Tips for Learning a Language

If you keep up with the Lionbridge onDemand blog, it’s probably because you are involved with international business, or at least have some customers that speak a different language. Have you ever thought about learning that language? Of course, you should continue to use a professional translator to get the high quality translations that your customer needs—but wouldn’t it be nice to try and have a conversation?

If you’re like most people, you probably took a second language in high school or college and remember… none of it. Okay, maybe you remember a few basics, like how to say “hello” and “goodbye” and “bathroom.” Or maybe your brain works differently and remembers the random, obscure words like “plate” and “airplane” and “credit card.” Either way, learning a new language takes a lot more effort than the few hours a week you spent on it in school.

In addition to studying with textbooks, audio, and conversation, here are some tips from Lionbridge onDemand for learning a second language.


Remember when you were a child and all you did was study language? You might not remember it that way, but it’s true—you listened to your family talk and read to you. In preschool and kindergarten, they went over the alphabet again and again. They probably had a letter of the day and went over a whole bunch of words that start with that letter. You learned how to write the letters, how to spell the words, how to say the words correctly. And you did it all day long. As an adult, it’s a little harder to commit that amount of time to language learning, but intensity is the best way to learn. Research tells us that it takes between 600 and 1200 hours to learn a new language. If you spend three hours a week (the standard college class time) studying, it could take you up to 8 years to learn a new language. But if you can force yourself to put in two hours a day, every day, you could be fluent in just one year.


First of all, listening to music is fun and effortless. Making a foreign language fun is the best way to learn. The things you remember best from school were probably taught in the form of games or songs. If you enjoy doing something, you are more likely to keep doing it, and therefore remember it. When you’re stuck in traffic on your way to work, or while you’re cooking dinner, find some music in your target language. Better yet, find a local radio station! Your body hears the rhythm and notes of the music, while your brain is subconsciously absorbing the lyrics. Even if you don’t know what these words mean yet, your brain is learning pronunciation and vocabulary. After a while you might just start singing along. When you hear a word you know, you can connect it back to the song and start to understand words in context.


Watch foreign TV shows and movies. Even if you keep the subtitles on, hearing the words and phrases spoken out loud will help you with pronunciation and grammar. You can probably tell what is going on in the show just by seeing the images and expressions of actors, and you will eventually stop looking at the subtitles and start listening to the language more. If you aren’t near native speakers, this is a great way to immerse yourself in pseudo-conversation.


How can social media help you learn a language? This should be an easy one. People are constantly talking, communicating, sharing, etc. through social media—use this to your advantage! Read tweets in your target language, and try to figure out what they say before you hit the “translate” button. Watch what your target language community is watching. Look at how they are structuring their posts and tweets. Spoken language is different than the grammar you learn in your text books, and most people use spoken language online. Learning how people speak-write, learning slang words, are things that will help you in conversations. You can also use the web to talk to people who speak your target language! Skype, Google video chat, FaceTime, and other video tools are great for having conversations with people that aren’t in your area. If you know someone in another country, or even if you can connect with someone over social media, use these tools to have conversations in your target language.


Reading textbooks and vocabulary sheets is essential, of course, but after a while, you’re going to want to read something a little more… interesting? When you were a child learning your first language, did you spend all your time poring over flash cards? No, you learn by conversation, immersion, and reading. Reading books, even children’s books, is what helps people build vocabulary and grammar—and actually mean something. Looking at words all day long doesn’t help you understand the words. Here are some bilingual novels to help you start reading in your target language.


If you’ve never taken an acting class, go sign up for one. Acting will help you build the fundamentals to learning a language. Confidence is one of the key ingredients to language learning. You need to be able to speak to strangers, and to be able to make mistakes but keep going. Actors also know how to become someone else. They can drop their own personal idiosyncrasies and obstacles and become another person. This is so important when you’re trying to learn pronunciation especially. Being able to drop your accent—yes you have an accent (everyone does) and pick up the accent of your target language is essential to becoming fluent and being taken seriously by the people you talk to. You don’t want to be that guy that walks into a room and say “Hola” with an “H” sound.

Now that you know some helpful hints on learning a new language, you’re ready to get studying. Remember that language learning takes time and practice and patience. While you’re busy studying your new language, let us help with those multicultural customers. Lionbridge onDemand can translate your materials into more than 250 languages. We handle documents, PDFs, video, video-games, and more. Come check out our website to learn about all our services.


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