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Claire Savage


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Learning a new language


Hi all I am about to start a new language learning journey, with just one goal - complete fluency (well, aim for the stars...) The only fly in the ointment is that all attempts so far at mastering new languages have shown I am no linguistic genius - far from it in fact. So, my request is for any tips, hints, dos and don'ts that could help me along my way, and keep me on track to achieving my hugely ambitious goal. Can you help? Thanks in advance, Claire Editor, news

9 Responses

  1. Hmm, big goal! – just a few thoughts
    Learning a language is a wonderful experience and that is a great goal. It’s a big goal, and I wonder if you would consider setting some smaller “interim” goals to help you stay motvated during the journey? Something that’s easier to measure than fluency. Perhaps you might start with something like “by the end of the second week I will be able to say hello and goodbye, ask someone’s name, tell them my name and where I come from, and ask how they are”. Congratulate yourself when you achieve it, and set another appropriate goal for the next two weeks.

    If you are ever stumped, and feel tempted to say “I can’t say that” or “I don’t know that ” just remember to tack on the magic word “yet” to the statement. That way you are not beating yourself up for not knowing something, but rather looking forward to the day when that skill will come naturally to you.

    I am sorry to hear that you haven’t enjoyed language learning in the past, but you know we learn differently as we grow, so hold on to that initial curiosity that sparked your desire to learn. Don’t keep your language “in a box” – if you love cars, or cooking, or music try to find a magazine in your language that is aimed at people with that interest: enjoy soaking up the language as you browse it and soon you will be reading rather than browsing and your understanding will blossom.

    Finally, let yourself go! don’t hold back because you think your accent is rubbish, or agonise that your grammar has to be perfect – it’s not important: enjoy the sound of the language and thank anyone who helps you to hear the difference between what you are producing now and what you want to sound like – their supportive feedback is worth a lot!

    What matters above all is that you have the will, and the enthusiasm, to grow by learning. That’s a great gift, in any language.

    Good luck!

  2. Learning a new language
    Hello Claire,

    Regular contacts with the foreign language is recommended and speaking face to face with a native speaker at least once a week is
    an effective and pleasant way to learn. Grammatical points relating to the topics discussed are best explained by an experienced tutor. To To In order to develop your understanding of written texts in the foreign language, you can access many short articles relating
    to current news items in many different languages on Google or Yahoo (e.g.,,, etc.).
    However if you are a complete beginner and need to learn a new language without previous knowledge, it is recommended to get
    structured tuition. Most language textbooks include CDs which cover pronounciation and audio exercises which can be completed in your own time or with a language tutor.
    Do not hesitate to contact us at Babel Language Consulting, Email:, tel:020 8295 5877, if you would like further information.

    Kind regards,

    Marie-Christine Buck
    Language Coaching Administrator

  3. Learning a language
    I was hopeless at languages at school but in recent years I have had to learn to survive in countries as diverse as Russia, China, Kosovo and Slovakia. I think what has helped me is to notice what happens / what I do when I do seem to learn (and what I do when I don’t). For me a big driver is the desire to eat – so learning to order a meal in a restaurant is a stronger motivation than being able to hire a car. I also like to have some rapport with the people I will be meeting, so I am keen to pick up the basics that I might use before and at the start of a course. I noticed that the combination of hearing the intonation of a native speaker and seeing the word written down is what works for me. I need single words first and will worry about grammar later. I also noticed that if I rehearsed a sentence in my head a few times then used it, it stuck. These particular things may not work for you but I would encourage you to notice what you do well (in some detail) and experiment a bit too.
    Some years ago I was working in the Czech Republic running a programme for Heads of Training. At afternoon coffee the interpreter came to me to say that he had had a call saying his mother was ill. Of course I said he should go and then quickly rehearsed some lines from the slides to set the group off into a syndicate exercise (I can still remember those words now!). It was faltering and clumsy but the group understood enough and off they went. That was the seminal moment for me. Until that point I had said I was dreadful at learning languages. But after that I realised that I could learn at least a little and enjoy the buzz of having a go, not worrying if it is perfect. I’m sure you can too if you believe you can, if you really want to and if you work out what works for you.
    Best of luck

  4. Tips for learning a new language
    Hi Claire

    I’ve found that watching TV or listening to the radio in the language I’m learning is good for learning more about the language – vocabulary, grammar and how the language works when spoken – how it sounds and how sentences, etc are formed. Try watching some movies in the language too – have your dictionary beside you to help with learning any new vocabulary.

    Other than that it is practice, practice, practice and, oh yes, practice – happy learning 🙂

  5. 7 learning tips
    There’s a great suggestion above about using a passion, such as cars, cooking or music, as a trampoline to your studies.

    You didn’t mention how you’re going to be learning – with a teacher, self-study with podcasts, books, etc. – and which language – a reasonably similar language such as German or French, or one where you first have to learn the script, such as Chinese.

    Although your previous experience hasn’t been great, maybe you just haven’t found your natural learning style. Working with a good teacher, they will be able to tailor their approach to your learning style and the language type, drawing on the various methods – from the direct method, grammar translation and audiolingualism to the communicative and lexical approaches – which used in combination will help you learn best.

    In general I have 7 language learning tips:

    1. Learning a new language requires time, a lot of time. Don’t expect amazing results after 1 week – after all it took us years to acquire our first language ‘studying’ our environment almost full time. Ok, so we have already got the framework down with our first language, but fluency will not come within a few months.

    2. Motivation is the key – not just a desire to learn a language, but a real commitment in terms of time and effort, and keeping focussed and motivated to put in the effort without necessarily seeing immediate gains.

