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How to Learn a New Language Over the Summer Break

By Alexander, IvyWise Master Tutor

Learning doesn’t have to stop just because class is no longer in session. In fact, summer break is the perfect opportunity to learn a new language. Investing time in your daily life to learn a language is not only great for personal growth and cultural appreciation, but it also demonstrates to college admissions committees that you’re motivated to learn outside of the classroom. Keep reading for some language learning strategies and tips.   

Why Should You Learn a New Language?

Participating in a variety of summer activities that interest and challenge you is great for your personal and intellectual growth — not to mention, it makes you a more competitive college applicant. Learning a new language is a great activity to pursue because it opens doors to new cultures and enhances memory retention. Additionally, attaining proficiency or fluency in more than one language is a valuable asset in both the academic and professional world.   

How Long Does It Take to Learn a New Language Fluently?

The time it takes to become fluent in a new language varies greatly depending on several factors, including the complexity of the language, your native language, your motivation, the amount of time you dedicate to learning, and the quality of instruction. Generally, estimates range from several hundred to over a thousand hours of study and practice to achieve fluency in a new language. This could mean anywhere from a few months to several years of consistent effort.

It’s worth noting that fluency itself can be subjective, as it may encompass different levels of proficiency in speaking, listening, reading, and writing. With dedication and effective language learning strategies, you can make significant progress in a relatively short amount of time.

What Is the Easiest Language to Learn?

Determining the “easiest” language to learn depends on various factors, including your native language, your familiarity with other languages, and personal preferences. However, some languages are often considered relatively easier for English speakers to pick up due to similarities in vocabulary, grammar, or sentence structure.

For English speakers, languages such as Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch are commonly cited as easier to learn compared to languages with vastly different linguistic structures, such as Mandarin Chinese or Arabic. Ultimately, the perceived ease of learning a language can vary from person to person, so it’s essential to choose a language that interests you and aligns with your learning goals and preferences.

What Are Some Effective Memory Techniques?

Employing a memory technique or two is vital to language learning. Try one or more of these effective methods:

  • Repetition and review: Regularly reviewing vocabulary and grammar rules reinforces memory retention.
  • Mnemonic devices: Creating mnemonic devices, such as acronyms or vivid imagery, to associate with new words or concepts can help recall them more easily.
  • Association: Linking new vocabulary with familiar words or concepts in your native language can facilitate memorization.
  • Visualization: Visualizing scenarios or situations where you might use the language helps make connections and solidify memory.
  • Contextual learning: Learning words and phrases within the context of sentences or dialogues rather than isolated words aids in comprehension and retention.
  • Practice and immersion: Actively using the language through speaking, writing, listening, and reading in real-life or simulated situations enhances memory recall.
  • Chunking: Breaking down complex information into smaller, more manageable chunks makes it easier to remember and understand.
  • Mind mapping: Creating visual representations of language concepts, such as word webs or concept maps, helps organize information and aids in memory recall.
  • Teaching others: Teaching what you’ve learned to someone else reinforces your understanding and retention of the material.

By incorporating these memory techniques into your language learning routine, you can enhance your ability to memorize and retain new vocabulary, grammar rules, and language concepts effectively.

7 Tips on How to Learn a Foreign Language

The language learning process isn’t always easy, but following these tips can help you effectively acquire new language skills and progress towards fluency.

1. Know Your Motivation for Learning a New Language

Understanding your motivation for learning a new language is crucial for maintaining momentum and overcoming challenges. Whether it’s for travel, connecting with family and friends, or personal interest, clarifying your reasons helps you stay committed and focused on your language learning goals.

2. Set Learning Goals to Learn a Foreign Language

It’s essential to be specific and realistic about what language level you want to achieve, whether you want to master basic conversational skills, pass a proficiency exam, or become fluent. Break down your larger goals into smaller, manageable tasks, such as learning a set number of new vocabulary words each week or practicing speaking for a certain amount of time daily.

3. Choose the Right Resources

Numerous resources are available to help you learn a new language. To stay motivated and learn more effectively, choose the resources that align with your learning style, whether that involves online courses, textbooks, language apps, worksheets, tutoring, or a combination of these.

4. Focus on Intensity of Study More Than Length

Intensive language study focuses on concentrated, focused learning sessions, often yielding quicker progress and deeper comprehension compared to longer, less concentrated study periods. By focusing on intensity instead of length, you maximize the effectiveness of each study session, acquire language skills faster, and enhance memory consolidation.

