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Abby Duran
Abby Duran November 8, 2020

Forgot high school French or college Spanish? Unable to hire a private tutor? Want to make sure that Chinese tattoo isn't a permanent tramp stamp? Are you overwhelmed by DIY apps and books?  Don't stress; connect!

Whether you're still working from home or making time for a new task, adding languages to your resume is a significant boost even as a novice. And not just financially.  Bilinguals and beyond can even curve dementia!

Starting over for the first or tenth time is daunting, but the most dependable way to master and understand a language is CONSISTENCY. There are no short cuts to self-discipline. PERIOD. I recommend 30 to 60 minutes a day.

Communication is critical. Even if you don't live in a highly diverse community, connecting with natives starts with YOU. Be comfortable speaking the language by repeating sounds and proper pronunciation. For this, I highly recommend Pimsleur mobile app (7-day free trial/$14.95 a month). This app 100% submerges yourself in speaking from the elementary introductions to solving math problems. Even more valuable is how natives think and what they may find offensive.

Moreover, Pimsleur reviews previous material throughout each lesson and builds on it. It's a maximum of 24-30 minutes per course, and you're not required to read or memorize. Just listen and repeat. Perfect before or after work, exercising, and even doing house chores. Don't worry about remembering each word. The goal here is the grammatical structure and pronunciation. Eventually, you'll be able to pull a sentence from your memory and replace terms naturally. Many polyglots master the pattern of a language BEFORE memorizing words.

Don't think of learning a language to pass an exam or impress a date. Think of it as connecting yourself with people; that's the whole purpose of linguistics. When you first start feeling confident introducing yourself or making a joke, let that person or group know you are learning. 99.9% of the time, they will appreciate your efforts and maybe even throw in some freebies. Perhaps they want to practice their English, and the two of you gained a free tutor 🙂 Again, remember to connect and be able to handle embarrassment from mistakes. We are human, after all.

While I was minoring in Spanish, I would practice with my cat, Alexander. (Say what now?) Simple structures like Buenos Días or Cómo estás mijo helped my pronunciation. Even now, I give him Spanish commands to get out of the trash and or stop eating the plants. I adorn a positive tone by addressing his handsomeness and call him perezoso when he would rather watch me fetch his toys than play. You'd be surprised how much your fur family can gather by a tone and repetitive words.

When the repetitiveness starts to get a bit dull, get creative! Ditch traditional flashcards and decorate your house. Place colorful sticky notes on household objects and directions such as enter/exit or even north or south. Seeing it every day, especially with a character required language (Arabic/Mandarin, etc.), helps you identify them in the real world. Although I'm mastering Japanese, I could locate public restrooms and order meals while I was in Hong Kong because Kanji derives from Chinese symbols.

Think of Duolingo as a pocket video game where you lose hearts, gain points, and beat high scores. It's colorful, and the stories are out of a Netflix drama series. Did I mention that it's free? Premium option = no ads and no hearts to lose.

Additionally, Duolingo users have access to FREE virtual group chats for your chosen language, language podcasts, and are annual linguistic conference hosts! Word of caution: Use as a refresher! This app offers tips instead of lessons and may confuse a beginner because it doesn't always explain the structure. It's just there, yet you're able to click on hints. Nevertheless, it's a motivational memory tool.

For the heavy grammar user, try Babble but be prepared for payments at every upgrade. Rosetta Stone is like the Apple of language learning: eye-candy packages yet needs constant improvement in certain areas. (Stop hating, I use an iPhone 4s.) You're matching words with images one minute, then thrown into a full conversation to pass the level. Nevertheless, I do prefer Rosetta Stone's instant feedback on pronunciation.

We've all been guilty of copying and pasting sentences, and every professor and native speaker can spot a fraudulent sentence. Google Translation is more of a guideline to a dictionary. It breaks down words, their meanings, character symbols, and references. It's not a way to communicate to the Fabian look-a-like that he's sexy, even if your intentions are good. Use for words and simple short phrases like wax on, wax off.

There's plenty of virtual tutoring options available, but Italki seems to host the most diverse band of native speakers beyond common languages. I'm talking about Farsi, Navajo, Hawai'ian, Urdu, Arabic, Hindi, Swahili, and probably even Elvish. Browse through hundreds of native speakers, 24/7, based on your schedule. Book a class for a fee, and you'll be chatting in no time. There's plenty of pros/cons here, so do some research before you sign up.

If you're in an area where a significant number of people speak the language you wish to pursue, ask the community for help. See if there's a weekly group (or zoom class) and perhaps a one-on-one. Some tutors may even provide you with workbooks. Check your local colleges for free courses or tools to help you get started. Email college professors for any students willing to speak outside the class. Again mastering a language or any skill begins with YOU. Don't be afraid to ask or place an ad out. If you've found a tutor that works for you, awesome keep going, and when the boarders open up, you've got connections already!

My tutor from Tokyo spent two years preparing me for the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam. The preparation was grueling, but I didn't go in blind. Despite this, my tutor wasn't a good fit for ME. I needed constant review, and like many Japanese, she's ready for the next step. She would greet me in English most lessons, yet it's best when the entire course is submerged. (You'll be surprised how much you understand even in your first week!) It was challenging for both parties, so make sure your tutor motivates and understands your personality.

Don't be afraid of making mistakes, and be open to speaking from beyond the preferred county dialect. When speaking Spanish with someone from Spain, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Puerto Rico, you'll notice their unique fluidity and tones. It's a great way to learn about cultures and watch real fútbol. Don't let your classroom Spanish block you from understanding various native speakers. It's not about passing in the outside world; it's about connecting. The amount of knowledge and confidence gained far outweighs missing la or las on the written portion. 

Libzerzia "Acqua Alta", Venezia, Italia 2017

So I can speak it, but I can't read it! Coursework is equally engaging, but standing in a bookstore's language section can be intimidating. This process depends on your personality and preferred language. If you're learning a romantic language and a bit on the visual side, flip through a few textbooks and perhaps Dummies Guides to see if this structure strikes your fancy. Focus on a chapter a week.

For the audio learners, dive into the overly dramatic, often hilarious, telenovelas. Submerge in Korean dramas and dynamic anima, dance to colorful Bollywood beats, and be enamored by Arabic storytelling. Whatever your fancy, there's a media feast for you. Children typically excel twice as fast by this method, so start them young!

If you're learning a language that requires more than one alphabet structure and a kinesthetic learner, workbooks work best but make sure you're learning the correct strokes for symbols. Suppose you don't have local feedback on this, check out some YouTube videos on preferred language writing. Whichever learning style you prefer, start a weekly journal of your daily tasks as you learn new grammar and vocabulary. Try a preferred method for a month or so, learn from trial and error, and set your own goals.

Not every method will be a success but be open to developing new skills. I've tried all above and sponsored by non. As a lover of languages, I'm passing on fruitful knowledge to the public.

Want to learn Chinese? Start here

Arabic for overachievers! + learn from a local

Japanese recommended textbook + workbooks + grammar help. Japan Society located in Manhattan! 

Study Spanish + grammar help. 

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