8 tips for language learning, that you should know before you start your classes

How to best prepare for your first language classes.

You are hopefully very excited to learn a new language. Out of many years of experience in providing English and German classes I want to share some proven tips with you. They will help to improve your language learning from the first moment on, and will make your first classes more effective. Here are the 8 tips that you should know before you start learning a language:


1. Buy a paper notebook

I know we live in the digital age, where we do nearly everything on our electronic devices, including writing down notes, however for language learning it is more efficient to write down new words, explanations, and grammar rules on a paper. The reason is that your brain is more active when you write! When you are doing your homework, you can also write down questions that you can ask your teacher in the next class.


2. Buy a physical copy of your language learning book

For language learning using a physical copy of the language book has multiple advantages over a digital version. I am also a software developer, so typically I prefer digital versions. But even for me, for teaching I prefer to use the physical book. The first reason is our brain, in a physical book our brain remembers position and location of information. For example in a PDF version you are losing this information, and thus makes it less effective for learning. Secondly, in a book you can easily write notes, note the translations for words, or some more detailed explanations your teacher is providing for you.


3. Use language learning Apps

When you start with a language vocabulary is crucial, especially when you start from zero and don’t know anything about the new language you want to learn. In this case the digital way of learning out-ways the paper way of learning vocabulary. Because you have your phone with you all the time. So on the bus, when you are waiting in a place, or if you are bored, you can just jump to the App and learn some new words. Another benefit of learning digitally, is that the App normally tracks your improvement and will repeat words, that you couldn’t remember yet.
At the beginning of learning a language it is quite difficult to remember the words and the pronunciation. That is not because you are not smart, but because this is how our brains work. As more neural connections a word in your brain has, the more easily you’ll remember it. With a new language these connections are pretty much zero, that is why it takes a while, and the first classes are generally the more difficult ones. You need to push through this stage and the digital assistants will help you with this.
Here are some Apps you could use for English and German, some Apps also support more languages. These Apps are important for beginner levels, when you have progressed in the language you might not need them anymore. So choose one, that you like to use. Here are some options:


4. Use a good and reliable online dictionary

There are many online dictionaries out there, while most people use Google translate by default, but I am not recommending it! Specifically the mobile version, as it only gives you one translation option for each word. After all most words have more than one translation. Better use a proper and reliable online dictionary. Ask your teacher which one he is using and recommending. Addiontionaly be careful with ‘reverse translation’ websites, some of them are really bad. A view of my German students, came up with words from these sites, that don’t even exist in the German language! The following are online dictionaries that I personally use, some of them also have an App for downloading:

  German / English: dict.leo.org or http://dict.cc
German / Portuguese: dict.leo.org
English / Portuguese: www.wordreference.com


5. The language learning curve

It is important for you to understand the language learning curve. A language is a complex construct, that needs dedication and time to learn it. In the beginning it is not so easy, because you’ll get a lot of new information. Your brain needs some time to adjust to that. Than after a while when you’ll come to the point, when you e.g. can understand a word, just because of the context. Now you are in the flow level. How close the language that you want to speak is to your native language, or the other languages you speak is important. For example if you speak Spanish and you want to learn Portuguese, this will be more easy as the two languages are very similar. Or if you want to learn German, and you are speaking dutch. Of course if a language is more far a way of the languages you speak, than they have less in common and need more effort to learn. Having said that, I believe that everyone can learn any language, it just depends on our motivation and dedication
Check out the video/article about the 5 stages of language learning:


6. Expectations for the first classes

Relax! You need to know that everyone can learn a new language, so can you! The first classes are for you to get used to the language. So just go there relax, even if you don’t understand much. There is no expectation that you’ll be able to replicate everything that was said! Neither that you can pronounce everything correctly, it takes time and dedication to achieve that. So just tackle the language step by step, word by word, grammar rule by grammar rule.


7. Practice, practice, practice

Your level of success, the speed in which you can learn a new language, is proportional to the amount of time you spend with the language! As an example I had a student, who practically could never do his homework, this student was progressing very very slowly. I also have other students, who do a lot of homework, studying a lot, they progress much faster in very short time. You could have the best teacher in the world, but without you doing your part you won’t have the progress, that you could have. That is why my advice for beginners is to dedicate 30 minutes to 60 minutes every day to the new language, including making your homework, using a language learning App (See point 3), watching YouTube videos about and in the language, etc.


8. Speak the language as much as possible

Out of my own experience, when I learned Portuguese from scratch while living in Brazil, is to speak the language as much as possible. Only at the point when I really started speaking Portuguese (I should say trying to speak, haha), pronouncing many words wrongly, and making a lot of mistakes. This is the main reason why my Portuguese is fluent. I know for some languages, depending where you are learning them, to find people who speak that language, or even to find native speakers might be difficult. However nowadays we can use all the advantages of the Internet and technology, there for sure you’ll find people who speak the language you want to learn :-).
One way of doing this is to find a Tandem-partner, what does it mean? Find another person that speaks the language you are learning, and that wants to learn your native language. It is like a language exchange. So you speak half of the time your native language, and the other half the native language of your partner.
Some people are afraid to speak the new language, because they don’t get everything 100% correct. Actually it is the opposite: Ff you don’t speak, you won’t get to the level where you speak nearly perfect. With these tips you don’t excuses anymore not to practice the language.