In my previous article, Extra Curricular Activities, I insisted that learning a foriegn language is one of the greatest usages of your free time. Now, I am going to persist on this indication and give you tips on how to learn a new language based on my own experiences of learning Hebrew from when I moved to Israel at the onset of my career years.
The why, again:
I recently downloaded Tiktok and was amazed by the global users I was reaching and engaging with. Just by logging in my account and scrolling through my #foryoupage, (Tiktok’s algorithmic data gathers videos they think you may like) I was learning to cook Moussaka from Greece, touring the streets of Italy and learning current events happening in rural Africa. The world is increasingly growing more connected by the day and the potential for reach and networking is subsequently expanding. That is why proficiency in other languages is a great, or even vital skill that allows you to engage with this connected world in a more meaningful way and prepare you to take part and succeed in the global economy.
Which languages to learn:
If you don’t have your heart set on any particular language, I did a quick survey over the internet to gather for you some of the best language options to learn in the year 2021. Arabic is the number one increasingly useful language to learn these days because of the Middle East’s growing economies. Especially in America and Europe, the demand for Arabic speaking employees is on the rise especially in government, engineering and international relation sectors. Arabic is spoken by 300 million people, constituting one of the world’s top 5 most spoken languages.
Manderin is quite an obvious choice to learn and a smart one. China’s market value is set to overtake the the US by 2029 and it’s actually the world’s most natively spoken languages (English only takes first place as most spoken language when counting non-native speakers). If you aren’t yet convinced, then take a lesson from Mark Zuckerberg, who wowed many during a 2014 interview by his fluent Manderin. If one of the most influential people of our times has put in the effort to take on this language skill, it is worth it.
Spanish is great because it is spoken across many different countries, not to mention it is the second most common language in the United States and by 2050 the US is estimated to be the largest Spanish speaking country. If that isn’t convincing enough to Spanish’s importance, Spanish-speaking countries are continuing to increase their ranks within the global economy and international trade.
Other great languages to learn are, Portuguese, Russian, French, German, Japanese and Hindi because of their countries’ placements in international business and their growing number of speakers.
It is your decision on which language to learn and there are many different reasons to prioritize which to learn first. I learned Hebrew because I moved from the United States to Israel and even though the majority of Israelis speak English (and many on a native level), it was important to step up and really engage in fully learning and understanding the Hebrew language, even though I knew well that without Hebrew, I could go on quite nicely.
So, here are some tips on learning a foreign language in a very natural way.
Tip 1: Immerse yourself
The most effective way I learned how to speak was by fully immersing myself in the Israeli culture and to speak the language any way I could. But I had the privilege of living in Israel, where I chose to live with Israeli roommates and was able to use my Hebrew in my everyday life. But, I started out learning through a language exchange with a local stranger I met through Facebook. I posted that I was looking to meet with someone once a week where I can exchange English for Hebrew and that is how I met my friend Gal who I owe a lot of my learning to. Even if you aren’t living abroad in your learning-language’s country, chances are that if you are in an urban city like New York, London or Berlin, you can easily find foreigners and expats from countries all over the world that would be excited to improve their English by exchanging theirs. And if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that connecting can’t be stopped by limited live interactions, you can always meet for language exchanges over video calls, and there are many online platforms catering to this. Once you find your language friend, stay committed to meeting at least once a week. If it is live you can meet at a bar and share a drink and if it is online you can virtually share one, but doing it this way takes the pressure of learning because of how casual and fun the experience can be. You can discuss interests, vent about your week or literally talk about anything you want which will make learning a language feel natural. Plus this is a great way to pick up on language nuances because you are engaging with real people who speak the language daily. For me that meant learning newer phrases and slang from Gal, which is something you rarely learn from a course.
