In learning any language, there is no distinction in the best or the worst in its usefulness, no duration limit in how long it takes to be fully proficient, and no age limit in when a person can learn a foreign language. Also, regardless of the level of difficulty, it is not impossible for anyone to learn a new language, either by another person who teaches you or by self-learning. But one thing for sure is you really need three things that are essential for learning another language: adequate and appropriate learning resources, understanding of the way you learn, and passion of learning.
When you learn a language, two things you can’t do without are books and audio-visual media. Books can teach you mostly on written text, including pronunciation guide in purely written text, while audio-visual media, including DVDs, CD-ROMs, and DVD-ROMs, teach you mostly in oral language, including pronunciation, and not much of written language. (The Rosetta Stone is considered audio-visual media.) When you shop for language learning materials, it is best to buy a set of language learning kit that comes with both books and audio-visual media (DVDs, CD-ROMs, and/or DVD-ROMs) that are correlating to each other in the sequence of chapters and sections. This is the easiest way to self-learn a foreign language because you can study the pronunciation from audio-visual media while you read the book to learn the written text, plus you can follow the chapters and sections easily. Otherwise, you can buy a book and an audio-visual media separately. The difference is you will have to work a little bit harder compare to learning with a kit with both types of materials combined. You also may have to do some bookmarking for reference when you use a book while listening or watching audio-visual media.
Also, there are three more things you can seek help to when learning a new language. These are IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), internet, and the people whom you trust the most. For those of you who don't know what is IPA, it is a set of alphabet where each letter represent only one sound for consonants and vowels and other symbols as changes in the way a consonant or a vowel is pronounced. It is traditionally used by most linguists around the world as the most standard form of phonetic alphabet for all languages of the world and now used in many foreign language textbooks where the foreign languages do not use Latin alphabet (including Russian, Greek, Hebrew, and Japanese). Some languages have phonetic alphabet that is not found in most languages, which makes most people having difficulty in mastering some of those languages without knowing the exact pronunciation first. Even though you have overcome pronunciation difficulty, I suggest you to use IPA as a guide for correct pronunciation. If you can find a foreign language material that uses IPA, I encourage you to buy it, or at least borrow it. Besides major languages, there are some good numbers of books and other media materials that will teach you minor languages in libraries and bookstores. Check you local bookstores and libraries first. If you can’t find it, try going to large bookstores or libraries in large cities where there are more choices than the ones at suburban or rural areas. Also, if you are a university student or you have access to borrow materials from a university, the libraries in universities (including Stanford, Harvard, and Yale) are truly excellent sources for finding materials for learning both major and minor foreign languages.
Alternatively, go to Wikipedia or Omniglot on the internet (I will get to the details of Omniglot later) and find the language you are learning; many languages now have pronunciation guide in IPA. Just look for the pronounced words closed by two square brackets like these [ ] on most webpages, including Omniglot, or two slashes like these / / on many webpages of Wikipedia but not in Omniglot.
For more information on IPA, see the webpages below for details.
International Phonetic Alphabet (from Wikipedia)
The International Phonetic Association (also with the same acronym IPA)
Since many of you now have computers with access to internet, the internet is also another good source of reference. There are many websites that will give you information on foreign language and the method of learning, but I do recommend you to go to Omniglot, an excellent informational website on languages run by Simon Ager, an Englishman with tremendous interest in foreign languages. It has plenty of details on the written languages as well as useful advices in learning foreign language. You will like Simon Ager and his website after you read those information if you haven’t visited his website before.
If you have family members, relatives or friends who are at least bilingual, who are fluent in the language you are planning to learn, and whom you can put your trust upon, I encourage you to ask them for help. Make sure you tell them that you are interested in learning their language and want to practice the conversation in their language. Once they agree with you, this is your opportunity to improve a foreign language by practicing with them. When there is an opportunity, grab it as soon as possible before you lose it.
