Advice for Learning the Basics of Any Language

After studying eight languages over the past three years, and gaining fundamental skills in each one, I wanted to share some things I’ve learned along the way.

It takes a long time to learn a language well, but it doesn’t take long to master the basics (in most cases). This has been true for Ukrainian, German, Czech, Polish, Russian, Danish, Icelandic, and Spanish.

What do I mean by “The Basics”? Here’s what to focus on when starting out with a new language:

Study the Alphabet First

You don’t have to memorize the entire new alphabet all at once, but you should practice (a lot) until you know which letters do and don’t belong in your new language. You should know how each one sounds and the fundamental rules of how the letters work together. For example, “-ci” in Polish makes a “chee” sound, and “-ci” in Czech makes a “tsi” sound.

Install the Keyboard

Install your new language’s keyboard on your phone and computer. Practice it. Build up the muscle memory of switching between languages and typing all of the letters of the alphabet you learned. This is a skill all its own, and it’s important.

Search for “how to add a keyboard language” for whatever devices and operating systems you have. If you don’t do this part, you’re not serious about learning the new language! Trust me.

In our digital age, it’s critical to know how to type (or use speech-to-text), but handwriting can wait until a little later, in my opinion.

Spend Time on Pronunciation

Pimsleur courses have become a favorite language resource of mine, along with Duolingo and my arsenal of language/translation apps. The main reason is that it jumps right into valuable conversational practice in a given language. They even have courses on Croatian, which is very difficult to learn due to its obscurity and lack of educational resources.

Aside from Pimsleur, there are usually lots of videos on YouTube that teach pronunciation. I also shop for foreign movies on eBay, because I have a region-free Bluray/DVD player.

Always Be Book Shopping

This is a good habit in general, but especially while learning a language. Search for language courses, grammar books, children’s books. My favorites so far are the Routledge Grammar books. Utilize used book stores and libraries for affordable, long-lasting exposure to keys unlocking your new skill: Books.

Learn from Entertainment

One of the many rewards of really learning a new language is that you can combine relaxation with life-expanding education. If your language of choice is popular at all, there will be subtitles available on movies and shows.

Better yet, if you’re technically savvy, you can use a media player with open subtitles support (such as VLC, MPC, or Plex), allowing you to search online databases of subtitles. This opens up a world of supplemental language exposure.

Find Speakers of Your New Language

It can seem difficult to find speakers of the language you’re learning, but it just takes some persistence. There are lots of language groups online, and an internet full of tutors for hire. Find the people who want to teach you their language.

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