“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”Napoleon Hill
I can’t even count the number of times I felt I was going to tear my hair out while learning Persian (Fārsī). Last night while having a sushi dinner with my husband George, our waiter’s eyes bugged out of his head when I told him I was learning Persian (Fārsī). Somedays I wonder if I like the abuse.
I laugh it off because I am also reminded why I started. It’s one of my driving motivators. The feeling of making someone feel warm and fuzzy inside because I’ve decided to communicate with them in their native tongue is worth it even if it involves a lot of research and sleepless nights.
This morning I received an email from someone who was in need of some help. I think all of us have been here at some point.
I’ve always wanted to learn French and collected so many books over the last few years, but I’m overwhelmed where to start. How do you start a new language and how do you keep consistent/retain words? I also want to learn Farsi, but after writing few characters I usually stop. What’s the thought that keeps you going vs. my negative thoughts like “you’ll never use this language, you’re wasting your time, it won’t make money, you’ll forget it anyways etc.
Five Tips to Help You As You Learn A New Language
STEP 1: Pick Up The Easiest Phrase Book That You Can Find
Whether you are looking to buy your first language learning book or you have a thousand on your bookshelves, pick up the easiest phrasebook that you can find. I have about 10-20 books for each language that I am learning. Excessive, no? Before reaching paralysis by analysis, you can skip the mess and just go for the easiest book. The book you can follow along easily and be able to learn at least a few key phrases when you are done at the end of your study session. I find that phrasebooks can help you learn phrases for everyday situations; therefore, you are more likely to put them to use right away. I tend to buy phrasebooks first and then worry about the grammar and verb books later.
STEP 2: Have You Carved Out Enough Time For Your Language?
Even I have been guilty of this one! Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Yikes! Way harsh, Tai! I find that a lot of the times we get overwhelmed because we are trying to do too much in a short amount of time. There’s only so much time in the day, and we are humans, after all, needing food and rest. I can easily spend an hour on Duolingo, but hours reading, writing, and translating. If I tried to read, test myself through diction, and then write out what I’ve learned in under an hour, I’m left with the feeling of utter disappointment and failure. Why would we want to do that to ourselves? Instead, look at your current schedule and figure out where you can carve time out for your language learning. Remember the more difficult the language; the more time needs to be allocated to it.
STEP 3: Have a Plan. What’s Your Roadmap?
Okay so this could have been Step 2, and should be revisited regularly. So where do you want to go with this language? Are you trying to learn Korean so that you can sing along with your favorite K-Pop or are you trying to visit México and live like a local? Those are two separate journeys. Forget that I’m using two languages in that example and focus on the energy you will exert to get to each goal post. I learned travel phrases in German and Dutch before landing and worried about the extra details later. For French, I’ve taken pronunciation classes at the Alliance Française (and now another course through Udemy), use dictée apps for listening comprehension, and so forth. BUT WHY? Because I have a goal to live in a French-speaking country someday. It means I have to go the extra kilomètre!
STEP 4: Write It All Down and Study
Post-its, journals/notebooks, and flashcards are your friend, my friend. I wanted mine to be portable, so I have digital notebooks for each language that I am learning. This way I can easily add new material and access it anywhere! I use the GoodNotes app, but my husband swears by the Microsoft OneNote app. For me having physical notebooks just started to get out of hand. Oh joy for technology!
STEP 5: Have More Self-Compassion!
For the longest time, I struggled with feeling like a total failure. I thought that I needed to learn a language by a certain amount of time. And don’t even get me started on comparing myself to other people who have learned 10+ languages already. I didn’t think that learning French would do anything good for me. “Why didn’t you learn Mandarin Chinese, or Japanese, the languages of business?!” I would tell myself. Beating myself up for it only made me miserable until I realized that I learn how I learn and learn it at my own pace on my own time. I can’t read every book in one sitting or learn every word right at this minute. Things take time. As long as I was putting in the effort, I was moving forward. I learned that I needed to love myself and love the journey just as much as the destination.