Learning a new language is no easy feat. However, it does not have to be the overwhelming task that many people consider it to be. With the right tools, a solid strategy, and a good level of personal commitment, the benefits of speaking multiple languages are within your grasp.
In this article, we detail where to start when learning a new language, including the best techniques and tips for language learning. If you are interested in learning a new language but are not sure where to start, keep reading – we have you covered.
- 1 Choose a Language
- 2 Select Study Materials
- 3 Set Goals
- 4 Use a Variety of Study Techniques
- 5 Immerse Yourself in the Language
- 6 Be Patient With Yourself
- 7 Don’t Get Caught Up on Small Details
- 8 The Final Talking Point on Where to Start Learning Language
Choose a Language
The obvious first step in language learning is to choose the language you would like to learn. Some languages are easier to learn than others, so if you currently only speak one language, picking one in the same family as your native language will make the learning process much easier.
For example, English is a Germanic language. Thus, for a person whose native language is English, learning another Germanic language – Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch, German – would be less challenging than, say, Russian. Languages in the Romantic family – Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French – are also among the easiest to learn. This Comparative Grammar guide on the Romance languages can be helpful, too (Amazon linked).
The reason why languages in the same family are easier to learn is due to the fact that the languages in a family share a lot of vocabulary. They also have similar grammar and stance structure, which reduces the amount of new information that must be studied when learning a new language.
Now this isn’t to say you have to limit yourself to just one language to learn either. Research shows that it’s possible to effectively learn two languages at the same time. For example, if you’d like to read about how to learn Spanish and Italian simultaneously, I’ve addressed that in another article specifically.
Easiest Languages to Learn
For someone who only speaks one language, especially those over the age of 18, learning a new language can be very difficult. Those who speak two languages, studies have shown, are more easily able to learn a third, fourth, etc. And, as previously mentioned, languages in the same family are easier to learn, as well. (I’ve also written about the best choices for second language to learn, too.)
That being said, there are some languages that are considered easier than others to learn in general. Some of the languages that are easiest to learn and the estimated amount of time it takes to learn them include:
|I||24 weeks or 600 hours||Spanish, French, Italian, Portugese, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Afrikaans, Romanian|
|II||30 weeks or 750 hours||German|
|III||36 weeks or 900 hours||Swahili, Malaysian, Indonesian|
|IV||44 weeks or 1,100 hours||Greek, Polish, Russian, Hindi, Hebrew, Turkish, Slovenian, Latvian, Macedonian, Albanian, Bulgarian, Czech, Icelandic, Burmese, Croatian, Armenian, Khmer, Lao, Nepali, Ukranian, Serbian, Pashto, Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik), Amharic, Azerbaijani, Lithuanian, Bosnian, Sinhala, Slovak, Tagalog, Uzbek, Urdu, Zulu, Xhosa, Georgian, Finnish, Estonian, Mongolian, Hungarian, Vietnamese, Thai|
|V||88 weeks or 2,200 hours||Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, Arabic, Japanese|
Most Used Languages Worldwide
If the length of time it takes to learn a new language is not your main concern, you may want to consider a more commonly used language worldwide before choosing a new language to learn. This can be especially beneficial for those who travel often or in business and careers.
Ten of the most used languages in the world include:
- English – 1.13 billion speakers
- Mandarin – 1.11 billion speakers
- Hindi – 615 million speakers
- Spanish – 534 million speakers
- French – 280 million speakers
- Arabic – 274 million speakers
- Bengali – 265 million speakers
- Russian – 258 million speakers
- Portugese – 234 million speakers
- Indonesian – 199 million speakers
Select Study Materials
There are many different language learning resources available online, either for a computer or mobile devices. Choosing the materials that work best for you is important in making the process of learning a new language both effective and easier.
From classes, online courses, books, and recordings to apps, software, websites, and more, choosing resources for learning a new language can seem overwhelming. Often, utilizing more than one language learning service – such as an online course and an app – will provide more benefits than just using one or the other.
Not everyone learns in the same way. Some people are visual learners, while others absorb information best by listening or doing. By going over your options and selecting what feels right, you can go into the process feeling confident, which is also important when it comes to tackling the task of learning a new language.
