Best Resources to Learn a Language


Gain confidence in a language with these tips.

About 5 years ago I started learning Japanese because I wanted to be able to communicate with my wife’s parents, who don’t speak English; however, I later realized how much I not only enjoy discovering a new culture and making new friends through language learning, but also being able to communicate with people I could not previously. It has also helped me in the pharmacy, where the confidence has helped me utilize the Spanish I do know (which I am not claiming to be much!) to at least accept refill requests, ask for a date of birth, tell them to take the medicine once daily, tell them what the medicine is for, etc.

In addition, in certain parts of the country language skills can help you get a job — in Florida, where I currently live, there are many jobs that are only open to Spanish-speaking pharmacists. Puerto Rico regularly has openings for the same. For me, I am now hoping someday to teach pharmacy in Japan for a period of time, which will require a very high level of proficiency.

That being said, here are some of the best resources I have found during my journey:

1. Innovative language learning: For Japanese, this is ‘JapanesePod101’; however, they have podcasts in numerous languages. This series, for me, by far was the best product I could have purchased. The episodes have numerous native speakers so you can get used to the sound of the language. In addition, they start by going over basic grammar and vocabulary, gradually building over hundreds of podcasts to longer and longer conversations, including everything from baseball players yelling at each other to writing a formal letter. One of the biggest advantages to this is that you can learn while you are doing lots of other things — driving to work, going for a walk, working out at the gym, etc. I would definitely not be where I am today without this series.

2. Polyglots that provide help online: Before I started learning anything at all, I went online and found people who have successfully learned numerous languages; some of these people speak more than 10 languages very well. I wanted to get advice from them so I didn’t follow the course that is typical in the classroom setting — memorizing grammar and vocabulary, taking tests, and making very little progress (most of us have taken years of a language in the classroom and can’t even hold a conversation in that language). One thing that most have in common is that they say that listening and reading real, interesting content is the bread and butter of language learning. These 2 I think provide particularly good insight:

a. Luca Lampariello: Italian-born, Luca speaks over 10 languages, and I know with English he would have had to tell me it wasn’t his first language. This is in spite of the fact he has never lived in an English-speaking country. His blog is full of incredible insight, motivation, and techniques on language learning. To me, reading that someone as experienced as he was still struggling and making mistakes in a new language helped me realize this is a normal part of learning.

b. Steve Kaufman: Steve also speaks over 10 languages very well, and from what it sounds like his first foreign language was Mandarin Chinese. Again, a lot of great content to be found in his blogs.

3. BBC Newspapers: BBC has online newspapers (in addition to language learning courses) in numerous languages. Included are many news videos as well. It is a great place to get real content, and if you first get familiar with the event by reading about the event in English, it can help you connect the dots.

4. Create an immersive environment: Language learning involves getting as much repeated exposure as you can over a long period of time, gradually internalizing the sounds, the patterns, the culture, and the vocabulary. If you want to learn Spanish, for example, 1 of the first things you should be doing is changing the language of your phone, your email, your social networking sites, etc. all to Spanish. I learned to give directions in Japanese by changing my GPS to Japanese and letting it talk to me. You would be surprised how much sense it can make to you after a few months of that.

5. Google Translate: It is best not to put an entire article in Google translate; however, Google translate allows you to look up words or phrases very quickly so you can get back to reading the article, focusing on the meaning. For Japanese and Chinese learners, it saves a lot of time looking up Kanji.

6.Teach Yourself or Colloquial series: It is best in the very beginning stages, I think, to have an actual course to work through, and these 2 series are particularly good. Keep in mind, however, that even in the early stages these should not be your only source of learning. Listening to music, watching videos, etc. should also be included.

7.Easy Languages on YouTube: In case you haven’t seen these, they are incredible for language learning! A native speaker of the target language takes to the streets and interviews people about everyday things. While they are talking, subtitles that include both English and the target language are displayed.

8.Most importantly — enjoy it!! Remember, when you are talking to someone you are not ‘taking a test’ — feel free to make mistakes, get corrected, and laugh at the stupid things you said. It is a journey, and one that should be enjoyable, and this is part of the journey.

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