24 Polyglot Experts Reveal 2 Most Useful Tips To Learn A New Language
What are your 2 most useful tips for learning a new language?
Learning a new language is a TON of work. The process can be so overwhelming that you may not even know where to begin.
But mastering another language can open up a lot of opportunities. You can communicate with more people, learn about other cultures, and be exposed to job opportunities that were previously unavailable.
So how do you tackle such a large project from the start?
We asked for help from the top language experts in the world, who have mastered not just one other language, but several other world languages.
These polyglots have studied and mastered different languages from different language groups. They have been language beginners many times over and understand how intimidating and difficult learning a new language can be.
So, they graciously offered up their top two most valuable tips to help you learn a new language.
Check it out! ⤵
Expert #1: Simon Ager│Omniglot
1) Don't worry about not understanding everything - try and guess the things you don't know from context, and ask about or look up words that come up frequently whose meaning you can't work out.
2) Try to use whatever language you know, without worrying about mistakes or looking foolish - play with the language, learn from your mistakes, and have fun.
Bio: Simon Ager’s native language is English. He can speak French, Welsh, and Irish fluently. He can get by fairly well in German, Japanese, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish, Manx and Esperanto. And he has a basic knowledge of Taiwanese, Cantonese, Italian, Portuguese, Czech, Russian, Breton, Dutch, British Sign Language (BSL), Cornish, Swedish and Toki Pona.
Expert #2: Olly Richards│I Will Teach You A Language
1) The first thing to realise when taking on a new language is that regular, consistent study over time is the key to getting results. You'll go through periods where you lose motivation, or struggle to find the time to work on your language, and that's completely normal.
What's important is you stay consistent with your study, and try to carve out some time every single day. Stick with it, and time will do most of the work for you!
2) Secondly, don't wait too long before starting to speak with people in your new language. It's normal to feel apprehensive about speaking when you're still a relative beginner.
However, it's important to realise that you get good at speaking by speaking - not by waiting until you're ready, because that day never comes. Find a language partner or tutor - locally or online - and schedule regular sessions. I find 3-4 times a week is ideal.
By speaking regularly, you'll quickly build confidence, and that will catapult your progress forward!
Bio: Olly Richards speaks eight languages - French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic, Cantonese, and German. His native tongue is English.
He is originally from the UK and started learning languages so he could better communicate with his co-workers.
Expert #3: Teddy Nee│Nee’s Language Blog
1) Learn phrases that you frequently use.
If you take a look at all language learning books, you will find many similar phrases, such as "How are you?", "Where is the station?", "I want a cup of coffee, please".
However, do you really use those phrases in your real life? I suggest you to learn ONLY phrases that you frequently use. In this way, you can start to have conversation at the very early stage of your learning journey.
I suggest you to learn the following first: the 6W1H (What, Why, Where, Who, When, Which, How) phrases, basic tenses (past, present, future), grammatical structure (SVO or SOV or VOS or others), numbers, day and time, frequently-use verbs, and pronouns (I, you, we, my, your, him, them, etc.)
2) Use the language as often as possible.
You may have heard the saying that living in the place where the language is spoken is best for your learning. The idea is that you will hear the target language every day, and probably, use it actively occasionally.
But this method has limitation, what if you don't have the time and money to move to other cities/ countries? Let me suggest you what you can do at your comfort and your own learning pace. It is best if you do these as often as possible.
a. Read articles and check dictionaries (this method improves your vocabulary and learn how a word is used in a sentence)
b. Listen radios/ TVs (it's best to listen to dialogues than songs, unless you want to learn to sing, because if you want to be able to talk, then learn how people talk)
c. Talk to anyone in any possible opportunity (because language is for communication).
Bio: Teddy Nee speaks six languages - Hokkien Medan, Indonesian, English, Chinese, Spanish, and Esperanto. Now he is learning Dutch, Portuguese, and French!
Teddy currently lives in Taiwan.
Expert #4: John Fotheringham│Language Mastery
1) Define your "why" first. Similar to what Nietzsche said, with a strong enough why, a language learner can endure almost any how.
Why do you want to learn? How do you want to use the language? How will it improve your life?
2) Spend most of your time in the language, not learning about the language. We acquire languages at a subconscious level when we get sufficient input and practice.
This means actively listening to authentic content and communicating with native speakers as much as possible.
