Good intentions: How are you really going to learn that foreign language?

door Regina Coeli

Has learning Spanish been on your wish list for a long time? Have you been feeling uncomfortable with speaking English for ages, and now you want to do something about it? Or do you want to make steps in your career in the near future for which better language skills would be particularly useful? If you’ve made a resolution to learn a foreign language, make sure you succeed. In this article, you’ll learn more about the five crucial steps to learning a foreign language. Whether you’re at the beginning of a new year, a new month or a new day, learning a language is always a good idea.

Why do you want to learn a language?

When it comes to learning a language, an important key to success is knowing why you want to learn it. That seems like a fairly simple question, but that isn’t always the case. Suppose you want to give your English a boost. What could you do better if you already speak English well? Have professional conversations, write emails, socialise with native English-speaking colleagues... And how would you feel if you did these things? More professional? Confident? Try to imagine this as concretely as possible. Your motivation will help you achieve your goal.

We recently met a man who was fortunate enough to have had his employer give him a Dutch course as a gift. Yet he didn’t see it as a gift himself. A week away from work and home, studying hard... And everyone speaks English at work anyway, don’t they? Until we asked him what he did in his spare time. His eyes began to sparkle when he talked about his Dutch wife and favourite football team. At that moment, he realised that he really wanted to be closer to his in-laws. He discovered his intrinsic motivation, was grateful to his employer and made a huge leap forward in his Dutch language skills.

If you want to learn a foreign language, figure out what your motivation is.

Get rid of those doubts!

Motivation alone won’t get you there, though. We often have thoughts in our heads that can sabotage the very best of intentions. Some common saboteurs are the thought ‘I don’t have a head for languages’ and perfectionism.

So you don’t have a head for languages. You’re not the only one, because no such thing even exists! Of course, one person might have been better at languages than the other in school. If you were one of the others, you might feel a bit less than enthusiastic about learning a language. But we have good news for you: anyone can learn a foreign language. The way you learned English, German or French in school may not have suited you, but there is a way for everyone to learn a language easily. A great example of this can be found in this article about how techies learn(ed) a language.

Are you the type who wants to do everything perfectly? That can make it a bit complicated when you want to learn a language. Here’s when can help to think of a child learning to speak. Those first words can only be deciphered by the parents; after that, the child says a number of words in a row that, with a little imagination, form a lovely little sentence. From there, it just gets better and better. If you suffer from perfectionism, try to approach language learning like a child. Make mistakes and laugh at them. It’s important for you to do this in a safe environment. Never opt for a group lesson, but for individual lessons. And not on the work floor, but in a place where you feel safe experimenting with the language.

Make sure you have support

Did you know your plan to learn a language is more likely to succeed if you tell others about it? This will make you feel more ‘connected’ to your plan. Moreover, you’ll do your best because once you’ve done it, you’ll want to be able to share it with those you’ve told.

It’s best when you tell:

  • Friends, relatives or colleagues who speak the language you want to learn. They’ll probably get a kick out of the fact that you’re interested in their language, and perhaps you can speak the language a bit with each other now and then.
  • Your manager, especially if you want to learn the language for your job or for the next step in your career. With a bit of luck, your manager will love your plan, and your employer will be willing to pay for your training. If you’d like to know more about this, read this article about using your training budget.

Choose the right method

There are different ways to go about learning a foreign language. In the past, people generally used to learn languages from books; now there are all sorts of apps for that. And then there are people who claim that you can only really learn a language if you go and live a spell in a country where the language is spoken, yet there are plenty of people who’ve lived in a country for years and still don’t speak the local language...

If you choose a method that suits you, you’ll have the best chance of succeeding. We can give you a few tips to point you in the right direction:

  • Language is learnt mainly from people. You learn good pronunciation from a native speaker by not only listening to them, but also looking at the movements of their mouths and allowing them to correct you until you’ve got it right. In addition, you get to know the culture better when a native speaker supports you. Even though the differences with your own culture might be minimal, you’d be amazed by the effect even those little differences can have on communication. Make sure you’re taught by several people so you get familiar with the variety of accents native speakers can have.
  • Apps, websites and books can help you to learn the language. Because there’s an abundance of these resources to choose from, it can help to set goals for yourself so you can focus on specific aspects grammar or particular areas of vocabulary.
  • If you take lessons, you can choose between group or individual ones. When you join a group, you know that the language you’ll be learning will be more general in nature. After all, the lesson needs to be interesting for everyone. If you opt for private lessons (and a good trainer), then the lessons will be tailored to your specific needs.
  • Are you someone who’s disciplined enough to study on your own, or would it suit you better to learn on a course and then just start using it in practice without having to hit the books? This is a factor to take into account when choosing a suitable language course.

If you’d like more in-depth advice than the tips we’ve given you above, you’re more than welcome to come for a free consultation with a Regina Coeli language trainer.

Make a plan

And now you’re ready to make a plan. You know what you want to learn and what method would suit you best. Be sure to bear the following factors in mind when designing your plan:

  • How much time would you like to set aside to learn the language? Do you want to study a few hours a week for six months, or would you prefer to learn the language in five consecutive days?
  • How can your employer support you? Consider not only financial matters such as the training budget, but also the opportunity to gain experience by using the language.
  • What language school or trainer would be right for you? It’s important that you feel completely at ease. You have to be relaxed to improve your communication skills in a language.
  • When can you start? Make sure you have the mental space for it, and don’t start learning a language alongside your job when you’ve just started some new projects. Check your calendar carefully and plan your training course just as you’d plan a holiday.

Take that first step! Contact a language institute and get started. Good luck!

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