Tip 2: Learn to Read and Write, Just like a Kid
Learning a whole new alphabet can be extremely daunting but we all learnt our ABCs at the mere age 4-5, so we can definitely learn a new one now. Take advice from your former years and learn a new foreign alphabet through repetition, mnemonic devices and songs. Especially for languages harboring many letters like Manderin, start small and learn a few letters each day. Every time you feel confident in your understanding of how a letter is written, sounds and reads move on to more. As you build on the alphabet, consistently start from the beginning as a review. Think of the days of kindergarten when this method was being employed by adding a new letter everyday from the familiar ABC song. Also, go on Youtube and learn the language’s alphabet song, it may sound silly but songs are always a great remembering device. Some languages have letters that are image-like, so get creative and make for yourself mnemonic devices to remember; just google mnemonic devices for learning your language and you will find thousands of resources to help you. The key here is slow, steady and consistency. Practice writing common words and even words you aren’t yet familiar with- just writing and continuously will help instill those letters into your knowledge. Hebrew’s alphabet has a similar flow to English and connecting each letter with its English counterpart helped me a lot and those that didn’t have an English ‘twin’, I was able to bulk together and focus on them differently. Anyway you
Tip 3: Exploit your Waiting Times
A theme I often express in my Lean Creativity articles is to make the most out of your downtimes. If you think about your daily schedule, you will notice you actually have a lot of extra free time. I don’t mean full hours, or long allotted times but I am referencing those moments in-between like your daily commutes, waiting for appointments, waiting for meetings, waiting for friends to show up for happy hour, and well just basically all those moments of waiting. Since we all use our phones anyway, while we wait, use your phone as an outlet to brush up on language vocabulary. This can be done simply by downloading a language learning app. like Mango, Memrise and Rosetta Stone. I used Duolingo. It was great because they offer quick learning sessions of about 5-10 minutes and its accessibility on my phone made it a great alternative to checking Instagram or Facebook. It became another regular app. I devoted my screentime to it and it made learning feel natural and easily helped vocabulary sink in. Apps are the best way to get in extra language practice but there are other ways as well.If you are driving, swap the radio for language learning podcasts. If you are a bit more old fashioned and carry a backpack or workback regularly, leave in a small book in a foriegn language or even a translation dictionary and use those moments to grab a look, even if it means learning one new word.
Tip 4: Connect the Unfamiliar with the Familiar
This tip is extremely helpful and fun. If you know something in pop-culture almost by rote, watch, read, or listen to the material in a foriegn language. A great example is watching Disney movies in that language because well, who doesn’t love Disney movies. I watched Mulan as a child almost weekly and I can still recite the movie to you from beginning to end. That’s why I decided to watch Mulan in Hebrew with Hebrew subtitles (I found a link online with exactly what I needed, but more common languages are already integrated into Netflix, AmazonPrime and more), and I watched Mulan. I took something that was unfamiliar to me, Hebrew and connected it to something so familiar, because I understood every word I heard it was able to help me connect the new words I was hearing/reading to ones I knew. I had a friend who read Harry Potter in French because he knew the Harry Potter Books in and out and from beginning to end (I have read the books only once but everyone knows a handful of people who’ve read them scaringly multiple times). This is definitely an easy and fun way to learn because it can hone in on nostalgia and is also a natural way to integrate new language into something you love and know.
Tip 5: Confidence is Key
Throughout your learning journey remain confident in your abilities, because confidence is really key to mastering a language. Making mistakes will happen but if you let your mistakes make you feel less confident you will bring yourself down and it will be hard to continue. I saw this a lot through my own experience. With my American accent, many Hebrew words I was learning to say sounded funny to Israelis and often got comments or laughter on my mispronunciations. But, I didn’t let any comments wane my self confidence in continuing to speak; I knew I would even continue to make mistakes but every mistake I made, encouraged me to improve faster. I remained confident and the locals appreciated that. In a country like Israel, where many speak English as well, if locals see your confidence staggering they immediately switch to assist in English- for me, I remained bold and continued to speak even with some mistakes, and in return they saw my ambition to continue the conversation in Hebrew and they always replied appropriately. I even join in on the reciprocating laughter after understanding a mistake I have made, because well it is funny to me as well how my brain got to the conclusion that an incorrect word would be correct. The best and last tip I will give is to not take yourself so seriously when learning a language, because it is a skill that no matter what level you are on, it will be appreciated immensely by those that speak it because you are taking your time to effort to connect in a more meaningful way.