What to consider when learning a new language?

Learning a new language might have different triggers. A new partner who doesn’t understand your native tongue or better job opportunities might be some of the reasons. Maybe you’ve only decided to leave the country you were born in, in order to start a completely new life on an island with sandy beaches and palm trees. 360 days of sunshine, drinking cocktails, watching dolphines jumping around … Okay I am digressing! Back on track!

You see that there are plenty of reasons that could lead to learn a new language. But, in the end all might come along with the same consequence – start to learn a new language.

But what do you have to consider in order to be successfull in the end?

Let me start by clarifying one thing: I will not be able to give you the Holy Grail that you only need to get in hands and suddenly you’ll know what to do. But, I would like to show you ‘my thoughts ‘ before I start learning a new language.

It’s all about motivation!

Motivation is the most important factor, when learning a language. In fact, it is the most important driver for everything we want to achieve in life! Asking yourself ‘why do I want to learn a new language?‘ should always come along with a good answer. But what is a good answer? Well, the right answer is always very individual and cannot be generalized. As I have mentioned in the beginning of this blog, there are several reason why one starts to learn a new language. Therefore, also the answers are individual. The important part is that you define for yourself an answer that always keeps you learning and doing the next steps in order to achieve your goal. It is like building a new house. You need to do several things in advance before you can finally move in. You need walls, a roof, windows and doors. And every part of the house that you finish is bringing you closer to finally live in the house. Since there are different sizes of houses also the construction time varies from house to house. Let me show you what I mean in two very easy examples: 

‘I want to move to Italy and face no language barriers in my everyday life!’ – and
‘I want to be able to order food during my trip to Venice in summer.’

Latter sentence is a good example for lower language goals. It shows that you don’t have to spend a lot of time learning Italian, because you can realize your own goal very fast by dedicating little time to the acquisition of the most common vocabulary and expressions in order to talk to the waiters. And this is completely fine.

The first sentence, on the other hand, shows that you not only want to learn Italian. You rather feel the need of mastering the language and understand all its characteristics which also include hand gestures et cetera. It is evident that this personal language goal is way harder to achieve than the previous one and therefore, of course, requires more time.

Simple sentences like these are crucial for the success of your own goals, because they already show the level of work you want to dedicate to the new language. They are also the driver that makes you keep learning even though you are not in mood. That is why they should be as precise as possible in order to give you the right amount of motivation. Besides the personal reason why you started a new language I would also add a certain time frame i.e. setting yourself partial objectives in order to boost sour success. This will help you to focus on the partial goals in order to achieve your final goal in the end.

After having looked at the theory I’d like to show you a personal experience I made. Furthermore, I want to show you two concepts of motivation.

Let’s go back to highschool. You also probably had subjects that simply were not made for you. In my case it was Math. Even though, I was quite good in all other subjects, Math was my personal enemy. And don’t get me wrong. I am not talking about the useful basic stuff – I mean all the algebra complicated material. However I tried to understand it, I never had the final wow feeling. Why was that?

Of course, we could shorten this part by saying that I am a lazy stupid guy. But I would like to show another argumentation at least.

I never enjoyed Math. There was this teacher who forced me to understand all this stuff, which was like an alien language to me. But, I needed a good grade in order to graduate. However, I realized very fast that I was not ambitious enough to do some extra work in order to get good grades – so in the end my grades were ok.

Some years later – during my university studies I’ve attended a class where motivation was the main subject. It was about motivating your employees but it’s also applicable to everything you want to achieve in life. In sum you can say that there are two types of motivation:

  • extrinsic motivation
  • intrinsic motivation

If you are familiar with this topic you know which one most often is the long-term driver. In case these are new terms for you, let me help you to understand the differences. 

Basically, Extrinsic motivation describes a behaviour that is driven by external rewards like e.g. money or fame. In your job your boss could influence your behaviour by promising you more money when you produce more units of a certain product. Although, you haven’t spent a thought of doing so you suddenly were given a reason to increase your productivity.