Bio: John Fotheringham holds a B.A. in Linguistics from Western Washington University, with a focus on Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and T.E.S.O.L.
He started his language learning at the ripe age of 12 when he went to São Paulo, Brazil for a 2-week home stay. Since then he’s vowed to learn the language of every country he visits. So far, he’s learned Portuguese, French, Japanese, Chinese, and has studied a handful more.
Expert #5: Kris Broholm│Actual Fluency
1) ABANDON ALL FEAR AND INTERNAL DOUBT!
When you start, your mind will constantly doubt itself whether what you're about to say is correct, whether you even know the words or not. It's IMPERATIVE at these practical occasions to simply let loose and ignore that internal doubt.
Don't try to prepare a script internally for every sentence (that's not how we speak our native language.) instead simply use what you know, or find a way to speak around it. Don't wait for perfection! It might never happen.
Note: This is extremely difficult, but if you consider that all your fellow course participants are in the exact same boat, and you're doing it to learn languages it becomes somewhat easier. Don't worry if you make a mistake either, just shrug it off and keep going.
2) Trust the process and have fun!
Middlebury is a world-class language school, and you will definitely learn a lot if you just let go of your worries and trust the process.
Don't try to force yourself to remember things, or spend all evening running through flashcards.
If you speak and practice the language at every opportunity, and follow the excellent programme laid out, you will be successful, I have no doubt.
But, most importantly; Have fun!
Bio: Once influenced by some of the same polyglots on this very list, Kris Broholm found his love of languages while trying to climb out of the hole that is depression. He found that learning languages gave him the fulfillment and purpose he had been searching for in his life.
Now he can speak multiple languages including English, Danish, German, and he can understand and converse in Esperanto, Russian, and Hungarian. His goal in 2013 was to learn 10 languages in 10 years!
Expert #6: Emily Liedel│The Babel Times
1) When you’re learning a new language, fall in love with both the language and the culture that speaks it.
2) Then create as many opportunities as possible to speak the language and interact with native speakers.
Bio: Emily Liedel is on a mission to learn all of the official UN languages to a native-like fluency by her 35th birthday! So far, she speaks German, French, Russian, and Spanish as well as her continued study of Arabic and Chinese.
Expert #7: Mark Kinsella│Eurolinguist
1) Ok, the first would be bombardment. Listen to as much as you can. Internet radio is great for this.
Buy a course and listen to the audio even before you read it. That way the words don't seem like strangers when you see them written and you're already getting used to the sounds.
2) Have imaginary conversations in your head using the vocabulary you are learning. Toss it around in your mind whenever. It'll get you used to using the language for real, and you'll get familiar with the syntax. On the way to work, in the car, whenever!
Bio: Mark Kinsella works for Lingua Tours in Dublin, Ireland. He speaks English, Italian, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, Gaelic, and Esperanto.
Expert #8: Vladimir Skultety│Forever A Student
Learn by using.
1) More specifically, speak and listen to the language as much as you can.
2) In higher stages, also read and write as much as you can.
Bio: Vladimir Skultety is a translator and interpreter in Mandarin Chinese, Slovak, and English. He is also a graduate of International relations and Chinese studies. He can speak 15 languages and 8 of those at the highest levels of language mastery.
He mainly writes about Chinese Mandarin to help people learn Chinese characters faster and more effectively.
Expert #9: Martin Boehme
1) Practice new sounds early - bad pronunciation can make you feel unconfident and keep you from speaking even if your grammar is perfect.
2) Practice/study for longer periods of time. 5 minutes a day is like 1 push-up a day. Speak for an hour with no English and make your brain melt.
Bio: Martin Boehme is a web developer who speaks English and Spanish fluently. He can get by with French and is currently studying Japanese. He works at College Info Geek.
Expert #10: Giwan Persaud│Duolir
1) Keep engaging yourself with that language through video, audio, and reading material in that language.
2) Practice speaking with others whenever you can.
Bio: Giwan Persaud is the founder of Duolir, a database of short stories with translations for language learners seeking to find relevant reading materials within their level.
Expert #11: Shannon Kennedy│Eurolinguiste
1) Accept that at the beginning, everything is going to be one big jumble that won't make any sense. Eventually you'll start to pick out bits and pieces and everything will fall into place.
The more exposure you get to the language, and the more you slowly chip away at it, the more it all starts to click.
