What does it take to learn a second language

What does it take to learn a second (or third, fourth, etc.) language? Let me give you four ingredients!

1. Class: Whether it’s in-person, online, hybrid, in a large group, small group, or private; through a school or through an application: take a class in some form with a teacher and a book. Take classes on different subjects with different teachers and different books. Take notes, ask questions, and do assignments. Practice the language with your classmates. There’s so much to learn, and the structure and support of a book and a teacher are invaluable!

2. Study: There’s also the truth that going to class won’t be useful if you won’t remember what you were taught in class! Practicing something once in class usually won’t be enough to remember and be able to use it. Whatever you learned in class- vocabulary to talk about the weather, the Present Perfect, etc., you need to open your book again later after class. Memorize vocabulary and grammar. Make your own sentences. Do more activities on your own. Read out loud to yourself. Plan to use some of the vocabulary words or grammar in a real life conversation! 15 minutes of practice a day will be more helpful than 3 hours once a week.

Here are some apps to help you study and review what you learned in class:

  • To Memorize (with games and audio): Quizlet, Memrise
  • To Practice Listening and Vocabulary with TV Shows: LingoPie
  • To Practice Pronunciation: ELSA Speak
  • To Practice Vocabulary: Drops
  • To Practice Grammar: LearnEnglish Grammar 
  • To Practice Speaking: Tandem, HelloTalk
3. People: As important as going to class and studying are, they can’t replace using the language in real life! 

If you live in a country that speaks the language you want to learn, like if you live in the U.S. and you’re learning English, you have many opportunities. But of course, it is hard and we have to be brave and persevere. Go to the grocery store and talk to the cashier. Order food over the phone- in English! Go to the post office and wait in line to get helped by an attendant instead of doing things by yourself. 

When it’s hard to communicate, take a deep breath. You’re trying, you’re doing great! Use more words- for example, instead of “I need this”, use more words and say “I need a bigger box. My box is too small.”

Join a club or find volunteering through the app “Meetup”. Whatever you normally do in your native language- try playing a sport or going to a religious activity in English.

For more opportunities, you can also talk to native speakers on apps like Tandem and HelloTalk.

4. Consistency & Repetition! However you choose to learn your new language, the important thing is to make a realistic plan and be consistent. 10 minutes every day will help you more than one hour once a week! 

We need to live our language and hear, read, speak, and write again and again, and I promise it will get easier and you will improve! Find ways to practice and learn that you enjoy and make sense for YOU.

Which of these four ingredients do you already do well? Which of these four do you need to do more of? Best of luck!

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