On the other hand we see Intrinsic motivation. I guess you can imagine where this is going. This type of motivation describes a behaviour that is personally rewarding and thus doesn’t need any external reward. Broadly speaking, this means that you do something, because you really want to do it. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that this form of motivation is probably the one that will help you keep doing something in the long run.

That’s the theory. Now, let me show you my personal experience with both forms and how they’ve even changed with time.

I went to a public university in Northern Germany. The studies were called ‘International Management’ and came along with a third language besides German and English. You could chose Danish or Spanish. I decided for latter one. Though my main aim was not to study a new language, it was a requirement by the university. So, I had to study Spanish in order to start my main classes – extrinsic motivation, right?

“…the initial extrinsic motivation turned into an internal one.”

Two months of learning Spanish six hours a day later, I passed my Spanish exam that finally allowed me to begin with my main studies. But, in the meantime something changed.

Suddenly, I realized that the language I was trying to learn for the last two months did something more to me. It opened a completely new world! I wanted to become better, acquire new vocabulary, learn expressions and so on. Not because someone told me to do so. It was a decision I took myself! In short, I set the goal to speak Spanish like a native. So, the initial extrinsic motivation turned into an internal one.

A good thing about intrinsic motivation is that you have a positive mindset towards the aim you want to achieve. Learning something isn’t a neccessity any more, but a pleasure – something you enjoy to do. That’s exactly what will keep you on track in the long run. So, Spanish became part of my everyday life and is there since. I found Spanish-speaking friends, listen to Spanish music, read articles in the language and so on.

Long story short, motivation is the key factor when learning a new language. External factors might be the trigger to learn a new language, but the success will result from intrinsic motivation and from your will to achieve a certain goal without being ‘rewarded’.

Therefore, define an achievable goal and remind yourself every single day why you wanted to learn the new language in the first place. Shortly, you can read about the techniques I use to stay motivated.

How about you? Did you ever start a new language not having the ‘right’ reason? Let me know about you experiences in the comment section below.

Cheers,
Daniel

How to maintain several languages when you work in a 9 to 5 job?

Language enthusiasts or ‘polyglots’ love to learn new languages. There are even ‘hyperpolyglots’ like e.g. Richard Simcott, who speak more than 20 languages. But, like in nearly every situation in life there are two sides of the medal. In the case of languages we see the learning process on the one hand and maintaining a certain language level on the other one.

Maintaining several languages can be really challenging, especially when you work in an environment that does not give you any space for language learning and maintaining. Being in an office e.g. for eight to nine hours every day makes it sometimes hard to dedicate at least 10 minutes to any language.

I speak 5 languages (learning my sixth) and work in an office. Therefore, I always had the fear that some day all my language skills will be really poor, because I do not have the time or even the motivation to focus on languages for at least some minutes a day. That is why I have created a language routine in my everyday life that allows me to tackle several languages that I speak and learn. In the following you will find my six language routines that I try to implement in my everyday life, especially in order to be effective during ‘dead time’ i.e. time where I do not have any other things to do like commuting. 

1. Podcasts

Today I just read that 18 million Germans need to commute more than 30 minutes in order to arrive at their working place – and of course the same amount of time, if not even longer, to get back home. I am one of them, even though the distance between the apartment I live in and my work is only 7 km. But, well you are probably aware of the phenomenon of big cities and traffic jams … Let’s get back on track.

While sitting in my car and try to get through the traffic jam somehow I used to listen to the radio, although I am a big fan of Spotify and Co. I simply dislike creating own playlists, because you always know which song might come up next and I love the surprise. Well. One day I read an article about podcasts and suddenly the idea popped up in mind. Why not listening to podcasts in foreign languages while going to work? No sooner said then done. The next day I still was in my car going to work, but this time listening to a podcast in Italian, which I just started to learn. My idea was to get used to the Italian sounds and language patterns even though my vocabulary was very little. The podcast itself was about learning Italian the natural way like children do i.e. listening and then at a certain point start to use the words and sounds that you learnt before. How do I know what it was about? Well, I already spoke French and Spanish and realized very quickly that understanding Italian apparently is not the tough part rather than speaking the language. This knowledge gave me another idea. I started to download Italian podcasts about topics of my interest so that I could listen to the language on the one hand but also learn something new about the subject.