The correct combination of resources is one thing, but the method of learning is another matter. When learning, don’t just learn with diligence; learn with your planned strategies and tactics. With strategies, you want to think big and create a grand plan for achieving an ultimate goal – to be proficient in a foreign language in reading, writing, speaking and listening. Also, you have to break down your grand plan into manageable mini-plans so you can work on both short-term and long-term plans. Be clear, specific, and realistic on planning. Work on each mini-plan gradually and sequentially. Make sure you focus and follow your plan accordingly. If you are unable to reach each small goal within your time limit, be flexible in making changes in your plan. Learning a new language takes time.
With tactics, you are using your skills to enhance your learning and overcoming the obstacles. Before you start learning, you need to understand yourself. You need to know how you learn when you learn. There are some people who can learn by reading text, some who can learn visually (through illustrations and charts), and some who can learn by listening, and so on. If you want to know about how you learn, I recommend you to understand theory of multiple intelligences by Howard Gardner. You will be surprised by how much you haven’t known about your secret self.
Theory of multiple intelligences (from Wikipedia)
There are also plenty of websites where you can get yourself tested on your preferred learning method for free. Just use your favorite search engine and type “Theory of multiple intelligences” or “multiple intelligences” and it will do the searching quickly and easily.
Once you know your strengths and weaknesses in learning skills, utilize your strengths while learning a new language and, at the same time, improve your other learning skills that are your weakness by leveraging with your strengths to maximize your learning potential. Nobody is born with talents; talents are created through learning knowledge continuously and using your knowledge wisely and appropriately.
Finally, the most important ingredient in successful learning is passion. You need to maintain your interest in the language you are learning. The most important thing you need to remember while learning any foreign language is you learn and apply with confidence (maintain your morale), determination (keep up with your good fight against all odds), and patience (control yourself even during a difficult time). Learn to make mistakes; you can’t improve yourself without making mistakes first. Practice frequently with full consistency and you will overcome any obstacles, large or small, in life, hence making you better in using another language while practicing, whether you are at home, work, or traveling. Don’t worry if you are a slow learner; everyone learns in different speed and style and learning a new language takes time. Also, always manage to use your native language and second language(s) equally in respect to your schedule so you will retain you native language and second language(s) easily.
You can learn as many languages as you need. The sky is the limit! The more languages you learn, the better you can communicate with others, particularly in international traveling and employment. (In other words, “The more, the merrier!”) If you can handle this, do it; otherwise, learn one language at a time until you are ready for the next one.
Most importantly, you must be proficient in reading, writing, speaking, and listening in each language to be considered as fluent. If you are not proficient in at least one of the four categories of a particular language, then you are not fluent in the particular language, even though you can only speak another language without flaws. Imagine you are lost and you try to find a place to stay in Russia. The address you have is in English but the street names are in Russian. It is really horrendous when you can’t read Russian, especially when you are stranded in the middle of the frigid, winter night (brrrr!). So, therefore, learn to read and write just as you learn to speak and listen, even if it is difficult. Also, be sure to master every aspect of the language you are learning, including pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and expression. Just don’t make the same mistake more than once and you will do fine later in life.
Good luck and happy learning!
(1) Omniglot, http://www.omniglot.com/index.htm
(2) How many languages do you think one should strive to learn?, Yahoo! Answers, http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=Ag7qrbHQELNnVsHS6LhZfhzty6IX;_ylv=3?qid=20081013174535AAjvmY1
(3) What is the best way to learn a language?, Yahoo! Answers, http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=AnIc85_cwyVjMV_MfFjSe9Lty6IX;_ylv=3?qid=20081016180410AAfZENL
(4) I WANT TO LEARN A LANGUAGE?, Yahoo! Answers, http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=AuCTZ2If5fY4LdFcTpsXapYjzKIX;_ylv=3?qid=20081217181301AALJefG
(5) International Phonetic Alphabet, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPA
(6) Some advise please, from someone who learns languages. Do you think this is possible?, Yahoo! Answers, http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=AiOvDGORoz9e0w.G9DOMJ6ojzKIX;_ylv=3?qid=20081020105352AAcKTEB
· 1 decade ago