How To Successfully Teach Yourself A New Language
Language is more than communication—
it’s the core of every culture.
When learning a dialect, one starts to understand the mindset of those who speak it. All language courses begin with the basics: one of the first Arabic words in Duolingo’s course for beginners is كريم (pronounced karim), which means generous. French and Spanish courses typically open with translations for the food and beverages found in cafés. The proper learning channels give bilingual (or trilingual, etc.) hopefuls the foundations of culture. From there, growth begins.
The future is global. Modern commerce expands beyond borders or barriers, and understanding less than two languages does a disservice to all. Comprehending multiple languages increases the potential for collaborations, financial gains, and interpersonal growth.
The ability to speak several languages also enhances the brain. According to Mandy Faretta-Stutenberg, Ph.D., bilingual brains grow larger than monolinguals. Bilinguals more ably shift between tasks, and bilingualism strengthens memory capabilities. Per research collected by Northern Illinois University, lifelong bilingualism can deter the effects of natural aging.
It sounds nice in theory, but learning a language may feel daunting. Don’t be discouraged—it pays off!
“I’ve always loved talking to people, and knowing multiple languages has helped me meet and connect with so many special people around the world,” says artist and radio host Marina Aguerre. Aguerre speaks three languages fluently and is currently learning a fourth. “Spanish I learned first; English on my own and in school; French in Polynesia just from picking [it] up but then studied [the] grammar in school; Italian I’m teaching myself fully now with Duolingo, music, and TV. Since I already know two other Romance languages, it’s not a hard transition.”
Learning through TV and music is not uncommon. NYC-based stylist Jungle Lin agrees. Lin hails from Taiwan, where he learned English in school. “Always just paper tests! So it’s different when you’re living in the USA. I made a lot of American friends and hung out with them,” he says. Since moving from Taiwan, Lin has acclimated to American culture, learned English, and used it to build a global career.
Both Aguerre and Lin learned their second tongues as children of the 20th century. Now in the 21st, knowledge is a tap away on any smartphone or keyboard. Follow our tips and use the tools below to dive into Chinese, master French, and converse with strangers in Spanish or Arabic. Speak, and watch the world grow larger by the phrase.
1. Find a partner.
Languages are for conversing. Learning with a partner will make a new language easier on a multitude of levels. Partners add accountability to the task at hand, and they’re essential for practicing pronunciation and comprehension. Find someone just as excited to take on a new vernacular as you are and speak in the alternative language every day. If you don’t use it, you may lose it.
2. Utilize software and apps.
To quote Duo of Duolingo, “15 minutes a day can teach you a language. What can 15 minutes of social media do?” There are a plethora of amazing apps for iPhone and Android that make learning languages fun and easy. Find your favorite and use it every day. We suggest the following: Duolingo for daily learning, Google Translate for on-the-fly vocabulary, WhatsApp for global chats, Spotify for musical immersion, and Rosetta Stone for the super-serious learner. Here’s a roundup of more of our favorite language-learning apps.
3. Entertain your brain.
Make learning language fun! No one wants to do something boring or dreadful. Turn on French flicks. Listen to Bossa Nova on your commute. Stretch your brain by reading German Elle or Vogue Italia (issues from the Sozzani era are available on eBay). Use Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify to learn while you lounge. Some of our favorite foreign film, tv, and music suggestions are below. We’re always looking to expand our libraries, so leave your picks in the comments!
Aya Nakamura (French)
Carla Bruni (French)
Vanessa Paradis (French)
Enrique Iglesias (Spanish)
Ricky Martin (Spanish)
Call My Agent! (French, Netflix)
Marseille (French, Netflix)
Baby (Italian, Netflix)
Casa de la Flores (Spanish, Netflix)
Elite (Spanish, Netflix)
Queen (Bollywood, Netflix)
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Chinese, iTunes)
Farewell My Concubine (Chinese)
Amélie (French, iTunes)
Belle de Jour (French, iTunes)
Coco Before Chanel (French, iTunes)
La Vie En Rose (French, iTunes)
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (French, iTunes)
Cinema Paradiso (Italian, iTunes)
La Dolce Vita (Italian)
The Great Beauty (Italian, iTunes)
Howl’s Moving Castle (Japanese)
Spirited Away (Japanese)
Carmen & Lola (Spanish)
Pan’s Labyrinth (Spanish, iTunes)
Roma (Spanish, Netflix)
The Orphanage (Spanish, iTunes)
Volver (Spanish, iTunes)
Actors & Actresses
James Francis Kelley is a writer and stylist based in Los Angeles. While he has many interests, he’s most passionate about creating an eco-conscience culture and preparing for a globalized future. If he’s not working, he can be found on Duolingo, biking to electronica music, or browsing Mr. Porter. Find his work on his website, and his musings on Instagram.