Language Learning Tips for Students of Critical World Languages

Tips from life-long language students & teachers

By OWN Staff and Teachers

In the interconnected world of the 21st century, being bilingual or trilingual is no longer only an asset, but a necessity.

Since 1980, the United States Census Bureau has asked the following questions: “Does this person speak a language other than English at home? What is this language? How well does this person speak English?” The Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey found that about 20.8% percent of Americans speak a language other than English at home. This statistic is often used to represent the number of bilingual speakers in the United States.

What does this mean for Americans who only speak English? If monolingual Americans want to communicate with their neighbors or have a competitive edge in the workplace, they need to study and master a second language.

With 13 years of experience teaching critical world languages to high school students, and also as life-long language learners themselves, the team at OneWorld Now! has a few words of advice for language learners who are eager to master a second or third language.

Language Learning Tips for Students of Critical World Languages

Learn to be okay with mistakes

“One thing that really helped me learn Arabic was learning to be okay with mistakes. I used to be embarrassed when I mispronounced something or used the wrong verb tense, but I began to see these mistakes as learning moments. So don’t be shy! Speak up and learn from mistakes.” –  Kirsten, student of Arabic, French, and Spanish

“Remember that being good at something doesn’t mean being perfect. You will make mistakes and people might laugh at you…but that just means you’re doing it right, because you took a risk and practiced using the language.” – Sarah, teacher and student of Arabic and student of Chinese

Watch television

“What helped me reach a level of mastery in spoken Arabic was…watching lots of TV! I realized that when people talked directly to me as a non-native speaker, they were always simplifying their speech and making it easier for me to understand. Watching programs designed for native speakers helped me challenge myself to understand the way people actually talk to each other.” – Sarah

“Find good TV shows or musicians who sing in the language that you’re learning and follow them regularly! You can practice picking out words that you already know and learn some new things along the way.” – Alekz, student of Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish

Speak up

“When I was studying languages really intentionally, I found myself learning new vocabulary or grammar and challenging myself to make up the most random (but memorable) sentences and speak them out loud. It used to make my native-speaker friends laugh, but at least I remembered the new vocabulary and grammar!” – Alekz

Make it a habit

“The most important thing is to make it part of your daily life. Find some time for it every day. Then focus on the vocabulary that matters to you and slowly build on the words you know and connect them and recombine them in new ways. The more you practice using vocabulary in context, the faster it will sink in and become second-nature.” – Lokela, student of Arabic, Chinese, German, French, and Hawaiian

“Find regular opportunities to practice what you know (even if it’s responding to people who don’t know the language and then telling them what you said).” – Alekz

Talk with kids

“When I was living in Japan, I volunteered at a camp for elementary school children. A lot of the announcements and instructions were about schedules and activities for kids, so it was appropriate for my level of Japanese. I had so much fun, and it boosted my confidence when I realized that I could understand most of what the camp staff was saying!” – Natasha, student of Japanese and Hawaiian

Follow the news

“Find a news/pop culture Web site that you can visit on a regular basis. You’ll not only find opportunities to practice what you already know and pick up new vocabulary, but you are also likely to learn more about the culture and current issues in the region of the world that the language is spoken.” – Alekz

Listen to the radio

“What helped me the most in learning English was listening to the radio on a regular basis. Especially BBC News. In addition to that, I used to memorize songs and little poems that I liked.” – Rachid, teacher of Arabic and French and student of English, German, and Chinese

Immerse yourself

“Nothing beats living and immersing yourself in the language directly. Stepping outside my comfort zone and trying to speak the best I could was extremely important. So with the confidence that comes from immersion, I think learning can really accelerate.” – Jennifer, student of Romanian and Hungarian

Ultimately, language learning should be fun and students of foreign languages should take great pride in world language acquisition.

Are you a language student? What tips do you have for making language learning fun? Share in the comments below!  

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