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Here’s the thing: I took a couple of semesters of Spanish during my freshman year in college, but when I took a trip to Mexico that summer, I said almost nothing beyond “Hola” and “Buenos Dias”. I passed all the tests, I did most of my homework, yet it was as if my effort was all in vain. It was embarrassing.

To redeem myself, I thought that I’d plan a post-graduation trip to South America and communicate better in Spanish. I tried a bunch of free and paid programs out there (including Pimsleur’s audio CD’s and Rosetta Stone), but Rocket Spanish was the one that worked best for how I wanted to learn.
You can actually download all Rocket Spanish audio lessons
Here are some things I liked and didn’t like much about the program:

Pros

1) Solid Pronunciation Practice.

One of my main barriers for speaking Spanish was my pronunciation. I’d always hesitate before I spoke because I was always afraid of saying things wrong. I tried some software that taught Spanish pronunciation, but it seemed like it accepted almost everything I said, even if I felt I was pronouncing things wrong. So at first, I was skeptical of Rocket Record – the pronunciation feature for Rocket Spanish. But that thing is pretty accurate!
Plus, the native speakers that you have to copy are pronouncing things in a realistic, lively way – unlike the almost-robotic speech I was used to in other language learning programs.

2) Ten Weeks to (Almost) Fluency

It’s typically an 8-week program, but it took only 10 weeks for me personally to feel confident that I could carry a short, basic conversation. Some people say that 8 weeks is too long, but that’s nothing compared to two semesters. Plus, the course is paced in a way that it’s simple enough to do. It doesn’t feel like they’re cramming too much vocabulary and information in your brain, it’s just that they focused on the essentials to get you speaking fluently ASAP.

3) You’re Forced to Remember It For Life.

I think the main reason why I froze or forgot my Spanish during my first trip to Mexico was that apart from the exams, I really wasn’t forced to practice or remember vocabulary or phrases. With Rocket Spanish, there’s a feature called “Know it!” which just randomly pulls an English word from the lessons and asks you to translate. This spontaneous, random test can really put a jolt through your nerves, but it was super effective in helping me remember.

4) Loved the Flash Cards.

I’ve heard from language learning blogs that flash cards can be useful for helping you remember your vocabulary, especially when you’re trying to refresh a language that you haven’t spoken in a while. I thought I’d have to buy them separately but the program comes with 2 sets of online flash cards that you can test yourself with on the fly. I wish it included paper flash cards, but these are ok too.

5) Points System Helped Me Stay on Track

One of the reasons why I just unintentionally dropped programs like Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone was because apart from keeping track of what lesson you’re on, it’s hard to quantify your efforts. It sounds silly, but surprisingly I was really motivated with the points system in Rocket Spanish. I was proud of myself whenever I’d accumulate points or move up a level – imagine my joy when I finally reached “Guru”.

Cons

1) Hard to Get Into The Habit.

There were a couple of weeks when my progress stagnated because I wouldn’t remember to get back into the course and do the lessons. It would be great if there was some kind of reward or incentive to get you to keep coming back daily so that you’d really get into the habit of studying. I eventually got back to it, but I had to do a lot of practice for the first couple of days before I got into the groove again. This seems to be a major drawback with most programs – it’s a separate effort for you to try and learn to make a habit out of it.

2) The Games Were Distracting.

There are some games included in the program, supposedly to make the learning more fun, but I didn’t get much out of them. I can see their appeal for some people, but for me it was just a feature I didn’t really need that much. The points system and the flashcards provided enough of a fun element for me.

3) The Cost.

It’s a little pricey, but I guess that’s true of most self-paced language learning programs. I just had to make sure that I’d follow through with the program to make it worth every penny. There were some features I didn’t get to use to the fullest, such as the Games and the Culture Lessons, but that might be because they weren’t really what I had in mind when I bought the program.

Did It Work?

I was terrified to just go on my trip without any kind of practice, so I thought it might be best for me to speak with a native speaker on the phone or via Skype or something like that. It took me a while to figure out the forums (I kind of forgot they were there) but I eventually found I found a native speaker from Argentina to do a 15-minute conversation with me and help me test my skills. At first it was awkward, but on our 3rd call our conversation went smoothly. I barely spoke a word of English.

