languages, learn a language

5 ways to improve your language learning ability

There are many benefits to learning a second language. These include not only advantages for your career, social life and fulfilment when travelling, but there is also mounting research on the benefits that learning a second language has for our mental health and well being.

However, learning a language is not an easy task and takes commitment, time and resources to become fluent. This week eSense Translations looks at 5 things you can do to improve your language learning. We offer some ways of studying that may be beneficial, as well as a couple of alternative strategies that you could adopt to achieve success.


Listening and more listening may not help.

When learning a second language, it is often recommended that you immerse yourself in foreign films, podcasts and news broadcasts. But you can listen and listen and still not really improve that much. Why? Because you’re passively listening. Unfortunately if you are listening, but not really putting in any effort, then it is unlikely that your skills will improve. The idea that you can fall asleep to a French audio and wake up a fully fluent Francophile is misguided.

Passive listening means that you can easily lose focus and have no real drive to comprehend what is being said. Change this by giving your listening a goal. The ideal way to do this is through a one to one conversation with a native speaker. In this situation you are forced to not only listen to what is being said, but also to comprehend it in order to create a satisfactory response. Unfortunately, we may not all have the opportunity to have this kind of practice, so how can we replicate it? Language apps and courses provide quizzes and activities that encourage active listening in order to solve a problem. Alternatively, you could try transcribing what you have heard. To do this successfully, you cannot just let the words pass you by. Whatever method you choose, always opt for active listening over passive if you want to see decent improvement.


Learn a song

Learn foreign songs to build up basic vocabulary. You are much more likely to learn effectively if you are enjoying what you are studying. Choose music from artists whose songs you enjoy and are created in your target language. Learn them (active listening- see above) don’t just listen to them. Write them down and research the words that are unfamiliar to you. A lot of basic vocabulary knowledge can be built up by studying foreign music.


Make friends from that country 

One of the best ways to improve your listening, speaking and even reading and writing skills is to converse regularly with a native speaker of that language. We’ve noted that this may be tricky to arrange, but the ease of connection that the internet and social media provides makes this opportunity so much easier today. Skype conversations, social media messaging and FaceTime are all great options for engagement with someone speaking the language you are learning. And if you struggle to find this kind of opportunity, check out some of the new language learning apps, which use input from real speakers to help you learn. eSense Translations reviewed some of the most popular language apps in a previous blog.


Musical Talent

Learn a musical instrument, in particular the piano. A new study from MIT has found that piano training can have a very specific effect on our language ability. Those who had musical training, allowing them to distinguish different pitches more easily, transferred this ability to discriminate more easily between different spoken words.


Have belief

Believe you can do it! If you don’t really believe that you will be successful in learning your second language, then it is unlikely that you will be. This concept of having belief in your own success is seen in many areas of life, but can be applied very effectively to learning a second language. If you don’t believe you can learn a foreign language, you will not have the drive, commitment and determination to complete the practice that is required. As eSense Translations stated at the start of the blog, learning a second language is not easy and will take hard work, so you need to believe in yourself or it will be unlikely that you’ll see it through.


If you are learning a second language, share your experience with eSense Translations. What tips do you have and what things have you struggled with?

Please leave your questions and comments below.


By Lorna Paice

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