Language learning is no longer the exclusive domain of school children. Many people are now choosing to acquire a new language later in life. Sometimes people are looking for a new challenge in life or an opportunity to meet new people. Others wish to communicate with a new partner or member of the family. Many older people plan to retire to warmer climes when they reach retirement and feel they should develop their language skills in order to integrate fully in their new home. Other learners are just excited by a new culture, an opportunity to experience new types of literature, music, food and thoughts.
There are many ways to learn a language and it is important to find one which complements your personality, time commitments and interests. Local colleges generally offer classes at different levels, if you do not wish to sit exams however look out for community classes where you will deal primarily with oral language skills. You may wish to find a tutor who will come to your home for one on one classes or to teach a few of you together, perhaps over a glass of wine! Tutors charge different amounts depending on their own qualifications and experience; you may wish to be taught by a native speaker or someone who has studied the language, a university student of a fully qualified language teacher. Another option is the very popular use of CDs or MP3 files with accompanying books or websites; these are a good option for people who cannot commit to classes at a certain time every week.
Obviously the most effective way to learn a new language is immersion, that is to say living in a country where the language is spoken. This unfortunately is not always appropriate, we can however attempt to replicate this immersion as far as possible in our everyday lives, below are a few ways you could achieve this.
Find a language buddy. Ask a friend or group of friends to learn with you, having someone else to share this new hobby with can be a great source of enjoyment and motivation.
Read online newspapers in your target language. Look for articles on world events you are already familiar with or search the site for articles about your locality.
Listen to music in the target language. Have it on in the background while you cook, clean or write, you will subconsciously absorb new words and phrases over time. Check online music sites such as we7.com or jango.com or ask your tutor or native speaker friend to make you a CD.
Have a film night. Films in your target language provide a wealth of new vocabulary and a cultural insight into the people and society of the target language country. Keep the English subtitles turned on until you are more confident in your listening and comprehension skills. Buy DVDs cheaply on play.com or amazon.com or check out the listings at your nearest independent film theatre. This is also a great opportunity to socialise with people interested in language learning.
Challenge yourself with a puzzle. If you enjoy crosswords, word searches or other types of puzzle do an online search for some in your chosen language, print them out and see how you get on. Keep a dictionary on hand in case you get stuck. Remember to make a note of all the new words you encounter.
Lose yourself in a book. Try to read books in your chosen language. Start off with books you are familiar with, books by your favourite author, even children’s books. Most popular titles will have been translated into dozens of languages. Find out who are the most popular authors writing in your target language and give them a go, you may find favourite new writers or genres. Foreign language books are easy to get hold of these days either online or in second hand bookshops.
Read about what you know. Do you have any other interests or hobbies? If so look for websites dedicated to your activity in the target language. Maybe you enjoy football or cooking, reading or bird watching. Challenge yourself to find keywords and make a note of them.
Embrace the culture. Read up on the cultures and traditions of the countries where your chosen language is spoken. A good understanding of the people and their ways of life will enhance your comprehension of the language.
Take note. Keep a notebook exclusively for new words and phrases. Collect different groups of words for example cognates (words which are identical or similar to English), false friends (words which are similar to English words but carry a different meaning), antonyms and synonyms (opposites and like-words) and idioms (popular sayings and turns of phrase).
Dear diary. As your language skills improve consider keeping a journal. You could record anything you wish; daily routine, what you ate, what you read or descriptions of people you meet.
Write away. Pen pals or e-pals provide a great opportunity to not only hone your linguistic skills but also to find out about the people behind the language. There are many websites dedicated to finding pen pals for people who want to ‘swap’ their languages. Try writing your letters in both languages so you have a chance to develop both your writing and reading skills.