When I finally went to Chile and Argentina, while my conversations weren’t perfect and I was still a little nervous, I was able to connect with other people and even crack a joke or two in Spanish. I still have some way to go before I can debate politics or discuss things in deep detail, but this is a great start.

So overall, yes, the effort and time I put into Rocket Spanish was well worth it. I think that apart from my classroom Spanish, it’s the only program where I didn’t give up halfway. Great program, and I’d gladly recommend it to anyone who’s trying to learn Spanish on their own.

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Working with a language learning partner is one of the best ways to help accelerate your training in a second language. If you’ve decided to go this route, then you’re on a good path. Even the best paths, though, can be improved. Here are some ways to fine-tune your learning in tandem.

1. Get in or around the same level.

When it comes to language learning, the best partners are always two people on the same level of skill, ability, and fluency. Working from the same level allows the two of you to grow together in your skills, with neither one getting too advanced nor too behind in their lessons compared to the other.

If one is a little more advanced than the other, try to work on bringing the one behind up to speed first. Not doing so can discourage the one behind, all while increasing the likelihood that the more advanced one will get bored at his partner’s slower pace. Things will work out a lot smoother in the long run when the two of you can take the same lessons and practice at the same level of language facility.

2. Give each other different homework assignments.

The great thing about having two people cooperatively doing the work is you can cover two different things at the same time. Have one partner study part one of the lesson and the other work on the second part, then review the individual portions in tandem when you do hold your meet. That way, you can cover twice the ground that you’d normally do than when you’re working individually. Make sure you agree on the amount of work scheduled for each one and be vigilant about doing your part, too — that’s the only way this thing can work.

3. Spend plenty of time talking to each other using the target language.

Having a language training partner gives you a person to immediately practice with. No need to find people to talk with online, join a language club or trawl around cultural events — just schedule regular meets with your training partner and you can have as much practice as you need.

Sure, it can end up a case of the blind leading the blind (i.e. two beginners talking a terrible version of the target language), but it will help you become comfortable using the new language with another person. Over time, you will be able to identify mistakes and iron problem areas out. The only thing to watch out for is making a habit out of bad language elements (i.e. fossilizing mistakes) — make the effort to correct each other down the line to avoid this.

4. Practice vocabulary together.

Chances are, you and your partner are going to be memorizing vocabulary items on your own separately. Your weekly (or bi-weekly) meetings should be a great opportunity to try and meld that together.

You’ll need to plan out the activity for this — one guy reciting every new vocabulary term he has memorized and having the other one follow isn’t quite the most ideal way to push this. Instead, try to make a point of using the new vocabulary items when you practice conversations. You can also play a game of Scrabble using words from the foreign language (granted, this won’t be possible for many languages), as well as perform any other type of activity where using new words is involved.

5. Keep a common journal.

While you can keep a language journal separately, it will probably be very helpful to maintain a collaborative one. Do it using a software with collaborative features (e.g. Google Docs) and use that as a shared journal. That way, both of you are able to keep up with what each other is doing even without holding your weekly meetings, allowing each of you to individually expand your learning immensely. An online diary is ideal because you can update it on a computer when you’re home, then access it during downtime while on the road. You can even have the service send push notifications to your phone, email or PC any time your partner posts an update.

6. Come up with fun activities.

Attend a cultural exhibition together, set up a book discussion (with a book written in the target language, of course), listen to popular foreign albums, or watch a movie in the target language with English subtitles. Basically, do fun stuff together — something other than studying lessons, memorizing vocabulary and practicing the language. Language learning doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, finding fun activities will probably help speed up your development a ton, apart from sparing you from being bored with the language acquisition process over time. A lot of language learners end up quitting due to boredom, after all — integrating fun activities will help keep that from happening.

7. Discuss your lessons with each other.

When you attend a class, you have an instructor that can help you clarify any point of confusion. Sometimes, your classmates can also help shed light on things when various items aren’t quite clear.

Self-studying language learners don’t quite have that benefit, so your language buddy is the best option available for clarifying any issue you may be having. Even if you feel like you understand a lesson just fine, it will still help to discuss it. For all you know, you may have misunderstood certain points and your language partner could be the one to point that out.

8. Take tests together.

There are many tests available online to check your level of fluency on a foreign language. Chances are, whatever language software you are using has a bunch of them, too. It’s a good idea to take some of these tests with your language partner, cooperatively answering them. Forget getting a higher score than just doing things by yourself — the ensuing discussion on items you don’t agree on, as well as the potential for learning new things should be enough incentive to make this a very good idea.

