“I am definitely going to learn a new language this year.”
If learning a new language is one of your new year resolutions, then bienvenido, benvenuto, どうぞお願いします, bemvindo, willkommen, 歡迎光臨, bienvenue, welcome!
You are about to step into a world that you never knew existed. It is the same world that you see and hear around you, but learning a new language will reveal it to you in ways you could never have imagined.
Your new language skills will help you see this world in technicolor, instead of just black and white.
If you are looking to explore the world with a new set of eyes (and ears), spiced with a dash of adventure, curiosity, and connection, learning a new language is the perfect way to start.
So let’s jump right in.
What it means to “learn a language”
Almost everyone I know thinks it would be cool to learn a new language. They hear La Vie En Rose and want to learn French; they watch Narcos and want to learn Spanish, they go on a holiday to Rio and want to learn Portuguese.
But the biggest hurdle is not knowing where to start. Or starting and realizing how big the gap is between where you are and being able to sing La Vie En Rose.
That is why most people give up on learning a new language within the first few days. But I am not going to let your new year resolution fade away into nothingness.
So let’s give your dreams some wings, shall we?
Let’s start by talking about what it really means to “learn a language.”
- Unless you are studying a language at school or for professional purposes, you most probably won’t need to take any standardized test. Whew, that makes it easier!
- I don’t think you want to create an award-winning work of literature in the language you want to learn. So you can stop worrying about perfect grammar.
- And there really is no need for you to even read newspapers in the language you want to learn. That means not knowing every single word in the dictionary is okay.
Suddenly, learning a new language doesn’t seem so onerous, does it?
Perfection is your enemy when it comes to learning a new language. And it is the most common reason that could lead you down the path to giving up early.
Once you acknowledge that learning a new language doesn’t require you to be perfect, you can start enjoying the process of learning it.
Life-changing effects of learning a new language
I have been able to speak Spanish (and English, of course) since Junior High. It even led to a college degree. I thought I was pretty cool, being able to speak two languages, but all that changed when I took a trip to the Azores.
The Azores are a series of islands off the coast of Portugal, and I spent several weeks there with my best friend’s family. I lived with them, ate with them, went out on trips with them, and it was maddening!
I couldn’t understand a single word they spoke.
Every morning, I would wake up around 2 pm (because of the jet lag), walk into the main living area and announce “Bon Dia!!!” (good morning!!) Everyone would laugh at me and answer “Não, Boa Tarde!!” (no, good afternoon!!)
It used to drive me nuts.
The all-knowing, Spanish-speaking me had assumed I’d be able to understand Portuguese because, hey, it’s just like Spanish! Between the Azorean dialect and living with a large family (who spoke zero English or Spanish), I had to eat humble pie.
After I got back home, I immediately enrolled in a Portuguese 102 class at my local community college and spoke Portuguese every chance I got. I made friends with the teacher and hung out at her house, I went to Capoeira schools, I went to Samba parties. I spoke Portuguese to the other students, my friends, and even my friends’ pets.
They all thought I was crazy.
But six weeks later, I was conversationally fluent in Portuguese. And completely in love with languages, in general.
My love for languages has truly opened up a new world of experiences:
- I’ve gotten invited to a flamenco dance show in Spain, a Capoeira and Samba show in Brazil, a parade in Okinawa (Japan)
- I’ve received a free week at a coworking space in Lisbon
- I’ve been able to read the book, Frozen, to two of the cutest German kids ever
- I’ve shared the experience of gazing upon the beauty of Angkor Wat, one of the seven wonders of the world, with new Taiwanese friends, who ended up sitting next to me
- I’ve been able to help Chinese tourists in no less than 10 countries
- I’ve been thanked by several nervous friends for helping them with their US Embassy appointments, in multiple countries
- I’ve also provided a safe space and health services to destitute, monolingual Mexican and Mexican-American immigrants with minimal educational attainment
Not only does my love and knowledge of multiple languages enrich my experience of this world, it also helps me add more meaning to my life.
I love learning languages because it lets me enjoy the kaleidoscope of colors, culture, and connection this world has to offer.
If you want to learn a new language, I urge you to find your reason for doing so. It’s only by connecting with a deeper sense of ‘why’ that you’ll be able to enjoy learning the language. If you do that, the rest of the learning process will fall into place.
Setting a realistic language learning goal
If this is your first time learning a new language (or your first non-academic attempt), I’ve got good news for you. There are no tests waiting for you at the end, so you can learn as fast or as slow as you like. No need to worry about keeping up with anybody else. Remember, enjoy the learning process and you’ll be speaking the new language in just a few weeks.
Having said that, it still helps to set language learning goals for yourself and then tracking your progress. Trust me, it’s not as boring as it sounds, and will help you learn the language faster.
I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite, enjoyable, and quick ways to learn a new language — pick your favorite medium of learning (text, audio, video, or interactive media like Duolingo) and spend just 5-10 min on it every day. That’s it!
Don’t worry if you don’t get around to doing it daily. Just focus on doing as many days as you can and check it off on your calendar.
Trust me, in 6-8 weeks from now you’ll be much closer to speaking the language of your choice than you imagined.
To help you get started on the right foot, I’ve created a quiz just for you. It will help you identify your language learning style and receive language learning tips based on your style. Click on the image below to check out the Learning Style Quiz.