It takes time, so don't feel discouraged if you don't understand or struggle to form sentences. You'll get there.
2) A little study each and every day is the best thing you can do for your learning. Consistency in language study is so, so important. It keeps everything fresh, prevents you from needing to do unnecessary review, and helps you continue to move forward.
Studying fifteen minutes everyday is far more effective than studying for two or more hours one day a week.
Bio: Shannon Kennedy knows 9 languages - French, English, Mandarin Chinese, Croatian, Russian, Korean, Italian, Spanish, and German. She has a Master’s degree in Music/Ethnomusicology from Queen’s University, Belfast where her love of languages was sparked.
Expert #12: Lindsay Williams│Lindsay Does Languages
1) Find something you love.
When you've got something to relate to in a language, it's something that will connect you deeper than just words.
It could be music, a TV show, food, something about the language itself...there's plenty of options here, but what they all have in common is that when your motivation is lower or you go through busy times in life and language learning gets pushed aside, it will be much easier to restart and pick things up again if you've got a connection and a reason to keep learning.
2) Set goals strategically.
It's great to say "I want to speak Spanish" but that's not really a goal - it's an ambition. Goals are the smaller milestones along the way that help you to make that ambition a reality. I like to use what I call Onion Goals! Put your end goal in a circle and add bigger circles surrounding it, each layer asking yourself how you'll do the last.
For example, if my goal right now is to "learn 50 words", the next layer out might say "use Memrise". The next layer, "daily when having breakfast". What's great about Onion Goals is that you can adapt it for various goals along the way, basically anytime you need clarity as to how you're actually going to do these amazing things!
Bio: Lindsay Williams learns, teaches, writes about, and makes YouTube videos about languages. She speaks Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Japanese, Indonesian, Dutch, Mandarin, and Korean. She has studied a few others for travel.
Fun fact: Her (reasonable) obsession with Shakira is the reason Lindsay got so addicted to learning languages!
Expert #13: Ellen Jovin│Words & Worlds of New York
1) Be really good at knowing when you are having fun, because if you are not having fun there is no way in hell you are going to get as much done as you would if you were actually having fun.
If I am sick of conjugating verbs, I learn vocabulary. If I’m sick of vocabulary, I might chat with a native speaker online. If I suffer a sudden attack of misanthropy, I may switch to audio lessons. If I get tired of audio, then perhaps I watch court TV in the target language. Variety is good; it aids and abets fun.
2) Eat greens.
Bio: Ellen Jovin is a self-proclaimed grammar freak who found other language writing systems and cultures interesting. She has been studying multiple languages for 8+ years including (but not limited to) Italian, Arabic, Persian, and Portuguese.
Expert #14: Bill Price│How To Languages
1) Learn what's most useful to YOU. There is a ton a vocabulary and grammar to digest in any new language, so make sure you don't waste your time and energy on learning things you know you won't use.
What do you talk about on a day to day basis? Learn those things. Learn words and phrases related to your interests and your needs. Just because you CAN learn the words for twenty different zoo animals doesn't mean you should.
This accomplishes two things: It helps you reach a level of comfort and fluency in the language more quickly AND it does wonders for keeping you motivated.
2) Listen to a LOT of the language. For me, the most frustrating part of learning a new language is understanding speech. Listening to the language should be at least half of your daily routine if not more.
The more you listen, the more you begin to parse individual words and the more your ear will naturally adapt. Of course, audio with transcripts and translation are preferable but I have found that even blind listening to foreign language audio (regardless of comprehension) is helpful long term.
Bio: Bill Price is originally from from Louisiana where he grew up surrounded by English and Cajun French. He first set a personal goal to randomly learn German in one year which he succeeded in doing so. From there, his language learning journey turned him into a language enthusiast.
Expert #15: Judith Meyer│Learn Yu
1) A language cannot be taught, it can only be learned. If you've come to this course, it means that you've made a decision to learn a language. So go through these days trying to pick up as much as possible.
Let teachers help you, let fellow students help you, research some stuff yourself, don't let anyone deter you from your goal.
2) When walking around speaking your target language, note down all the words that you're missing and that you might need again very soon (words like "remember", not words like "embryo").
As soon as you have a chance to sit down, look up the translation of these words and try to memorize it. This will help you rapidly become fluent in "me-language", the 500 words that you personally are most likely to use.
