Learning a New Language (a Collaboration with bulletballerina)

Thank you to my lovely friend bulletballerina for coming up with this wonderful idea! Check out her post here.

Learning a new language is an exhilarating journey, and it can be even more fun if you are travelling somewhere and get to speak with native speakers there! Yes, it can be hard, but if you find the motivation to learn, you won’t be able to go a day without thinking at least one word in that language. Seriously.

Before I talk about the actual process of learning a new language, I want to talk about motivation. 

Motivation is the most important thing to have when you’re learning a new language (aside from a few textbooks or CDs, of course). Having a reason for learning a language can help you when you are frustrated or down, and keep you going through those tough times so you can really enjoy your experience. Motivation can be anything. Do any of these statements below apply to you?

  • You have family/friends that speak a language, and you want to be able to communicate with them
  • You have family/friends that are learning a new language, and you want to be able to communicate with them
  • You think the language is cool and want to learn how to speak it
  • You were born in a place where the primary language is something that you want to learn how to speak
  • You want to travel/are travelling somewhere and you need to learn the language
  • There is a book/song/movie in a foreign language that you want to be able to understand
  • The language is spoken by most people in the world
  • You have/want a job that requires fluent understanding/communication in another language
  • Other

Motivation is really important. Without it, learning a language will turn into more of a chore than something fun. And don’t we all love to do fun things?

Ways to Learn a Language: Find One That Works For You

  1. Enroll in a class. Taking a class (for me) is the best way to learn a language. You can ask one-on-one questions with someone who is a native speaker, and get the best answers to your questions without having to search the internet. In addition, practice is more valuable, meaning that any assignments like homework or classwork become priority- it’s not as easy for you to drop the language or forget about it. You simply must make time for it. Enrolling in a class also means that you can work with other students in the class, meaning interaction and practice in real life. You can get help correcting your mistakes in grammar, pronunciation, etc. from real people, which can really help your fluency.
  2. Find a textbook. In my personal experience, textbooks are the best way to learn a language on your own. They explain a language in great depth, and you can pace yourself- learning the language as slow or as fast as you like. That being said, learning a language on your own can be hard if you can’t find time to practice. Textbooks are also a good option because the lessons and exercises are meant to go at a certain pace and topic, making it easier to understand the basics of a language. You can always go backwards or forwards in a textbook, and redo/reread the exercises or text for your better understanding. Most textbooks also come with CDs, so you can hear how the language sounds while following along. Textbooks are also always trustworthy, since they have been published, and most often times have been written by a largely published education system.
  3. Listen/watch podcasts or YouTube videos. Listening or watching are good ways to learn a language since you can hear how the language actually sounds without having to look at a pronunciation key. The same goes with CDs, which are commonly found with language learning textbooks.
  4. Apps or websites. While this method is my least favorite way to learn a language, apps/websites do focus on practice a lot, which is very useful to keeping up your language learning skills. You can practice on the go if you have your phone/tablet/computer etc.


Learning a language on your own can be complicated. Here are some of my personal experiences that may help you.

  • Take notes! Yes, this may seem like a drag. But I promise that you will thank yourself when you can’t remember how to say goodbye, and the answer is in your notebook. It may help to look online for a note-taking method that works for you.
  • Apps? Maybe not…When I started to learn a language, my only resource was Duolingo. It had great reviews and a cute owl, so why not? I started learning Spanish and French on the app, then just stopped for about a year. Then this year, I started learning German, French, and Spanish on the app again. I realized that I just wasn’t understanding the language enough, especially since conjugations and sentence structure weren’t being explained. For many people, the app has worked out great, but for me, it just didn’t answer my questions or give me the thorough understanding of the language that I needed. I continued to try/look at different apps, like Babbel, Rosetta Stone, and some others on my Kindle, but they just weren’t right. Since, I have been studying solely from textbooks, podcasts, and videos.
  • Books? Definitely! I bought a McGraw Hill book off of Amazon and have not regretted it since. The book has been so useful and has led me to a greater understanding of German. There are many exercises and tests that I can use to practice. I have also checked out a few books at my library (like German for Dummies haha) and they are helping a lot.
  • Use a variety of resources. As an extra tip for learning languages on your own, make sure to use a variety of tools to help you. You won’t be able to learn a language fluently by just reading a book; you need to hear the language. Watching a video on YouTube is not sufficient enough either. Try a combination of tools to expand your learning.
  • Classes are the way to go. Every language has a stereotype. When you ask someone what German, or French, or Chinese, or Italian, etc. sounds like, there’s an immediate answer. “Veenerschnitzel!” “Baguette!” “Ching chong wong!” “Pizza pie-ah!”. These are all examples of real things that I have heard people say. So obviously, the stereotype for Chinese (aside from “ching chong wong”) is that it is super hard and weird. Yes, by taking Chinese you have to learn the pinyin, character, pronunciation, and every word that comes out of your mouth could mean something else, but it is not as hard as it is said to be. I have been taking Chinese in a class for three years, and it has become my second language easily. Because I am also studying French, Spanish, and German at home, I usually find myself combining Chinese with another language when I am unsure of how to say something. That being said, I find it harder to learn the languages everyone says are super easy (French, Spanish, etc.). While people who don’t take Chinese believe that it is impossible to learn thousands of characters, I am struggling to conjugate and learn tenses in other languages. So don’t be afraid to take a class. It will definitely increase your understanding and skills of a language!
  • Ignore stereotypes. Just like I mentioned above (not really mentioned, more like spat out a paragraph about it), languages venture pretty far from their stereotypes and what you believe about them. While Chinese comes easy to me, I struggle with languages that involve conjugating. Spanish may come easy to my friend, but they have no idea how I learned so many characters or why I can speak so fast. Stereotypes go both ways. Block them out and decide how you like the language for yourself.
  • Motivation. You’ve probably already read my whole motivation speech. Allow me to say one last thing. Don’t give up! Don’t put all of your hard work to waste! Learning a language will always be hard at first, but as you practice, you won’t even have to think about it.

-Happy language learning! -Kat


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