It’s time for the new year, and if your resolution for 2024 is to learn a new language, you may be wondering: What’s the best way to go about this? Unfortunately, there’s no “best way” to learn a new language. There are any number of different ways to approach it, which can be both good (you can make a plan that works for you) and bad (it’s hard to know where to get started). If you want to start learning a language fast, though, there is plenty of advice we can offer.
We asked three of our Babbel teachers to answer some of the most common questions about learning a language fast. They didn’t agree on everything, but they offered a lot of helpful tips on starting your language-learning journey.
How To Learn A Language Fast
Is Grammar Important?
Yes, grammar is important, and language can’t work without it. What this question is really asking is, “Should I be focusing on grammar when learning a new language?” After all, when you’re learning your first language as a baby, your parents don’t have to teach you the explicit rules of the language. You just pick it up subconsciously.
Our Babbel teachers were a little bit split on this one. Noël said that the structure grammar gives you is important — and some learners might really want that structure — while Esteban and Malcolm said it’s helpful but not necessarily that urgent to focus on. Yes, you’ll need to learn grammar, but you don’t necessarily need to start by learning about subjects and predicates. Esteban compared language learning to playing a musical instrument: “What is more important in music, to learn the rules of music or playing every day and moving your fingers to learn these things? … At the end of the day, you just have to make the music baby.”
Should I Focus On Speaking Or Writing?
The answer to this question really depends on what you hope to achieve. If you want to travel and communicate with native speakers, then writing might be slightly less helpful. But if you’re learning, say, Latin because you want to read texts in their original language, then you can probably get away with skipping the speaking portion entirely.
That said, if you are really split between the two, our Babbel teachers all agree that they prefer to focus on speaking, at least when they’re starting out. Malcolm, who learned French orally, says he thinks it’s more difficult, but that it’s more important to get comfortable with speaking the language. Esteban and Noël added that it helps build muscle memory, and that learning is about getting out there and putting the language into practice.
Should I Watch Shows And Listen To Music In The Language I’m Learning?
This question might have been the most resounding agreement between the three teachers: absolutely yes. Being exposed to a language will always help you with your learning, even if it might be difficult to learn only through music and TV shows. Yet the real question is, what should you watch or listen to?
Esteban mentioned a story about a student who was watching Disney movies to learn Spanish, but then revealed that they didn’t like Disney movies at all. While it may still have helped somewhat, you’re likely to learn better from media that you are actively enjoying. Yes, it’s important to not overwhelm yourself with complex language — don’t start learning Spanish with Don Quixote, for example — but finding movies, podcasts and music you actually enjoy will help you keep your motivation up.
What Is The Most Important Skill To Develop When You’re Learning A New Language?
Just as there’s no one way to learn a language, there’s probably no “most important” skill, but our teachers still took a crack at answering. Malcolm said the biggest thing for him is not being afraid to put yourself out there. While you don’t necessarily need to be an extrovert to learn a language, you do need to have a positive mindset and a willingness to interact with others.
Esteban agreed with that, but said to him, the most important thing is figuring out how to deal with mistakes and frustration. The thing is, learning a language fast doesn’t mean it’s going to happen overnight. You’re still going to have to figure out rules, acquire vocabulary and everything else, and that process of learning never really stops (even in your native language!). Accepting that everything is not going to come easy will make it easier for you to power through the difficulties you’re bound to face.
Do I Need To Attend Classes To Learn A New Language?
You could say the Babbel teachers are a little biased on this question, but surprisingly none of them said that a teacher is absolutely necessary. Esteban said if you’re able to recreate a class experience in other ways — building a regular learning habit and interacting with others in the language — then classes are not an absolute must. Noël also added that classes are just fun, even if you’re a little nervous about attending one.
Malcolm did say, though, that teachers can be an invaluable resource: “Having a teacher can sometimes help you figure out, ‘OK, where am I at? What am I most comfortable with?’ They can give you some outside perspective from a teacher’s perspective that you might not have when you’re with other speakers.”
How Can I Make Language Learning More Fun?
One of the best ways to make learning more fun is by working it into your other hobbies. A new language isn’t like most other hobbies. You can’t learn to play guitar and go jogging at the same time, for example. Because language is everywhere around us all the time, there are endless opportunities for practicing no matter what else you’re doing. While jogging, you could listen to a podcast in another language. While playing guitar, you could pick songs that are in your target language. It might take some creativity depending on what you’re interested in, but connecting your practice with things you’re already motivated to do can make the whole process a lot more fun.
Esteban also mentioned that an important thing to keep in mind is switching up how you’re exposed to the language every once in a while. If you’ve solely been using an app to learn, try adding in games or music or something else. When the process of learning starts to feel boring or rote, it might not be the language itself but the way you’re going about learning it.
How Do I Start Learning A Language In 2024?
That very first step of learning a language is almost always the hardest. For Malcolm, the most important step early on is figuring out your motivation. It’s something you’ll want to return to when you need to remind yourself why you got started in the first place.
For Malcolm and Noël, though, the important first step is starting with the basics: talking about yourself, saying hello and so on. If you’re too fixated on a huge end goal — learning a language in its entirety, say — you’ll always feel too intimidated to get going. Keep in mind that “learning a language” doesn’t have to be about fluency all the time, it can also just be learning simple words and phrases that help you communicate with others.
No matter what your approach ends up being, there’s really no replacement to just getting started. Jump in the pool! Learn the language!