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine talked to me about the different stages of language acquisition. While I’ve always just assumed the learning process was different for everyone, he was convinced the stages we go through are all actually the same. He made a good argument, too, and cited some credible research in the field. As such, it became a short-term interest for me and I had to look up those studies he cited.

Anyway, according to the generally-accepted research, language acquisition has five well-defined stages:

1. Pre-production

I’m not actually sure why “pre-production” is the term used to describe this phase, but this is essentially that silent period where you learn by listening. Actually, I’ve read why they call this pre-production — because it’s the stage before you begin “producing” any language. I don’t know, just sounds silly to me.

At this stage, most learners will not have the confidence to speak in the target language. Chances are, you can’t make sense of the language enough to form your own thoughts anyway. What you can do, though, are soak in what’s being said, mimic them (it’s good early practice), respond to pictures, understand gestures. Do note that repeating what someone says does not get you out of this phase, as it’s merely parroting — not the same as producing language by yourself.

Similarly, you can really benefit from a learning partner at this stage. Having someone you can exchange your barely-existent skillset with extends your learning time well beyond the classes or software lessons. Never mind that it’s the blind leading the blind. Having someone to exchange ideas and practice stupid stuff with will help you get comfortable with the early lessons.

What actually happens in pre-production is you listen to others talk, digest what you hear, develop a passive sort of vocabulary (based on what you hear) and observe interactions. All those go in a data bank somewhere in your brain, laying down the foundation that will give your later learning a more tangible context to compare with.

How long will this last? It depends on the person. Some people gain confidence early and begin speaking within a week or two. Others, especially those a bit more shy, may take up to two months before getting out of their silent period.

According to research, manyu students can accumulate up to 500 words in their receptive vocabulary during this time, which, let’s be honest, is already a lot. Many non-traditional language trainers (those who advocate language shortcuts), in fact, encourage students to start talking with just 100 or so core words in their vocabulary, stringing sentences together using a bare basics of nouns, verbs, conjunctions and prepositions. Traditionally, though, most instructors would rather you enjoy the silent period, as it is the same way most people naturally learn their native language, spending a long time in listening mode as babies before uttering their first words.

2. Early production

At this stage, you begin building an active, as opposed to merely a receptive, vocabulary. According to experts, students generally build up to around 1,000 words during this time, which they will often use to construct short phrases. For the most part, though, their active language use will consist primarily of memorized chunks that they’ve accumulated during the silent period of listening and observing.

Your lessons should consist of simple ones during this point, focusing on key vocabulary and concepts, rather than anything more complex. Experts say this stage can last up to six months, although, in my experience, it will be a lot shorter than that, especially if you’re seriously putting in the time and effort necessary to develop language skills.

3. Speech emergence

In this third stage, you’re expected to develop a vocabulary of 3,000 words, with the ability to communicate in complete, albeit simple, sentences. Some of those sentences will not necessarily be grammatically on point, although most native speakers should be able to understand it (provided they’re not stuck-up grammar nazis who demand perfection from second-language speakers who dare interact with them — yes, Pierre, I’m looking at you).

Towards the end of this stage, you will probably be able to string together connected sentences into coherent paragraphs. If you’re studying writing skills along with everything else, you should even be able to create coherent journals in the target language. Initiating conversations shouldn’t be very hard, provided you can manage any social anxiety on top of the lack of language fluency, of course.

Many language learners end their active studies here, content with the ability to speak and understand the language in most common situations. Over time, their skills can get honed enough that they may begin using more complex constructions, although they never really get all that much closer to fluency.

4. Intermediate fluency

Here, you will be at a pretty advanced stage, accumulating a vocabulary of about 6,000 active words. They’re comfortable constructing complex sentences during their regular speaking and writing activities. Expressing opinions and thoughts in a concise manner is rarely a problem.

In this stage, you can probably enroll in classes conducted in the target language and be able to keep up with what’s going on. Books, even technical ones, become easier to read, much less magazines and newspapers. Writing skills may not be very fluent, but very serviceable, although it’s not uncommon to still spend time translating from the native language to the target vernacular. Often, the learner will still rely on strategies from the native tongue to use the new language.

