New Year, New Languages

During my school years, I became friends with an international student from Korea. She did not speak much English at the time, and in an effort to become a better friend to her, I decided to learn her language. I hunted the internet for free Korean lessons, borrowed Korean workbooks from my library and listened to native Korean speakers on YouTube.

Before I knew it, I had developed the basic conversational skills needed to make my friend feel more at home. This experience gave me more than just the satisfaction of making my friend happy, I developed a deep passion for language. 

I decided to continue learning Korean in college, and soon I decided to study Greek as well. By this time, I had become familiar with the language learning process and developed a formula that worked best for me. While everyone learns differently, I found that with languages especially, it is important to learn from as many different sources as possible. This includes:

1. Travel

For those who can afford it, traveling and living in a country that uses the language you want to learn is one of the best ways to advance your skills. Not only will you be forced to utilize what you have learned, but you will also gain valuable insight into the culture as well as how native speakers use the language. 

2. Self-Study

I am a strong advocate for self-education. You are your best teacher because you know your weaknesses better than anyone else. When it comes to learning a language, I like to begin with objectives that I hope to meet for the day and make use of whatever resources I have available to meet those objectives.

For example: I might decide that I want to spend the day expanding my vocabulary. I will borrow a textbook from the library or find a reputable website and study the vocabulary words that I am most interested in using. Another idea is to create your own worksheets instead of printing worksheets from the internet (although you could do both.) I like to create my own worksheets because I can practice what I am struggling with the most. It helps to have a native speaker make corrections.

3. Traditional Classes

Although I love the self-education method, I firmly believe it works best when combined with traditional classes. Taking a language class may be laborious, but it will provide you with an abundance of resources and opportunities for practice. Unless you are friends with native speakers, you won’t have as many opportunities to practice speaking with others if you are not enrolled in a class.

In addition, taking a class can help you resolve any mistakes you may have made while learning the language on your own. This was something I experienced. For years, I had been learning Korean independently. When I started taking courses in college, I realized that some of the things I had taught myself were incorrect. Good thing I took those classes!

4. Film & Literature

One of my favorite parts of learning a language is immersing myself in another culture’s art, and this is often one of the best ways to become familiar with the language. In my experience, it is best to dedicate at least two hours a week to this.

For example, you could watch a foreign language film once a week or listen to an audio book in another language. I would suggest starting with films that have English subtitles and removing the subtitles as you become more advanced. As for books, start with children’s books with plenty of illustrations to guide your reading. At the intermediate level, you can read the English translation of a book you would like to read and then try reading it in its original language once you have become familiar with what it is about. 

No matter how you decide to learn a language, it takes persistence and years of practice. Regular practice. This won’t just be your New Year’s Resolution for 2020. This has to be a commitment you’re willing to make for at least the next few years. Fear not, however, because it is more than worth it.

by nikiborghei

Niki Borghei is a dedicated writer, artist, and bibliophile from Los Angeles. She is currently a college student pursuing studies in comparative literature and classics. Her short story "Silent Words" was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt when she was only seventeen. A year prior to that, her poem "Spring Rain" was published in the Heritage Roses New Zealand Journal. While she currently focuses on poetry and short fiction, she plans to experiment with longer works of fiction in the near future.

Apart from writing, Niki revels in the archaic art of bookbinding, which she learned when she was fourteen. She is also passionate about learning languages, and has thus far gained proficiency in Persian, Greek, and Korean.

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