Each language has its own challenges, but none are naturally tougher than others
Prior to speaking with experts I had a lot of opinions about which languages are “easier” to learn than others. For instance, I believed that Arabic would be tougher for a native English speaker to pick up than, say, a Latin language. This isn’t necessarily the case.
“All languages have individual challenges,” says Dunne. “A different alphabet presents different challenges, as do some Asian languages that are more tonal in nature. But while we may be more familiar with languages that use the same alphabet, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easier for us to learn.”
Betty Antonio, senior coach manager at Rosetta Stone seconds Dunne, adding that when she lived in Japan, knowing no Japanese, she was prepped for a tremendous challenge but found it to be no tougher than learning any other language, noting “the different alphabet [intimidated me], but the grammar is very structured which helps a lot.”
Download all the apps, but more importantly, form habits to use them
There’s a plethora of language learning apps on the market. I’m using Duolingo (which is among the most popular, with over 10 million users) as well as Rosetta Stone’s first free hour of content (unlocking the rest requires a subscription starting at $6.99 a month). Since I’m not signing up for any live courses or tutoring, these apps will be my core curriculum.
“Having the language learning available on your phone is crucial and we recommend setting aside at least 10 to 15 minutes a day to practice,” says Dunne. “We’re finding more and more that people are learning in shorter bursts versus hour-long sessions, which is a reflection of our mobile lifestyle. Plus, it’s easier to find the time.”
Practice intensely that first month
While I have my apps at the ready, I’m having trouble being consistent in practicing. Dr. Shuster notes that it’s important to get past this, and use these apps regularly for at least a month as I begin.
“We know that it takes 30 to 45 days to form a new habit,” says Dr. Shuster. “It’s similar in terms of learning new languages as you’re creating these new neural pathways.”
Shuster adds that it’s important to practice while you have quiet time whether that’s during a commute or just before bed. He adds that listening to your foreign language while you fall asleep may work out for your schedule, but it won’t do anything for your learning process.
“Lots of people will tell you that if you listen to something while sleeping it will help you learn it, which isn’t true,” says Shuster. “The reason I recommend doing it at night is because you’re not so distracted by your day and you can focus more in a quiet and dark environment.”
Label things in your house in the language you’re learning
Antonio of Rosetta Stone recommends labeling objects in your house by their foreign names. This will help you get the hang of “using the language in real-life situations,” says Antonio.
That said, don’t dive into words before you’ve grasped the syntax and grammatical rules of the language, which as Dr. Shuster notes, is the toughest part. “After you learn those, then you’re just adding words,” he says, suggesting that collecting vocabulary is the simplest part of the process.
Sign up for meet-ups, online groups and any chances to immerse
Both Shuster and the experts at Rosetta Stone say that the optimal way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it, which can be difficult if you’re not in a place where it’s natively spoken. The next best thing is to join groups with others looking to practice.
“I think that Meetup groups are very helpful and there are a lot in most large cities,” says Antonio. “Joining others who are learning is a great way to immerse, as is reading books in Spanish, watching shows in Spanish and listening to music in Spanish.”
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