It can be daunting to attempt learning a new language. We all want the end results - travelling like a pro, speaking to colleagues and clients from other countries with ease, connecting with relatives abroad over a virtual chat - but we all have to start on a learning journey that usually starts with a single greeting. From that first hola, bonjour, ciao, or ni hao, the process of learning a new language entails learning simple conversational phrases to mastering complex conjugations and vocabulary. It’s a lifelong pursuit that rewards the learner with a stronger understanding of the world and its multitudes of people.

learn a new language and travel
Learn a new language and travel with ease. Source: Unsplash

So where does one start when tackling a new language? The first step is to determine how you want to start. Do you want a live class with grades and tests? A self-directed approach involving workbooks, Youtube videos, and meetup groups? Once you choose your entry point, you’ll be in a great position to determine goals, start new routines, and immerse yourself in content appropriate for your level.

Here are some tips to get you started on learning a new language - follow our advice and you’ll be ready to pursue your language goals today.

Learn more about learning international languages in Canada.

Set Language Learning Goals

Goal setting from the start will give you a sense of direction and help you plan ahead. What is your goal for learning a new language? Is it for travel? A job in foreign service? To connect with your heritage? Improve your brain? Communicate better with your partner and their family? Complete a college or university program?

Once you have your goal set, it will be easy to determine how much time and resources you will need to invest. If your language learning is tied to your degree or career, you should plan to spend the vast majority of your time dedicated to study and practice; those looking to learn for travel or personal reasons can approach their learning with more flexibility. 

Choose the Right Language School For You 

With the endgame in mind, you can start figuring out where you will learn. Students looking to get a degree or certificate should be able to find cultural studies or international languages departments that offer courses in the target language. In Canada, you will generally always find French classes in colleges and universities; for a fully immersive experience, check out schools in places like Montreal or Quebec City.

Another option to consider - particularly if your goals are more informal - is boutique language schools, cultural centres or continuing education. For reasonable prices, these schools offer instruction for students of all levels at times convenient for adult learners who are often working full time. If you are aiming to learn a language that isn’t commonly taught at major Canadian institutions, like Tagalog, Polish or Twi, cultural centres and boutique schools can be a great option.

language class
Choose the right school for you. Source: Unsplash

Continuing education programs, available at most universities and public school boards, have courses and certificates in major international languages. You will also be able to find business specific courses in languages like Chinese, French, and Spanish. Continuing Education programs are a great option for those who prefer to study in a larger institution but do not want the pressure of completing a degree. 

Thinking about taking language classes in Edmonton? Read our article.

Use the Best Resources for Independent Language Learning

To learn a new language efficiently and effectively, you will also want to look at how you can integrate more practice into your everyday life. Whether you have chosen to take a course or study independently, you will find that using apps, workbooks, and audio resources will help you acquire a new language faster. Another bonus: there are lots of free apps out there, and most videos and podcasts won't cost you anything!

Language Learning Software and Apps

Thanks to technology, we can easily supplement our second language learning with games, lessons, and practice exercises - anywhere you can find a good wifi connection. Forget lugging around textbooks and notes, and simply have your phone and a cup of coffee or tea to enjoy. Language learning apps and software like Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur or Babbel can be a great way to build your vocabulary and practice quickly and easily on a smartphone or laptop. If you are in the beginning phases of learning a language, digital resources and apps are a great way to pick up the basics and learn the most used words. Intermediate and Advanced students will also find digital courses useful between courses or just to keep their skills sharp.

using apps to practice languages
Use the latest apps to learn a new language Source: Unsplash

Books and Workbooks

Language learning books and workbooks offer a tactile, low-tech option for independent study and practice. You can find workbooks on Amazon or your local bookstore that will give you opportunities for additional practice and review - these resources can be incredibly useful for mastering verb conjugation or a specific part of grammar. If you are in a course or degree program, these workbooks can be great for studying for tests and exams. 

Level appropriate readers in the language you are learning are also instrumental to gaining proficiency. You can easily find readers in popular languages like Spanish or French: these texts will help you to build your vocabulary and see different verb tenses in action. 

When it comes to applying verb conjugations, using indirect pronouns, or using a new alphabet, workbooks and readers are a great way to focus your study. 

Audio Resources

Finally, audiobooks, podcasts, and Youtube videos can provide instant listening practice - a critical part of learning a language. Audio resources will help you improve your pronunciation and give you a sense of the different accents that exist in your target language. You can listen in your car, on the treadmill, or doing chores around your home - just plug into your earbuds and listen! 

Find out more about taking language classes in Vancouver.

Start a Daily Study Routine 

When it comes to mastering any new skill, consistency is essential. Build consistency into your language learning routine by scheduling times for practicing. Set a side an hour after work or classes to complete homework or practice your workbook, and plan to listen to audio resources when you are driving to work or sitting on the train. Create a space in your home free of distractions, or make it more fun by working at a nice cafe. Once language study becomes a regular routine, you will see the results in your grades and abilities. 

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Immerse Yourself in Media

Become a polyglot faster by immersing yourself in the popular media of your target language. Thanks to the internet, we can access foreign media easily and inexpensively through Youtube and social media - we can find news reports, articles, and music in nearly every language and country around the world. TV shows and movies can also be a fun way to learn a language - having an audiovisual context is excellent for developing associations between words and their meaning. Turn on the subtitles for the full effect!

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Travel or Join a Meetup Group 

Arguably the fastest route to learning a new language is to be active in using it through social interactions. If you are fortunate enough to be able to travel to the country in which your target language is spoken, it can be one of the most rewarding learning experiences. When you are forced to communicate in the language you are learning, you will learn instantly by the responses of the people you are speaking to and by applying your language knowledge in context. When you see and hear the language all around you, the learning experience is authentic and organic, leading to a much more meaningful acquisition of vocabulary and oral communication skills.

If you can’t travel, try finding a Meetup group you can spend time with to practice speaking. Meetup groups are a great way to try out your speaking skills with others who are on a similar learning journey as you. You might also find a group willing to meet virtually or that will meet in a restaurant or cultural environment where native speakers are available to help practice.

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Find a Private Language Instructor

Getting a private language instructor may seem luxurious, but it is actually a cost effective way to learn a new language quickly. When you have a private language tutor, you can set your own learning goals with the teacher - a specific tense, case, or regional dialect. Private language teachers are typically native speakers, so you will have the benefit of practicing one-to-one with someone who knows the language intimately. They can meet with you in person or virtually, and push you to your learning goals faster.

Check out sites like Superprof for a great selection of private tutors in so many languages!

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Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.