5. Dive into a Conversation

It’s important to practice speaking from day one, even if you make mistakes. Join language exchange communities so you can have basic conversations with different people that reflect real life. Conversing with fluent or native speakers accelerates learning and builds confidence, plus it reinforces active listening skills. Don’t hesitate to ask for feedback to help you improve — your conversation partners want to help you learn! You can also participate in active learning with others who are new to the language.

6. Read and Write

Reading widely in your target language enhances vocabulary and comprehension skills. Start with simple texts and gradually progress to more complex materials. Focus extra attention on your writing practice, too. Whether you prefer journaling or writing short stories or poems, you’re improving your proficiency in foreign language writing and reinforcing grammar rules.   

7. Be Patient and Persistent

Like learning any new skill, it takes time and effort to acquire a new language. You can overcome any challenge to language learning by embracing the process, remaining persistent, and trying not to get discouraged by setbacks. Regularly review and adjust your goals based on your progress and evolving needs to stay motivated and focused on your language learning journey.

Maintaining What You Learn

Crucial to maintaining a language is passive exposure, which helps you use the language in a way you don’t have to think too hard about — let alone translate into your first language. There are many minor lifestyle tweaks you can make to increase your passive exposure.

Change the Language on Your Phone

One example of a tweak you can make in order to have more passive exposure to language is changing the language on your phone or on specific apps or platforms you use a lot. You’re probably so used to the user interface on your phone or computer that, most of the time when you’re navigating Instagram in Spanish or French, you won’t even be thinking about the fact that you’re doing it in another language. This minor change helps you tap into a more naturalistic exposure to, and understanding of, a language than anything that would send you to a dictionary.

Play Video Games in a Foreign Language

Apps aren’t the only menus this trick applies to. A video game, especially a familiar video game, is an even more immersive experience in your target language. Games are usually offered in several languages, and often games developed by high-budget studios are fully voice acted in 5-7 languages. Even if you aren’t at the level to understand the full text of a game, you can still get some language exposure by keeping the text in English and the spoken language in your target language. You might end up learning some words that are most useful in fantasy or sci-fi settings, but once you really learn a word or phrase, you’ll be surprised by how much it shows up.

Watch Your Favorite Shows with Foreign Language Subtitles

Pretty much every Netflix original series is heavily regionalized, with subs and dubs in numerous languages. If you like something enough to watch it multiple times, try watching the dub with English subtitles first, then with subtitles in your target language, then just watch the dub with no subtitles.

Reinforce Vocabulary Through Context and Storytelling

Following a story is particularly helpful when learning and reinforcing vocabulary, since the words then exist in a broader context. Adding structure and context is essential to memory. If you can’t find yourself recalling a specific word, ask yourself “where was it in that movie/game/book when that word or phrase showed up?” Comic books are especially useful for following a narrative since you have a lot of context to go on with the pictures, and they’re usually translated into a conversational, sometimes regional, style. Who says comic books are a waste of time?

This is why memorizing songs is so much better than spending the same amount of time sitting down with some flashcards — not that flashcards aren’t useful in their own way. Songs have built-in mnemonics of rhyme and meter, and themes and stories you can follow as you recall the song. They allow you to learn the language from native speakers and get a better sense of how certain turns of phrase are used, and how certain lexical sets (words and phrases) go together. Songs are so conducive to memorization that, as the works of Homer attest, they can preserve centuries-old vocabulary and grammar without even needing to be written down.

Listen to Podcasts

That’s the caveat associated with things like dubs, audiobooks, and other instances of a language intended for a mass-market audience: They will be in a very standardized mode of speech. So, a good way to get exposure to conversational and regional language would be to listen to podcasts. A word of warning, though: Regional dialects and casual speech will sound extremely fast and indistinct if you’re not used to them. To get used to it, passive listening is an essential tool. Don’t put extra attention into trying to understand it, and eventually, your brain will learn to pick apart the words anyway.

If you aren’t at a level to tackle dialects yet, I recommend audiobooks in young adult literature. The language won’t be too complicated or erudite, and the narrator often goes at a reasonable speed. If it still feels too fast for you, you can always adjust the speed in whatever app you use. There are ways to get around any challenge to language learning!

Hopefully, these language learning strategies can go a long way toward mastering a new language. It may take more than just one summer to achieve fluency, but with patience, persistence, and consistent practice, you will continue to grow your skills.

At IvyWise, our tutors work with students throughout the school year and during summer break to help students achieve their academic and personal goals — including mastering their foreign language skills. If you’re looking to improve your understanding of a foreign language as part of your summer college prep, schedule an Initial Consultation to learn how we can help.  

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