Once you have decided to learn a language, you may not be quite sure which
language to choose. To some extent, your choice depends on your reasons for
learning a language. For example, if you'd like to communicate with as many
people as possible, learning such languages as Mandarin Chinese, Spanish,
French, Russian or Arabic would enable you to do so.
What materials and tools do I need to study a language?
There's a wide range of materials and tools available to help you with
your language studies, including language courses, dictionaries,
grammar books, phrasebooks, online lessons, mp3 players and electronic
Finding time to study a language can be quite a challenge. You may think
that you don't really have enough of it, but it's surprising how many spare
moments you have during a typical day, and how they can add up to a useful
amount of study time.
After choosing a language, you can start thinking about how you're
going to study it. For popular languages like French and Spanish, there's
a wealth of materials available. For lesser-studied languages, the choice
can be more limited. If courses are available in your area, it might
help you to attend them, or you may prefer to study on your own, or to have
Learning the pronunciation of a language is a very important part of
your studies. It doesn't matter so much if you just want to read and/or
write the language, but if you want to speak a language well, as I'm sure
you do, pay particular attention to the pronunciation and review it regularly.
Building up your vocabulary in a foreign language can take many years.
Learning words in context from written and spoken material is probably
the most effective way to do this. You could also try learning words in
a more systematic way - perhaps a certain number of words every day.
Familiarity with the grammar of a language enables you to understand
it, and also to construct your own phrases and sentences. It's not essential
to know all the grammatical terminology or to understand why words change,
as long as you're able to apply to relevant changes when necessary.
If the language you're learning is written with a different alphabet or
other type of writing system, learning it is well worth the effort. Some
alphabets, such as Cyrillic and Greek, are relatively easy to learn as
they are similar to the Latin alphabet. Others, such as Devanagari and
Thai, are a more challenging.
Learning Chinese characters (hànzi / kanji / hanja)
If you're learning one of the languages that uses Chinese characters, such
as Chinese, Japanese or Korean*, you're faced with quite a challenge. However,
there are some techniques you can use to help you learn them.
*Note: in modern Korean such characters (hanja) are rarely used, but
they do appear much more in older Korean texts.
Frequently asked questions about learning languages
On this page you can find answers to some of the questions I get asked most frequently
about languages, such as "Are some languages more difficult to learn than others?"
and "Which is harder to learn, Chinese or Japanese?".
What kind of jobs and careers are available to students of languages?
This page provides some information about interpreting, translating,
teaching, and other language-related jobs, and also links to sites with
further information and vacancies.
I've been interested in language and languages for as long as I can
remember. I am currently fluent in five languages,
have a fairly good conversational ability in five others, and
a basic knowledge of ten more. I've experimented with a variety of
language learning techniques and courses, and continue to do so.