One way to help eliminate the guesswork when it comes to choosing study materials and techniques is to sign up for an online language learning course. Most online courses do cost a fee due to the various materials and tools they provide. However, online courses allow you to study at your own pace, which many people prefer.
Some of the best online language learning courses are:
|Name||Languages Offered||Study Methods||Features||Cost|
|Rosetta Stone||30||Reading, writing, hearing, speaking, tests||Offers daily lessons, translations, phrasebook, study planning tools, speech recognition for pronunciation practice, mobile app available||$8/month or $199 one-time purchase|
|Babbel||14||Reading, writing, hearing, speaking, tests||10,000 hours of content, daily lessons, courses specific to different native languages, mobile app available||$13/month|
|Duolingo||23||Reading, writing, hearing, speaking, tests||Personalized learning, daily lessons, immediate grading to track progress, rewards to help motivate, mobile app available||Free version or $13/month for plus version|
|Memrise||24||Reading, writing, hearing, speaking, tests||Daily lessons, various courses to choose from, study planning tools, progress tracking, mobile app available||Free version or $9/month, $140 one-time purchase|
|Busuu||12||Reading, writing, hearing, speaking, tests||Daily lessons for various skill levels, topic-based lessons, various exercise types, progress tracking, mobile app available||Free version or $10/month|
Mobile apps can be useful for language learning on their own, but they also make for helpful tools when combined with another method, such as online courses, written or recorded material, etc. Apps can offer additional study materials, including games, interactive content, and audio.
All of the courses listed in the previous section have app counterparts that allow you to take your language learning wherever you go, rather than being limited to your computer. Some other good apps for learning language include:
- uTalk – a language learning app available for mobile devices and desktop that is great for beginners; focuses on important phrases, featuring recordings and content from native speakers in over 100 languages; $5-$9/month or $100 one-time purchase.
- Mango Languages – one of the highest rated apps for learning language, offers materials for studying over 70 languages; paid subscription, minimum $8/month.
- Mondly – a good app for brushing up and testing your memory of words, phrases, and knowledge already gained; not the best for beginners; $10/month.
- Lingvist – one of the best apps for learning vocabulary in several different languages; $7/month or $80/year
- TripLingo – an app designed for those who travel to foreign countries that also features learning tools, a voice and image translator, phrasebook, and more; free version or $20 one-time purchase.
- 50languages – one of the best rated, free language learning apps that offers a variety of basic tools for learning a new language.
- LingoDeer – a good language learning app for beginners that offers various study and learning methods and exercises, provides descriptions of grammar specifics, and offers tools for reviewing material you have learned; free or $12/month.
- Pimsleur – an app based on the Pimsleur language learning program, which focuses on audio-based learning; $20/month.
- Nextlingua – a free app for intermediate and advanced language learners to review and recall information that has already been learned.
- Qlango – another one of the top-rated language learning apps that features games and interactive content in 40 languages to make learning a new language enjoyable and effective; $35/year or $72 one-time purchase.
- LingQ – a language learning app for reading, hearing, and learning words and phrases in various languages; premium version features access to native speakers in different languages, as well; $8/month.
If you are going to learn a new language, regardless of which language you choose, going into it with a positive mindset, solid strategy, and specific long and short-term goals will help increase your chances of success. Keeping the process organized rather than jumping in completely unprepared will help reduce frustration on your part, as well.
Many of the online courses and language learning apps offer study planning tools, which include goal-setting capabilities. However, if you are using a free version, you may have to do some of that legwork yourself. Not to worry, we have some suggestions to get you started. (For more about goals, I have addressed it extensively in another article.)
Set Specific, Attainable Goals
By setting specific goals that can be realistically achieved, you are also setting yourself up for success. Here are some guidelines for goal setting in language learning:
- Determine what you want to learn and at what pace
- Choose a variety of goals, both short term and long term
- Select goals that are challenging but attainable
- Write down your goals and track your progress
Writing down your goals and committing to them are important aspects to learning a new language. When doing this, consider what purposes for learning a new language are a priority for you – are you planning to travel, do you want to be able to converse with friends or family that speak a different language, are your reasons work related?