Bio: Judith Meyer is the head organizer of the Polyglot Gathering, an international conference for language geeks. She speaks 9 languages, 5 at a lesser level.
Expert #16: Malachi Ray Rempen│Itchy Feet Comic
I have two useful tricks.
1) The first is to basically never stop practicing. Languages are skills, and like any skill, you get out of it what you put into it. Put in a lot, get a lot back. But get lazy, and you'll get lazy results!
However, if you are feeling a bit lazy and/or overwhelmed, I happen to have a foolproof, guaranteed, 100% success rate trick, and that's my second:
2) Fall in love with someone who speaks your target language. There's no substitute for raging hormones to give you the push you need to get fluent, and fast! Be sure to fall for someone who doesn't speak your native language, though. That's the trick.
Bio: Malachi Ray Rempen was born in Switzerland and raised in Albuquerque. He took his own advice and married an Italian! He draws and writes comics about world travel, life as a foreigner, life with a foreigner, and learning new languages.
Expert #17: Noel van Vliet│Smart Language Learner
The most important thing is that you stay the course. It comes before anything else. Some will say make sure you have fun while learning a new language. But even if you do that, some days or weeks are going to be tough.
Therefore my top two tips at this moment would be:
1) Measure your progress in some way. It doesn't have to be very elaborated, just come back to a few songs in your target language every now and then to see if you understand more than the last time you heard them.
This gives you the reassurance that you are progressing and therefore increases your motivation.
2) Never worry about progress on bad days. Just shift your focus to completing your language learning session(s). When we're a little bit down, our negative thoughts increase. And the majority of them are completely irrational.
If you give them power they will make stupid decisions FOR you. Wait until you feel a little more balanced emotionally.
Bio: Noel van Vliet speaks three languages fluently. He speaks Dutch, English, and Spanish. He too wanted to know what the English 80’s music artists were singing and started from there.
Expert #18: Kerstin Cable│Fluent Language
1) Set goals and track your progress.
Goals! Projects! Missions! Whatever you call them, they are the lifeblood of sticking with where you are at as a language learner.
Since you are a busy person, being accountable for your own time is one of the best ways of feeling both accomplished and efficient.
Tracking your progress is not only a good way of structuring how you learn. It will also help you combat the dangers of motivation loss.
The longer you stick with what you've already studied, the easier it will be to keep going. In other words: It's easier to break a 2-day streak than to break a 2-month streak.
Tracking can work in many different ways. It can be as simple as keeping up with habit streaks on apps (Duolingo, Memrise, or just type "habit" into any App Store). Or it can be a detailed log and review base like your personal notebook.
If you'd like detailed goal-setting advice, check out Lindsay Williams' course Successful Self Study.
2) Build Great Habits.
If you want to get a better handle about how to build winning habits, start with how you make habits stick in other areas of your life. For example, some people stay fit by scheduling regular workout times, while others need accountability and love tracking their runs online.
I recommend you start digging into this with help from Episode 32 of the Creative Language Learning Podcast, in which we discussed habits, styles and tendencies based on the work of writer Gretchen Rubin.
Bio: Kerstin Cable had a passion for languages since she danced to Hebrew songs in Kindergarten. She has studied English, French, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. She is currently trying to learn Welsh.
Expert #19: Raffaele Terracciano│Rafter’s Languages
1) Use content that you like. You are not going to learn a language by just reading grammar books. Read and listen to content that is highly interesting for you, and everything will be easier for you.
You like sports? Then read the news about your favourite team in your target language.
2) Do that everyday. Every day that you use your target language is a day you get better at it. Every day that you don't, is a day you get worse.
The only way not to lose what you have learned is to keep studying everyday, even for just 10 minutes.
Bio: Raffaele Terracciano speaks 11 languages - Neapolitan, Italian, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Greek, Japanese, and Catalan.
The first book he read was Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. And one of the best gifts he ever received from his parents was an electronic translator for 5 languages. From then, he’s always been interested in learning languages and travelling.
Expert # 20: Jan va der Aa│Language Boost
1) Have the right motivation.
Do you have enough reasons to learn a new language. Are you motivated? Without enough motivation we tend to give up too easily.
Think about how much better your life would be if you would speak that language fluently. Would it help you in your career?
