This guided practice outline is meant to get you started quickly with any new language you choose and to keep you motivated as you progress. This is by no means an exhaustive guide, but this is a place for you to start and I encourage you to create your own system to ultimately achieve your goals. Lets get started.
1. Learn Common Everyday Phrases
A very common thing that beginners do when they learn a language is to start learning the basics: hello, goodbye, how are you, where are you from, why do you learn this language, etc. There’s a reason people start here. They come up in conversation a lot! Especially when you first meet someone. But as soon as you meet someone, the conversation will deepen and your vocabulary bank will run dry. Continue to meet new people and practice these phrases on them. Listen to audio recordings of native speakers to get a feel for pronunciation, tone, and start mimicking as your listening.
Some great audio resources I can recommend are Pimsleur and FLR, but other online resources are available (even on Spotify, iTunes, etc). I do not recommend using Rosetta Stone, especially to beginners. They market their product very well but their methods of ‘full-immersion’ are idealistic and aren’t very effective.
2. Consume Content That You Enjoy
It is absolutely crucial that you avoid content that bores you. Just because something is in your target language doesn’t mean you’re obligated to read or listen to it – if it were that way, you’re probably in word or in school. Read, listen, and watch things that you like. You’ll be more likely to pay attention, retain information, and be interested enough to push on when understanding becomes tough.
Depending on your motivation, you might focus a little more on listening so that you can understand and speak better, or reading so that you can write better. Emphasis on one over the other is ok. If you’re feeling adventurous and really want a comprehensive understanding of the language however, it will benefit you to do both.
Consuming lots and lots of content that you enjoy allows you to develop an opinion on certain topics, just like you do with everything else. This helps create engaging conversations, interesting reads, and cultivates your interest in the content that motivates you.
3. Acquire Vocabulary
Ah the vocabulary list. The age old device for organizing and learning new words. Unfortunately, unless you’re using Spaced Repetition (SRS), it really just sticks in your short term memory. SRS works very well, and there is a lot of excellent software out there to help you use it. But there’s one major catch to SRS applications: it’s boring.
I recommend using SRS when trying to study lots and lots of vocabulary for tests, study abroad programs, etc. but be wary using them in the beginning. Instead, use apps like Phrase It (iOS, Android) to build your vocabulary lists and really focusing on consuming and using. Work your LL muscle and train it in an environment you feel good about.
If you’re about to engage in conversation with someone, take a few seconds to translate what you’re about to say in your head and use a dictionary to fill in the words that you don’t know. Everyone feels uncomfortable and nervous speaking to someone in a different language in the beginning, but the ones who get good learn to embrace that feeling and push through, regardless if they think they might look like an idiot.
Be careful with grammar resources. Use them to better understand how and why a language follows certain patterns, but don’t make it a large study point unless you’re going to become a linguist. There are too many details that can bog you down. The best way to get a feel for a language is to listen, speak and be corrected. This is why children learn so fast; they are not afraid to make mistakes.
4. Get A Conversation Partner
A conversation is a living breathing wealth of information for you. You should find someone who is kind, helpful, and reliable to help you practice. More than likely you will be a conversation partner with another person that wants to learn your native language, so make sure to be fair and setup a system so that equal time is spent in each language when you’re meeting.
You don’t have to physically meet your conversation partner either (but if you can, body language is an underrated form of language and you’ll find it much easier to communicate). Conversation partner ‘dating’ sites are widespread on the internet. You can find on on HelloTalk, Lang-8, Reddit, Facebook, etc.
5. Connect With Other Language Learners
Connecting with another people that are interested in languages and culture is incredibly motivating, will inspire you, and keep you focused on your ultimate goal. There are hundreds of thousands of people just like you. They are also the best places to ask for help and advice.