5. Advanced fluency

This level, often called cognitive academic language proficiency, is reserved for people who have actively worked on language skills for years (usually 4 to 10). This is as close to native fluency as you can probably get and this will be reflected in every area of language skill — from the way you speak to the way you think to the way you formulate ideas. You can, for the most part, study complex subjects in the target language with close to the level of ease in your target language.

There’s no element of language learning that’s more important than speaking. While listening is what you’ll need to do a lot of when you start, you’ll need to speak a lot (and by a lot, we mean plenty) if you’re really going to build up skills in Japanese.

Practicing your target language by speaking it aloud is a critical activity in your language learning. It’s essential if you want individual vocabulary elements, grammatical structure, and sentence construction to really take root in your mind, so you can access them without having to dig deep into your memory stores.

Practice With Other Speakers

The best practice, of course, is done while interacting with other Japanese speakers. Both native speakers and fellow second language learners will be great to practice with, provided they will speak to you in Japanese (instead of trying to accomodate your lack of skills by shifting to English when they can).

Try to do this whether you’re in Japan or in your home country. There are ways you can practice with fellow speakers. Sure, it might be a better possibility for some than for others, but always try to seek out potential speaking partners in your locale — the practice can help speed up your development immensely.

Language Classes

If you go to a language class, then your classmates and instructors automatically make that a practice-rich environment. Even your classmates with limited skills can be helpful, especially to get you comfortable with using the language. When in a situation like this, take advantage of the teachers, too, speaking to them in the target language as much as you can.

Japanese Embassies

Is there a Japanese embassy somewhere near you? Give them a call. Chances are, they can point you to various helpful resources within the locale, from different Japanese organizations to university foreign language departments to culture clubs to in-house services. There’s a good chance you can meet people to practice with in some of those places.

Take Stock

If you’re going to try to talk to people in Japanese, start by thinking about things you want to talk about. Come up with stories you want to share or things you want to ask to get to know people better. Keep it simple and casual — don’t talk them like lifelong friends since that’s more creepy than fun. You’ll already be struggling with the language, so struggling with conversation topics should be the last thing you want.

When You’re Alone

Not all language learners are lucky enough to find people they can practice Japanese with. Yes, some will need to practice alone — even just to start with. If you’re in this boat, start by reciting Japanese phrases and sentences by yourself. Do them aloud, the same way you would when you’re in an actual conversation.

You can tape a chart of phrases you’ve learned (or want to learn) by a mirror, then recite them, adding gestures, expressions and accents as you see fit. Before reciting a phrase or sentence, though, try to think about the statement first, picturing the meaning in your mind. That should make it more meaningful to you and could help make it easier to recall.

One thing i used to like to do is watch movies in Japanese and parrot some of the actors. Usually, I’d pick one actor and try to parrot as much of his lines as I can in the film. Granted, I had no idea what I was saying 90% of the time, but it did get me used to the pace and accents of spoken Japanese. It definitely helped me in the long run.

Learn To Bow

If you’re an English speaker, chances are you’re used to giving people a nod or a “Hi” when you run into them for any reason whatsoever. In Japan, people bow to do the same thing.

When someone bows to you and you’re not sure why, just bow in return. It’s the polite thing to do. And there will be many situations where people bow in Japan. Instead of saying “Thanks” when someone lets you ahead of them, for instance, you should bow. Rather than say “Hello” when meeting someone, you do the same thing.

Bowing comfortably (i.e. without straining your neck or back) takes some practice, so try doing them at home. You’ll do it a lot if you’re ever in Japan, so you might as well get used to it early. When you bow, make a point of doing it deliberately — don’t rush into it.

Gestures

Try to learn the basic gestures in Japanese, especially those that differ wildly from what we’re used to. Most common of these include:

1. Referring to “I” or “me.” In most cultures, people touch their chests or point to themselves. In Japan, people touch their nose (one finger at the tip of the nose).
2. Calling someone to come to you. In Japan, people do this with their hand extended and palms facing down, moving the fingers out and back towards the gesturer. Yep, it may look they’re trying to tell you to go away, but it’s the other way around.
3. Gesturing goodbye. Japanese say goodbye the same way beauty pageant contestants waive their hand while being cheered.
4. Saying excuse me. Put your hands together right around chin-level and bow slightly, similar to people in prayer. This gesture is done when cutting between two people (especially when they’re speaking) or when making apologies.
5. When you want to say no. Don’t just shake your head — there’s a good chance it won’t communicate. Instead, put one hand in front, palms downwards and thumb pointing to the face. In this position, make short fanning motions; the more emphatic the fanning, the stronger the “no.”