Do you want to speak a new language for social reasons? Or do you want to have better experiences living or traveling abroad? No matter what reason you have, you should at least have a few very good ones in order to stay motivated!
2) Learn the most important things first! (80:20 rule)
Learning first things first is the key to quick progress in your new language.
The Pareto principle (also known as the 80:20 rule) basically states that you get 80% of the results from 20% of the work. This principle can be applicable in language learning as well.
Languages contain hundreds of thousands of words but only a fraction of them are used on a daily basis by native speakers and only a fraction of those are words that you need for your first conversations.
Bio: Jan van der Aa speaks English, Mandarin Chinese and German. He also speaks Cantonese, Portuguese, and Spanish and is a beginner in Japanese and Indonesian. He is going to learn Italian, French or Thai next!
Expert #21: Josh Teeters│Language Geek
1) Don't be afraid of translation. The current in-vogue advice seems to be to never translate anything, to start using monolingual dictionaries as fast as possible, etc.
I've tried both paths, and I've found translating things (particularly in both directions) to be a very helpful learning exercise.
By translating something—particularly in a very literal way—it lets you see what each and every word in your target language is doing, especially when it is functioning differently than similar words in your native tongue.
2) In the age of digital everything, don't discount the effectiveness of "old fashioned" study methods. In particular, writing things out by hand—not typing—has proven to be very helpful in getting things to stick in my memory.
Research has shown there is a connection between handwriting and memory, and I've found writing vocabulary out has helped me learn it better than cramming digital flashcards
Bio: Josh Teeters first got his inspiration to learn a new language from watching the movie Braveheart! Since then he has studied Latin, focused on German, has done some French courses and is currently going through a Russian course. He has since started on Spanish and Dutch as well.
Expert #22: Gabriel Wyner│Fluent Forever
1) Focus on mastering pronunciation as early as you possibly can. It will improve your ability to remember words and it’ll minimize the amount of time you’re practicing bad pronunciation habits.
Seek out teachers to help you with this; it’s really easy to tip into an American accent when students outnumber teachers.
2) Make flashcards that are 100% in your target language and involve pictures. You can do this using Fill-in-the-___ Sentences, either by hand or in a program like Anki. Flashcard tests like these are approximately five times more efficient for memorization than simply re-reading your notes.
Bio: Gabriel Wyner is a Middlebury Summer Language Immersion Academy graduate and success story! He learned German to start and now speaks French, Russian, Italian, Hungarian, and Japanese. He is currently trying to improve his Japanese.
Gabriel is also an opera singer who often sings in other languages.
Gabriel lives in Chicago, IL, USA.
Expert #23: Olle Linge│Hacking Chinese
1) Focus on breadth before depth. You don’t need to know everything about a word when you first learn it. Read and listen extensively as much as possible, preferably at a comfortable level.
Output and deeper understanding comes with time. Avoid advanced stuff until you actually need if for communication.
2) Follow your passion. If you like playing games, find ways to learn languages through games. If you love music, that’s a powerful way of learning as well. Anything that makes you spend more time with the language is good.
An okay method that you use gladly every day is much better than a supposedly awesome method that you never use.
Bio: Olly Linge has a degree in English and Chinese and a master’s degree in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language. He enjoys writing, gymnastics, unicycling, diving, volleyball, role-playing, and playing games.
Olly is from Linköping, Sweden.
Expert #24: Randy Hunt│Yearlyglot
1) Ignore the haters. People will always judge you by their own definition of fluency. Their opinions don't matter.
All that matters is whether you can perform the function required of you in your new language.
2) Get over your pride. Make mistakes. Make a fool of yourself early and often.
Pride prevents us from using a language in which we are imperfect. But humility allows us to learn more, and sooner.
Bio: Randy Hunt had a goal to be a “citizen of the world” since he was in Kindergarten. By age 18, he had exposure to four languages. Now he speaks Spanish, Russian, Italian and is currently making great progress learning Greek.
On top of that, he can have basic chats in Polish, German, Turkish, French, and Esperanto. And he’s had exposure to a couple more handfuls of other languages!
Randy currently lives in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
A special thanks to all 24 of these talented ployglots from around the world. These tips are amazingly helpful for new language learners.
Now YOU have some of the best tools to learn a new language! Go on now and give it a shot.
We'd love to hear about what has made this process easier for you too! What are your tips for learning a new language?
Please share your tips in the comment section below!