    3. Interest in the country and the language – our approach to the culture and the country is fundamental, in many ways drawing from the suggestion given previously.

    4. Practice must be regular and constant – it’s less important to study for hours on end than it is to study for a shorter period, but regularly. Easy come, easy go – something learnt quickly is forgotten quickly, even if practiced.

    5. You must have complete faith in whatever method the teacher/programme is using – cynicism is a killer. However, on the other hand, the teacher has a duty to actually tailor their approach to the student and what is being learnt rather than just imposing a method.

    6. You can only reach perfection through practice, constant practice. Studying is just the first step; simulations and practice make perfect, also outside the classroom or your assigned self-study time – talking with native speakers of that language, reading the news, listening to music, etc.

    7. Learning to learn is just as important as learning the language. Before starting anything, we must prepare the foundations for building the language learning on. Maybe you’ve done this already, but it’s often skipped and we start building on sand.

    I hope they help,

  6. Use Accelerated Learning
    Interestingly recently I have found myself exactly in the same situation to learn a new language, so I understand 🙂

    What has amazed me so far is how in childhood we learn how to learn and we carry that all the way irrespective of all the new methods and technologies that are developed later on. So once we decide that learning a new language is difficult (probably because of limited or inadequate ways of teaching back in school) we simply believe it will stay that way.

    My recent exploration has thought me at least one thing. With the explosion of content, there are a huge number of new ways to learn a new language much quicker and with much less pain. Being in the training world, I can now see why some old methods were slow and never worked while some of the news methods are so effective that I can’t get enough of them since they make me so confident about the new language.

    If you are wondering what I am talking about, it all comes down to Accelerated Learning, which is all about involving all the senses when you want to learn something new.

    So if in the past you had to read a book, fill in the blank and figure out the grammar, you really only involved one sense, your eyes. No wonder why it was not that effective. Now you can use software-based learning, interactive video, interactive flash content that gives you video and sounds and asks you to reply, choose options and pronounce keywords. Some of these tools even use voice recognition to encourage you to talk with the right pronounciation. When you are immersed in a story, you don’t really think you need to go through pain to learn. Instead, your attention is on something else and you give yours brain a chance to pick up many signals, cultural trends, tones, etc. unconsciously while you are simply focused on the story. The story is much simpler to remember later on and as a result your recall is increased as well when you find yourself in similar situations.

    Even though I have recently started this new language, I already feel I will be much quicker learning it than the one I learned before it years ago. All of this is thanks to the IT tools we can find today. It would be shame not to use them we when we can and still go back to the old method. So my primary recommendation to anyone learning a new language is to look for new technologies, tools and products that are bound to be far more effective that those used in the 70s, 80s or even 90s.

    Good luck with the new adventure.

  7. Thank you for your encouragement and advice
    I really can’t thank you all enough for your advice. There is a lot to think about and guide me here. I can see that breaking down my goals and making them relevant and achievable will help me deal with what will be a long haul Margaret. And thank you Chiara, Graham and Ehsan for sharing your experiences as learners. I had thought about Accelerated Learning (being a ‘want it now’ kind of person the name alone appeals!) and after reading about your experience Ehsan, I’ll definitely give it a go. I was also thinking of using this and elearning together, so your comments have given me a push in that direction. I will also aim to fit in plenty of exposure to media and native speakers. Alex, I will take onboard your comments about learning to learn – something I confess I hadn’t considered at all.

    Thank you again everyone, I know I will be returning to all the advice in this thread any time the journey seems too long for a jolt in the right direction!


    Editor, news

  8. New language skills
    I have learnt a couple of languages over the years and tried others.

    I agree with others comments that it is an individual approach and not a quick process.

    The Accelerated Language materials are a good introduction, but will not get you to your ambition of being fluent. Some local authorities offer conversational classes in addition to the normal exam based ones and that helps.

    The best and most sucessful experience I have had is studying in-country. Whilst this can be expensive, the costs vary greatly and it can be a great holiday – for example, learn in the morning and then time to do other things! Even my husband managed to improve his French noticably by spending just a week on a residential course (although a week is not long enough).

  9. Various ideas
    Hi Claire

    That’s fabulous! Well done. I think you’ll find it really rewarding. I’ve been learning Spanish for some time and have achieved SOME fluency and I would say the following helped me a lot :

    1. Spend some time in the country of the language you are learning and go out of your way to visit areas where you know you’ll HAVE to speak the language. Then put yourself in every situation you can to practice. Chat to people in bars, on the beach, in shops and so on. You’ll be amazed how quickly you start to learn when you’re surrounded by it and have to use it.

    2. When you are in a position to practice, even if you only have a few words, use them as often as you can, use your mistakes as an opportunity to learn and don’t let your embarrassment or nerves hold you back. In my experience, most people will be delighted that you are trying and will be only too happy to help – and incredibly patient! My partner taught me this. He doesn;t like studying using boods, CDs and so on and so he just uses what words he has! His lack of embarrassment and willingness to give it a go means he’s made friends all over the place and that he is picking up the language quickly.

    3. You might find CDs by Michel Thomas quite useful. He uses an accelerated learning method which is very effective and gets you off the ground quite quickly.

    4. Join a conversation class.

    5. Don’t be held back by your aim to be fluent. I know it sounds daft, but I was so concerned about getting it right when I started and, far more important, is making yourself understood. Even if your grammar is all over the place, the main point is to communicate. The fluency eventually follows.

    Hope this helps and let me know how you get on.

    Annie Lawler

    Breathing Space for Business
    0772 581 8884

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Claire Savage

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