2. Music

Once arrived at the office I turn the computer on, get a cup of fresh brewed coffee and open my ‘TuneIn radio’ app. This app allows you to listen to a lot of radio stations all over the world. They have this nice feature where you can chose a radio station based on a certain language. Since I want to focus on Italian in 2019 I browsed a bit and found very quickly two or three stations that I liked. Besides the fact that music makes me happy and keeps my in a good mood I do listen passively to my target language Italian even though I have plenty of other stuff to do.

3. Music

Being informed is not only good for your general knowledge. It also helps your language skills when you read the news in a different language. That is why I use some five minute breaks for the current headlines like e.g. www.rainews.it for news in Italian, www.rtve.es for Spanish, www.bfmtv.com for French and sometimes also www.cnn.com for any English news. This method of course requires a certain language level since one has to deal with subject related vocabulary like e.g. special economic or political terms. If you do not aim to understand the news this ‘tool’ is also a good way to acquire new vocabulary. You can look up every word you don’t know in order to learn it. This is also something I do, which brings me to point no. 4.

4. Vocabulary apps

Instead of writing down the unknown words on a sheet of paper I prefer to use a language app like ‘AnkiApp’. The application is very simple. You can create virtual card decks where you add all the vocabulary you like to learn. One simply writes down the word or sentence of the target language on the front side and then add the translation on the corresponding back side. Like a real index card. Once you have done that you can profit of the actual benefit of the app. You start to study the words in the way that suits you best e.g. ask the app to show you the word in your target language so that you can tell what it means in your mother tongue. Or the other way around. After every card the app asks you how easy it was to guess the word. According to your answer after every word the algorythm of the app lets you repeat the hard ones more often.

The interesting part about the apps lies in the card deck which of course gets bigger with time. Another positive aspect about such app is that you can use it everywhere so even outside in the park while taking a sunbath. Remember, even 10 minutes a day is sufficient to increase your knowledge of a language or to maintain your level.

5. Conversations with colleagues

Not everybody will be able to implement this point into their language routine because it requires people around you who speak different languages. Fortunately, I work in a wine company that is specialized on the import of Italian and South African wines. The nice side effect is that there are also some Italians around who are always up for a nice chat in their mother tongue. That’s exactly what I ‘force’ them to do by simply starting to talk in Italian. Even though my level of Italian is faaaaaaar away of being fluent every conversation helps me to learn something new. And it doesn’t really matter if everything is said the right way as long as the other person understands what you try to communicate. Afterwards, you can always ask if you said it correctly or not and they surely will give you right ways of how to say it. This is probably the best way to test your language level because you get a direct feedback. I love it!

6. Movies

After a long day at work you sometimes do not have any motivation for some productive actions. Therefore, me and my girlfriend like to watch movies. In times of ‘Netflix’, ‘Amazon Prime’ and other providers of movies and series there is a lot of good films online. To take a decision is the tougher part! Regarding language learning and maintaining movies and series are also another good tool I use. Take for example the popular series of ‘casa de papel’ which is originally spoken in Spanish. Why then not watch it in the original language? It does not only help you learn new words but also allows you to understand e.g. the humor in your target language. Once again this step of course requires a certain language level, because otherwise you will not have any fun watching the movie or series.

I hope that my tips gave you sort of an idea what is possible even with limited amount of time. Do you have a ‘language routine’ yourself? If so, I’d love to read in the comment section below what you do in order to learn and maintain languages.

Cheers,
Daniel