk of you getting lost in the sauce.
- Make your goals short that way it will be easier for you to make them a habit you find enjoyable, and not a chore. Ensure that you focus on one goal at a time so that you don’t get overwhelmed with it.
2. Plan a time-frame that works for you.
This ties in very well with the goals you set for yourself. For example, you may decide that you want want to learn French as you’ll be spending winter in Paris and you want to travel around the French capital without running into the risk of paying “tourist tax” on your shopping trips (a very valid reason, indeed). Therefore, one of your goals could be learning vocabulary for directions and another could be getting familiar with common phrases related to shopping, such as asking for the price of a handbag or if a pair of jeans come in your size.
You’ve got to make sure that your time-frame is manageable for you to maintain and commit to. Ask yourself: ” will I be able to learn and know my lefts and rights in French in a week or two?” Remember that every goal you set yourself is different: one could take a week for you to achieve, another could be a three-month project but you have to be careful:
- Short deadlines could turn up to be very intense for you to handle, and long ones are risky and you could just end up abandoning ship once you feel fed up. So try to be as realistic as you can, and don’t beat yourself up for reaching that goal.
- Starting your journey on achieving many goals at the same time can be very overwhelming, so remember to stick to one at a time. Start off with the lighter ones then move on to the more weighty goals
And finally, don’t forget to go over all that you have learned whenever you’ve completed a goal. I cannot tell you how many times I try and test myself on the different tenses and their conjugations despite having learned them for years.
3. Switch up your learning to make it more interesting.
The best and most authentic way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it. Of course, there’s always the traditional route of using textbooks which are great for understanding the grammar and common verbs like ‘to have’ (« avoir ») and ‘to be’ (« être »). But sometimes it’s always better to turn to other methods to help you get familiar with things such as accents or common phrases the native speakers uses in their conversations. There are loads of other methods available from your little and slighter larger screens:
- Look for podcasts in your chosen language! They can be on any topic – current affairs, comedy or just random chats about life in general – whatever rocks your boat.
- Netflix is your best friend. There are tons of series and films you can watch, and of course, there’s the subtitles option for you and that helps a lot when it comes to knowing the spelling of certain words.
- Get to reading books and newspapers. It doesn’t have to be too long – maybe try reading for 30 minutes every day and see how you get on.
These are all things that make learning even more enjoyable, as you won’t be use to doing the same thing over and over again. These methods really do help me keep up my French skills as well as pick up new phrases from time to time.
4. Mon chaton, remember to treat yourself for completing mini-tasks.
It’s important to give yourselves a break and that does not only apply to learning a language. This will help prevent those difficult burn-out moments whereby you overwork yourself, and then before you know it you feel absolutely shattered. Think of your body and mind as a battery percentage, and treating yourself to a short break or that tub of Ben and Jerry’s sitting in your freezer is the battery charger you need to power yourself up again.
And there is no need to feel guilty for taking that break. As a matter of fact, tu le mérites mon chaton, you deserve to have that break or that treat.
Try and break down your tasks into mini tasks, and make sure to schedule alarms for mini-breaks that last for about 20 minutes, and an alarm to wrap things up. Also, make sure you get some fresh air. I use to stick my head out my bedroom window during my final year when we were in our first national lockdown, and I would be at the window for ten minutes just to give myself a bit of the break from the screen. And the air helped reduce all that stress I had in my mind.
When it comes to learning a second language, you’ve got to be prepared to dedicate a lot of time and effort in achieving a strong level of fluency in that chosen language. I mean take me for example: I’ve been learning French for 11 years. I did it at GCSE and got an A*, stopped at A-Level but then decided to pick it up again and take it seriously at university. After four years of studying my degree – plus an Erasmus year in a French-speaking city – I can confidently say that I’m a proficient user of the French language at the C1 level (and my former lecturers too, whom I’m very grateful for). And it doesn’t stop there: I may be at the C1 level but I’m always doing things to make sure that I don’t lose all that I have learned/picked up in these past four years.
You’re probably thinking “C1 Level? What does that even mean?” Well, this illustration I took from our good friend Google will explain all that for you:
Although this process does take a lot of time and effort, always remember to take your time – there is no rush whatsoever. You’re not going to become fluent in your chosen language overnight, and that’s okay. If that was the case then life would be a piece of cake, and for those of us who are big fans of the Great British Bake Off we all know that isn’t easy baking a cake. Sometimes you may have to start from square one again with some new ingredients and a different technique, and it will be the same for you when it comes to learning a new language. I don’t know if that analogy makes sense to you but it does for me, plus I really miss watching Bake Off!
Et mon chaton, tu peux le faire ! You can do it – just have a little faith in yourself. I have so much faith in you! So tell me – are you planning to learn a new language? If so, I’m curious to know what language you have in mind and your reasons why, so feel free to leave a comment down below so we can have a little chat! But until then… À bientôt !