Learning a Foreign Language: Top Tips for Students

In our globalized society, it's never a bad idea to learn a new language. These tips could help make your learning experience even better.

Learning a new language is like unveiling another culture, heritage, and history. It’s like meeting a new person—learning and understanding more about them before you can call them a friend and commit to a relationship.

Personally, as part of my IB Diploma, I began learning French as a second language and have been for more than a year now. Despite facing many difficulties of my own in understanding the language better, the experience has been quite interesting so far and I’ve learned a great deal. Due to my developing knowledge and inclination, I’m even applying to one of my dream schools in France! 

These days it doesn’t suffice to just be proficient at the subjects that you want to pursue in college—it’s almost essential to be bilingual or even trilingual. Learning a new language can give you a great range of transferrable skills that you can apply to other aspects of your life as well, be it academics, extracurricular activities, jobs, or travel.

Learning a new language can be a rewarding experience and can open the door to numerous career paths and options in fields like linguistics, editing, copywriting, journalism, teaching, sales, and many more.

Related: College Students: Knowing a Foreign Language Can Help Your Career

If you are learning a new language or hope to do so in the future, here are some tips that you could apply to make your experience better.

Picking a foriegn language

I personally feel that this a crucial step. Before you begin a new language, review all of the options available to you and the amount of time you would like to potentially spend. Picking a new language could be dependent on your aptitude, interest, and existing knowledge.

When I had to pick a new language to learn last year, the first things I thought about were my career prospects and opportunities. If you’re puzzled, I would also persuade you to try taking a look at the official languages of the United Nations; these are often the most widely spoken and recognized languages.

How do you learn best?

Sometimes it’s not easy grasping a new language. In my opinion, it’s a lot like trying to comprehend semaphore or ancient runes. The first few exams you take can be especially difficult because of the gaps you have in your understanding, appreciation, and comprehension of the language.

To get past that initial mental block you have toward your new language, understand the learning techniques that work best for you. You could even attempt to use flashcards or review guides online to get a better grasp on the verbs and useful vocabulary you need to know. Try using websites like BilinGO for diagnostic tests and sites like Bilingual Monkeys, Life as a Bilingual, etc. The more interactive and engaging your learning style, the better!

Finding the right study techniques

It’s essential to develop the best study strategies to perfect a new language. Remember not to neglect review and time dedicated toward getting better at the subject. Identify the gaps in your understanding of the language and ensure that you receive feedback about your progress so you know what you need to do to improve. Be it enriching your vocabulary, going through your grammar rules and conjugation techniques, or revising your pronunciation, there is always something you can brush up on.

Appreciating the culture

Without understanding the culture of a country, you can’t expect to really learn much about the language and develop an interest or aptitude for it, can you? Open your mind to new quirks and unique traditions associated with a country’s language and culture. There’s always a lot to learn from, even if you’re not able to make a connection immediately. I remember cringing away from my textbook when I learned the French ate snails and Cambodia, a Francophone country, was famous for fried crickets!

If it’s a part of your school curriculum, it’s always a good idea to learn more about culture and traditions, as chances are you may be asked to employ that information in your writing tasks or final exams. Not to mention, colleges often look at the amount you’ve engaged with a subject and learned from your experiences, like exchange visits, trips, or group projects. 

Embracing your new language

To understand French better, I actually began to optimize my life around the subject. This can be a great motivator to help you become better at a language quickly and creatively as well.

Even though I’m still a beginner, speak in broken French, and couldn’t hope to comprehend French rap, I listen to a lot of French music and watch TV shows and YouTube videos in French. From listening to Celtic music to reading political news on TV5 Monde and attempting to enjoy French food—I’ve tried it all! If you’re an enthusiast, you should try immersing yourself in the pop culture and history of your new language. 

Attempting to speak it

The only way to truly master a new language and reap the benefits from it in the future is to stay persistent and continue working on your speaking skills. Granted that you’ll make mistakes, stammer, stumble, and accidentally offend many people, but trying your best to form coherent words and sentences at the start of your study can make a big difference. Try speaking with teachers, peers, or classmates who know the language well. You can share your experiences and struggles with them! 

Related: My Journey Studying a Foreign Language: Japanese

Overall, learning a foreign language can be a great learning experience in high school or college; not only will you get out of your comfort zone, but you’ll open your mind and heart to new possibilities and encounters. If you don’t get the opportunity to take up a new language in high school, you’ll have four years of college to choose a suitable one and get started on an unforgettable cultural journey! 

Whether it’s taking a course in the language, studying it at school, or learning it using online sources, ensure that you stay motivated and committed, and capitalize on the right opportunities that await you.

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About Shivani Ekkanath

Shivani Ekkanath

As a person applying to college this year, I want to chronicle this crazy and unpredictable yet rewarding and fascinating journey so the experience feels less daunting for other students. I'm currently preparing to study Political Science for my undergraduate degree while trying my best to win a battle with the pressures of the IB diploma. I'm a lover of music, debating, reading about current affairs, dancing, baking (not too well), and writing. I'm also an an aspiring journalist and hope to attend Columbia University one day and work for the New York Times or Wall Street Journal.


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