Tips to learn a New Language or Culture
Contributing Author: Estelle Ducommun
Since I’ve been speaking English and Spanish fluently for a few years now, I’ve been asked a lot by friends or strangers how I mastered those two languages. As if there was a magical recipe to become bilingual! Because yes -spoiler alert- learning a new tongue and mastering it takes time and patience. Luckily for you, I’ve developed tons of techniques over time to do so, so I’m sharing them with you today.
Adapting to New Cultures
Dive into the culture and language you want to learn about
This might sound logical, but yes, learning a new language and culture is way easier when you go abroad!
Personally, I mastered English and Spanish doing Erasmus exchanges in Barcelona and Rotterdam, and following bachelor and master classes in demanding universities. For instance, in Barcelona, even though I knew I wasn’t fluent, I forced myself to follow classes in Spanish mainly. It was very difficult the first week, but I just sat next to someone having a computer and copied everything he/she wrote. At the end of the day, I would read my classes out loud, trying to copy the teacher’s accent, and searching for words I didn’t understand.
Forcing myself to attend to Spanish classes only really played on my learning of Spanish. I quickly saw the difference with friends that remained in the comfort of English classes and could barely say “Una cerveza por favor*” by the end of our exchange.
Diving into a new culture and language isn’t easy at first, but it really forces our brain to learn and adapt. In my case, not only did I improved my Spanish quickly by learning tons of new vocabulary and improving my accent, but I also met, thanks to those classes, friends that I couldn’t have met otherwise. Because this is what matters when learning a new language: being able to meet and interact with strangers!
*”A beer, please”
Exchange with locals
Why would you learn a new language if not to speak with someone else? Learning new languages is the best way to overcome barriers and meet incredible new people.
If you live abroad or do an exchange and want to really master their language and culture, my best advice would be to go meet the locals. Make local friends, take local theater classes, go to the gym, museums, ask for language exchanges with them… Not only will you learn their language quicker, but you’ll also have an opportunity to discover their culture and live the way they live.
Personally, I wouldn’t have met some of my best friends and even my boyfriend if I hadn’t spoken English and Spanish fluently! It would have been sad not to have those people in my life just because I didn’t master a language!
Exchanging with locals and becoming friends with some of them, you’ll have the amazing opportunity to learn vocabulary from the daily life you don’t learn at school, modern expressions people use, and to perfect your accent. Don’t be shy: it might be scary to go meet them if you don’t speak their language well, but strangers will be more welcoming and grateful if you try than if you stay in your corner.
Read books, listen to songs, watch movies!
Another part of diving into a new language is surrounding yourself with culture spoken or written in that language. Songs, podcasts, series, movies, books, everything you can listen and read will teach you new vocabulary and enrich progressively your level. Furthermore, in audio culture items, like songs, series, movies, you can pay attention to the accent people use, and try copy it to improve your pronunciation.
Don’t fear to go back to school
You know your level is very basic and you need someone to teach you the rules of grammar, the tenses, etc? Even if you’re past the age of university, you can totally go to classes of this new tongue you want to master. This is actually really important; you wouldn’t build a house without foundations, right? Well, this is the same for you! You can’t “build” your knowledge of a new language without learning all the basics.
If those classes are complementary to meetings with local people, living abroad and being curious of their culture, then voilà: you have the perfect kit to master this language you dream to learn.
My final word would be : never give up, give yourself time! Learning a new language might be long, exhausting and difficult sometimes, but it opens so many doors, allows so many new people and cultures to enter into your life that this is all worth it!