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Learning a New Language: 8 Top Tips

There are many reasons an early years professional might want to learn a new language. It could be that you want to start working in a different country. Perhaps you have a new key child who doesn't speak English. Or maybe you just fancy the challenge. Whatever the motivation, learning a new language can seem like a daunting prospect. Here are our 8 top tips to effectively learn a new language...

Set Manageable Goals

Deciding that you want to learn a new language is not a manageable goal! By breaking that overarching aim into smaller steps, you are considerably more likely to achieve success. The hallmarks of effective goals include:

  • short term & time limited; set yourself goals for what you want to achieve in the next week, or the next 10 days
  • use a range of outcomes; rather than set yourself the target of learning 30 words in the next week, aim to learn 30 - 50 words. This gives you space to challenge yourself a bit more
  • write them down; commit your goals to paper, and put them somewhere you'll see them daily - the bathroom mirror, or kitchen cupboard with your mugs in are good options!

Learn the Right Words

There are an estimated 1,000,000 words in the English language, 500,000 in Mandarin, and 100,000 in French. The prospect of learning such vast numbers of terms can seem impossible. Thankfully, research has shown that the 100 most common words in English account for 50% of all written texts. Furthermore, the top 1000 words will get you 90% of the same texts. Identifying the most important words to learn in your new language can significantly speed up your journey to broad understanding. Here are helpful lists of the top 1000 words in a range of languages...

Flash! Ah-Ha!

Flashcards are one the most effective ways to learn a new language. They offer the chance to focus on individual words, and use repetition to support learning. Whilst physical flashcards are good, digital flashcards are great. A digital flashcard tool helps you to carry more around with you, and can be more intelligent in how often the same card is repeated.

Use It or Lose It

Once you're underway with your learning, finding opportunities to use your new language every day is a must. Part of this is about getting in the habit of learning - make practicing your flashcards part of your daily routine. It is also about immersing yourself in the language, even before you properly understand it. Try watching a favourite TV program in your new language, or listening to the radio while you cook. Although it might seem pointless at first, training your brain to piece together an understanding of what's being said from the few words you do know is important.

Practice With Real People

As scary as it is, putting yourself in situations where you have to use your new language is a great way of learning. The most obvious option is to travel to a country which speaks your new language. Even where this isn't possible, seek out local opportunities to converse with fellow language speakers. Especially if you are learning a new language to support a particular key child, talk to their parents about opportunities in their community where you could join in and practice your skills.

Culture is Important

Interestingly, research has found that developing an understanding of the culture around a new language actually helps people to learn it. Even if you need to use your native language to read about the culture and history of the country which speaks your new language, learning about their background is a worthwhile thing to do.

Time for a Test

Making yourself complete a test on your new language every few months is a good way of charting your progress. It might be that you feel as though you've stopped making progress, but proving your improvement through a simple online test can be really motivating.

Keep it Fun!

As with all things, you stand a much better chance of sticking to your goals if you're enjoying yourself. Seek out games and enjoyable ways to learn your new language. Reward your progress with treats like weekend trips to a country where you can use language. Try to find a community of fellow language learners to go on the journey with. The more you enjoy your language learning journey, the smoother it will be. Good luck!