The Clog’s guide to learning a foreign language online

Illustration of people speaking in different languages
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Have you ever wished you were fluent in another language? Have you aspired to learn the language of a place you visited? Learning a new language is no simple feat, but it can definitely be a fun and rewarding experience. It may seem daunting initially — where do you start and how do you even go about it? Luckily for you, the Clog has you covered with our tips for learning a new language online and having fun while doing it!

Whatever your motivation for learning a new language may be, be it a competitive edge for a job or for future travels, it’s important to set goals to help structure the learning process. For example, my dad’s New Year’s resolution in 2015 was to learn conversational Spanish. He spent a few hours on it each week, and by the end of the year, voila! Think about your time frame, keeping in mind the number of hours you would be capable of devoting to it each week and what you hope to achieve at the end. Learning German for a job would be very different from learning it for an upcoming trip. Similarly, whether you have two months or five will greatly impact your learning too.

Armed with a plan, you’re ready to advance to the next stage — familiarizing yourself with the basics of the language. If the language follows a different script, it is a good idea to first learn the alphabet and the sounds for each letter. There is a treasure trove of free online resources to understand basic language syntax and semantics. Popular language learning apps such as Duolingo, Memrise and Busuu improve vocabulary while also helping you comprehend grammar rules. Apart from these apps, a quick web search would reveal scores of websites with practice worksheets and videos.

Take your learning to the next level by listening! Watch cartoons and movies in the language you’re learning — when I was learning French, I found it helpful to watch cartoons such as “The Adventures of Tintin and children’s movies with storylines I was already familiar with. Listening enables you to gauge the nuances and pronunciation of the language you’re learning. Other sources such as podcasts can also help you gain a better understanding of how to converse. Apart from listening, reading short stories or newspaper articles allows you to fine-tune your grammar and language rules while also improving overall vocabulary.

Finally, practice, practice and practice speaking! I’ve realized that being able to read a language versus being able to fluently speak are two completely different things. When I initially learned French, I found that while I had a good hold over my language comprehension and could read well, it was a whole other story when it came to speaking. It was difficult to find the right words on the fly and string them together in my head with correct grammar when speaking. Practice introducing yourself, ordering from restaurants or conversing with someone. There are many free, verified speaking-exchange websites through which you can speak with a real person in the language you’re learning.

Lastly, have fun in the process! When it gets difficult, remember why you wanted to start learning the language in the first place and never lose sight of your goal. Take the opportunity to learn about a new culture and history while immersing yourself in the language.

Contact Nandita Radhakrishnan at [email protected].