Whatever your reasons, your goals should, at least in part, reflect them. If you do not have a specific reason other than the desire to do so for learning a new language, that is okay, too. However, it is still best to break down the process and set attainable goals as you go.
Use a Variety of Study Techniques
Not only is it important to use more than one technique for learning and studying language, but it helps to use smart study techniques, as well. Knowing what to study first and how to best study in general will help make learning a new language an easier process.
There are several ways to study, and not all of them will be effective or useful for each individual. Below, we outline a variety of study techniques for learning a new language.
Learn the Top Words in a Language
Languages are made up of thousands of different words, which can make the idea of learning a new language seem nearly impossible. However, often only a fraction of the total words in a language are used the most.
For example, there are over 170,000 words that are currently used in the English language alone. However, in the English language, the top 100-1,000 words make up 50-90% of text. Learning the top 1,000 words in a language is a much less daunting task than learning hundreds of thousands of words.
You can find a list of the top 1,000 words in all languages here.
Study Common Phrases
While it is helpful to learn individual words when studying a new language, one piece of advice often given to those learning language is to study phrases rather than just focusing on words. By doing this, you learn the meanings of the words and gain a better understanding of how they should be used in certain contexts.
Language learning courses, websites, and apps are great for learning commonly-used phrases, as it is a key part of their language education process. Learning phrases instead of just words will help to better understand and hold conversations, and it is especially helpful for effective communication when traveling to foreign countries.
Many language learning software also offer phrasebooks to save common phrases to study and reference after initially learning them. You can also make a phrasebook the old-fashioned way by either writing common phrases down in a notebook or saving them in a document on your phone, computer, or laptop.
To help with memorization and comprehension of words and phrases in a new language, make flashcards to use as a study guide. This is another area where phrasebooks come in handy, as you can use the phrases you have saved while learning a new language on flashcards.
You can also use electronic flashcards, which are provided by various apps. Many of these flashcard apps use spaced repetition, which is another study technique that is detailed in the next section. Some of the best electronic flashcard apps include:
- AnkiApp – a flashcard app for mobile and desktop that allows you to create and save your own flashcards as well as track your progress.
- Brainscape – an app that allows you to make and study your own flashcards using spaced repetition
- Quizlet – an app that offers a variety of study tools, including flashcards, games, and more.
- IDoRecall – one of the most user-friendly flashcard apps.
- Cram – an app that lets you create, save, study, and share flashcards.
One of the most effective methods of studying a new language is to practice spaced repetition – learning small pieces of information and studying them over an extended period of time. Studies have shown this to be a more effective method of learning rather than trying to learn large amounts of information in a short amount of time.
Spaced repetition works by learning new information, then waiting to recall the information, with the amount of time for memory recall generally increasing over time. Flashcards are especially useful for this study and learning method, and it has shown to be effective for retaining information – a vital aspect in becoming fluent in a language.
Devote Time to Study and Practice
With many of the language learning apps and websites, particularly the free versions, the recommended length of time to study per day is quite limited – around 5-10 minutes or so. While this is convenient for people with busy lives, it is not very effective for efficient or adequate language learning.
Experts recommend at least 30 minutes per day of study when learning a new language. The ideal amount of time to spend daily on learning a new language is between 45-90 minutes. However, this is not always possible – at minimum, 15 minutes per day should be spent devoted to learning a new language.
Immerse Yourself in the Language
Another piece of advice often given to those learning a new language is to immerse yourself in that language as much as possible. The more you hear, read, and speak the language you are trying to learn, the quicker you will become familiar with it.
There are several ways to gain exposure to a new language, including:
- Use language learning software daily – apps, websites, online courses, etc.
- Watch TV shows in the language you are studying
- Use a web extension to maximize benefits and study ability when watching shows in foreign languages, such as Language Learning with Netflix
- Listen to songs, podcasts, or radio broadcasts in the language you are studying
- Practice with conversations and speaking out loud to improve pronunciation
- Use a variety of different study and learning methods, including multiple apps or software for learning language, to get the most out of your language learning process
Active and Passive Learning
Utilizing both forms of study and learning (active and passive) is important when learning a new language. Active learning is when you are actively engaged in the process, such as when you are using language learning software, flashcards, or holding a conversation.
