Techniques to learn a new language

When living in a new country I always try to blend in with the locals as much as possible. This is of course impossible sometimes depending on different things, like looks and language. When I started travel I was trying to learn all the languages that I came across, but soon realized this is too much and creates a lot of confusion with similar languages. Now I mainly focus on a few languages, although it is always fun and practical to learn some local words at every place.

If you are moving to a new country, or just want to learn something new and useful, here are some tips on how to learn a new language:

Practice it on the street
For example, ask people what time it is, ask for directions et cetera. Go into stores, cafés and restaurants and ask them if they have something specific, what they can recommend, ask for the bill and so on. This “street practice” teaches you the words and sentences you actually need on every day bases.

Use a dictionary
Every time you hear a word that you start to recognice but don’t know what it means, find the translation in a dictionary. Then write down the new word in your notebook with some examples of sentences on how to use it.

Put up Post It notes
Post it notes - learn a new languagePut up notes everywhere in your apartment, with the word written both in your mother tongue language  (or English) and the language you want to learn.

Write flash cards
This is similar to the Post It notes. Get a number of small notes that can fit in your pocket. On one of the sides, write a word in the language you want to learn. On the other side of the note, write the same word in your mother language or English. Now, whenever you have a minute of free time, take up the flash cards and practice on the words. Remember to take away the cards you have learned and replace with new ones.

Watch television or movies
You can watch television without subtitles, or with subtitles in your own language or even see a movie in your language but with subtitles in the language you want to learn. It’s all good, as long as you have a dictionary near and use it frequently. If you do not have access to foreign television or movies, you can listen to radio instead from SHOUTcast by searching on a country where they speak the language you want to learn.

Use a computer program
There are  a lot of language programs for PC and Macintosh that will let you practice listening, talking, reading and writing as well as learning new words and sentences. This is a good complement to your street practice, or when you are not living in a country where you can practice your new language skills on the streets. My favorite program for learning a new language is Rosetta Stone, where you learn the same way as a child by looking at pictures and through the words you have learned earlier, without any whatsoever translation to your mother language or English.

Have a friend that speaks your new language fluently
This is also good if you are practicing your new language within your home country. It can also be a guy in a store or similar that you can go and talk to on regular bases. If you can’t find anybody, use a service like or to find a friend online to chat with. The best thing with this is that at the same time you are learning a new language you are teaching somebody else your mother language.

Keep reading
Start reading all the signs you  see while walking in the city. On top of this, get news papers, magazines or children books and practice your reading.

Listen to audio books in your car or mp3-player
There are a lot of audio books you can find that will teach you the most used phrases. I usually prefer not using these as they sometimes teaches you “book phrases” rather then how regular people speak, and also focus to much on grammar instead of getting you to start speak as soon as possible. But for some people I can imagine this is a good way to learn, specially in your home country.

Learn the 100 most common words in the new language
According to Tony Buzan in his book “Using your memory” 50% of the words used in normal conversations in a language can be counted to as low as 100 words. The list of these words is as following:

1. A,an 2. After 3. Again 4. All 5. Almost
6. Also 7. Always 8. And 9. Because 10. Before
11. Big 12. But 13. (I) can 14. (I) come 15. Either/or
16. (I) find 17. First 18. For 19. Friend 20. From
21. (I) go 22. Good 23. Good-bye 24. Happy 25. (I) have
26. He 27. Hello 28. Here 29. How 30. I
31. (I) am 32. If 33. In 34. (I) know 35. Last
36. (I) like 37. Little 38. (I) love 39. (I) make 40. Many
41. One 42. More 43. Most 44. Much 45. My
46. New 47. No 48. Not 49. Now 50. Of
51. Often 52. On 53. One 54. Only 55. Or
56. Other 57. Our 58. Out 59. Over 60. People
61. Place 62. Please 63. Same 64. (I) see 65. She
66. So 67. Some 68. Sometimes 69. Still 70. Such
71. (I) tell 72. Thank you 73. That 74. The 75. Their
76. Them 77. Then 78. There is 79. They 80. Thing
81. (I) think 82. This 83. Time 84. To 85. Under
86. Up 87. Us 88. (I) use 89. Very 90. We
91. What 92. When 93. Where 94. Which 95. Who
96. Why 97. With 98. Yes 99. You 100. Your

Last but not least, you need motivation
This can be through a need or desire to learn the new language, for example if you are living in a new country and need to be able to carry out your every day life there, to travel, or to find new friends.

That’s it! If you have any more ideas or tips, feel free to send them to me!

Add Comment