Universal Gestures

For many gestures, you can rely on universal ones. Same with facial expressions and the feelings they convey. In case you suspect misunderstanding, though, open about it. Better be safe than sorry, especially in the early stages of your language training.

We all want shortcuts in life. And when we hear of them, it’s seductive. From the quickest way to make a million dollars to the fastest way to build six-pack abs to the shortest route to a rewarding career, people have continually chased after shortcuts like it was the holy grail.

The same thing happens in language learning. Too many times, we focus on the shortcuts — the courses that claim to impart fluency in three months, the quirky techniques that worked for some guy we don’t even know and the weird subliminal stuff that will have you learning a new language effortlessly. And when one shortcut doesn’t work, we look for the next one. Before we realize it, we’ve spent an entire year trying shortcuts instead of just sitting down and learning a language.

There Are Shortcuts

Are there shortcuts in language learning? Sure, there are shortcuts to everything. The thing with shortcuts, though, is they tend to work differently for different people. What proven shortcuts are there in language learning?

1. Immersion. If you immerse yourself in a country where the target language is spoken and make a point of conversing in the local parlance, then you’ll likely learn a lot faster than people studying from a book with no one to practice with. People who are naturally social and extroverted tend to benefit the most from this, since actually going out and making a point of using the local language is key. The more you’re able to do that, the faster you’ll develop your skills.
2. Dive into the culture. There was probably a time when you needed to visit the foreign country in order to do this (i.e. immersion). Nowadays, it’s perfectly doable remotely. I have a friend, for instance, who learned Japanese from downloading scanned Japanese comic books online, joining communities of fans, and using translations posted on forums to get a handle on the language. While he is nowhere near fluent, he can read and comprehend most Japanese comic books, apart from being able to converse with reasonable levels of ability. If you can do this obsessively (yeah, it has to become an obsession, at least temporarily), along with regular lessons, you can really skyrocket your skills development.
3. One-on-one tutoring. Getting a dedicated tutor, especially one who can work with you for extended periods of time, is one of the best shortcuts available. Not only can a tutor give you focused and personalized teaching (e.g. they can tailor the lessons according to what you’ll need, depending on what you intend to use the language for), they can also monitor your every progress, apart from giving you someone accessible to get daily practice with. Even when working with a tutor possessing average teaching skills, the practice alone can probably grow your skills by leaps and bounds, compared to what you can get from other learning resources.

Magical Shortcuts

All the above are real shortcuts. However, they’re also not feasible for a lot of learners. Not all of us can have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a country for an unspecified period of time, nor can we all afford personal tutoring (which is, in all likelihood, the most expensive language learning resource).

Are there any shortcuts beyond those? Probably, but I wouldn’t recommend jumping on them unless you fully understand there’s a good chance you’ll just end up wasting your time. All the magical shortcuts with outlandish promises usually are just that — magical and outlandish, rather than having a high chance of working.

Personal Shortcuts

If you apply yourself to your language studies, chances are that you’ll find your own shortcuts. By shortcuts, we mean simple tactics and techniques that you can use to learn things faster (e.g. memorize vocabulary) and build skills more efficiently than the traditional process. Unlike the “magical shortcuts” above, these are shortcuts you’re able to take advantage due to advantages you have innately, such as:

1. Your environment. Do you live in a place conducive to learning the new language? If you’re in a foreign country where that language is spoken and are surrounded by supportive people, for instance, then that’s something that can really give you a leg up. If you have family and friends who speak the target language, they can be very valuable resources for helping you level up your abilities. Never discount the value of environment — that could be your most potent ally in your language learning travels.
2. Your educational background. Have you learned a foreign language before? If you have, then you’re probably clued in on what works and what doesn’t, so it’s easier for you to figure out which ways to go with your current target language. If you have an extensive background in language studies (e.g. English major), that could also have an effect, since you have a better appreciation for how languages are structured, the different figures of speech and many other components of language.
3. Languages you know. If you’re studying a language related to your native tongue, then you can use the similarities as shortcuts to help you learn the new vernacular. You can parlay that into a huge jump over someone whose native language is very different from the target language.
4. Your natural abilities. Some people are naturally wired to learn languages quickly the same way some people can pick up math solutions or investment strategies with ease. If you’re one of these, then you can probably progress a lot faster than other individuals, so don’t be afraid to speed through lessons at a faster-than-prescribed pace.
5. Degree of focus. Are you able to focus on one thing for extended periods of time? If you are, then you have one of the requirements for successfully completing rigorous study. And I also envy you — I’m one of those people whose brain flies from one thing to another without much prodding. Chances are, you’ll have an easier time learning languages than me.