Passive learning is when you are still absorbing information, but are not actively engaged in the process. For example, just watching a TV show or movie in a foreign language would be passive learning, as you are merely hearing the words. Both methods are recommended for effective language learning.
Holding conversations in the language you are studying is one of the most important aspects to learning language. It actively engages your brain and tests your memory and knowledge. You can accomplish this by having a conversation with someone else, or via language learning software.
However you choose to approach it, the idea here is to speak the language as often as possible. Speaking words out loud to yourself is one way to accomplish this (and practice your pronunciation), but conversations are more effective.
Connecting with Others Who Speak Different Languages
If you do not know anyone who speaks the language you are learning, there are websites that allow you to connect with real people who speak various languages. You can ask questions that you may have during the language learning process, or practice holding conversations in a foreign language.
Some of the best websites and apps that offer a variety of methods for connecting with others who speak different languages include:
Meetup – a website that allows you to create or join groups of local individuals with shared interests to discuss various topics, including learning language.
HiNative – a global, online community of language learners and native speakers to ask and answer questions.
Tandem – an app that allows you to connect with other language learners and speak with native speakers of various languages.
HelloTalk – an app that allows you to speak with native speakers of multiple languages around the world.
Speaky – a free app where language learners from around the world can connect and communicate.
Be Patient With Yourself
It takes time, effort, consistency, and plenty of practice to fully learn a new language, and you will make some mistakes along the way. It is important that you have patience with yourself and the learning process, and do not get discouraged if it is not going as quickly or as easily as you may have expected.
When learning a new language, you will need to use a lot of repetition and practice over an extended period of time. The minimum amount of time required to learn a new language for those over the age of 18, in the majority of cases, is six months – and that is with the maximum amount of studying per day.
A certain level of personal commitment is also required to learn a new language, which is an important consideration for anyone interested in learning a new language. The process will likely not always go smoothly, but that is to be expected. As long as you keep at it and stay motivated, it certainly is possible.
Go at Your Own Pace
Not everyone is able to devote hours per day to learning a new language, and that is okay. While 30 minutes per day of study is a recommended minimum for language learning, you can learn a new language with as little as 15 minutes per day of study – it will just take longer overall.
Find Ways to Stay Motivated
If you do not have a lot of time to devote per day to studying language, setting weekly goals may be a useful method. Laying out a schedule for the short and long term future can help keep you motivated to pursue your language learning goals.
An example of this would be to set the goal for yourself to learn 25 new words or phrases in one week. These could be related to a specific topic, certain word types (verbs, colors, animals, people, places, things, etc.), or whatever you decide. Online courses and apps are helpful for organizing information to learn and setting goals, too.
Additionally, many online courses and apps offer certain rewards and progress tracking tools, which can be helpful with staying motivated. By achieving a goal, reaching a language learning milestone, or receiving a reward (even if it is virtual), you help boost your confidence, which in turn will be beneficial to the language learning process.
Don’t Get Caught Up on Small Details
Different languages have various grammar rules that are useful to learn, but they are not the most important aspect of learning a new language. While you should pay attention to and take note of these things, do not spend too much time on perfecting them – doing so will slow down the process and likely cause unnecessary frustration.
As you gain more exposure to and knowledge of the language you are learning, you will pick up on those other details over time. This is why it is recommended not to spend too much time focusing on those smaller details.
The Final Talking Point on Where to Start Learning Language
When it comes to learning a new language, the process does not have to be as intimidating as many consider it to be. With personal commitment, including plenty of time and effort to study and practice, along with a solid strategy and the right material, learning a new language is not outside the realm of possibility.
Hopefully this guide provided several jumping off points for anyone looking to learn a new language, from free apps and courses to get started to paid software for serious language learners. There are several different methods and options for learning language, so do not be afraid to try different techniques and find what works for you.