When you come across shortcuts that stem from any of these, take advantage of them. Use them to further your development in the language, applying them to every aspect of the learning process where they can make a difference.

You hear it cited time and time again: learning a new language will expand your career horizons. Is it true, though? And if it is, will the expansion justify the amount of time and resources you will sink into learning a second language altogether?

A lot of people seem to take the veracity of that statement for granted. It’s almost like people just assume that when you learn a new language, a whole world of opportunity drops in your lap. The reality is a lot less simple. Sure, a foreign language in your pocket can help, but you need the right situation to take advantage of it.

Career Myths

I’ve worked in five relatively large companies over the past decade, including two huge multinationals. And, to be honest, I’ve never seen language skills to give anyone an upper hand within the internal promotion system.

You can verify with your own company. How many of your vice presidents and high-level management actually speak a second language? How many mid-level managers? And so on. The reality is, careers are made not on whether you have second language skills, but on your education, experience and the kind of results you can get done.

Now, I’m not saying learning a second language is useless career-wise. It’s just that, foreign language skills should be an “additional skills” in your resume, rather than the highlight of it. Will learning foreign languages help your career? In some cases, it might. There’s no assurance of that, though, and, for all intents and purposes, you could very well end up in a field where second language skills don’t even matter.

Basically, what I’m saying is, second language skills doesn’t qualify you for a management position or anything similar. It’s the rest of your resume that qualifies you for that. What exactly will foreign language fluency qualify you for? Translator or interpreter work, mostly. If you can speak, at least, three languages, then you can be a conference translator. You can also be a language tutor, but that’s about it.

Why is that? For the most part, most companies don’t really place that much value in second language ability. While there will be instances when a specific company will want an employee with specific language skills for a particular position, it doesn’t exactly happen all that often. Many companies believe that, when the need to learn a new language arises, they can send their people to train for it without causing much problems in the organization.

Learning Languages For The Right Reason

In case you’re wondering, I do think there is value in second language learning as far as career advancement is concerned. That is, if you know which career path you want to take.

An engineer who wants to work in a Saudi operation, for instance, might gain a slight edge if they study Arabic, especially if the job entails working with plenty of locals. More importantly, though, they could have an easier time adjusting to the locale when they do get a job and move there.

Want to be a jet-setting freelance journalist? Then, some language skills will probably help you. Want to move to Japan and work for your favorite game company? Spending your time learning Japanese will probably get you closer to the dream.

What we’re saying is, don’t just assume learning a foreign language can help you anywhere you want to go. It may or it may not. Some career paths can benefit from foreign language skills; others can grow without it. Instead of just blindly learning languages, draw up a plan of what you want to achieve in your career, then try to ascertain whether a second language will genuinely boost your chances or if it will just be an unimportant footnote to the rest of your skills.

Learning A Language Takes Time

Why not just study a language (or two) then see where it helps? Sure, you can do that — if you have the time. Remember: time is the one resource in this world you can’t get back. If you use it to learn a language, that means you’re not using it to develop other skills, like interviewing (if you want to be a journalist), coding in Phython (if you’re a programmer) or practicing your drives (if you’re an aspiring ball player hoping to play for a Spanish league).

Before you commit to studying a language, make sure it’s beneficial to where you want to go in life, rather than because you heard someone say somewhere that language learning will open up wide career avenues. For all you know, the career avenues it opens up may not even be of interest to you. I’ve seen way too many people with second and third languages under their belt get stuck in admin positions at offices, primarily because they didn’t develop a lot of other skills beyond foreign languages.

Furthering A Career

If you have a good career going and simply want to get more opportunities in it, then consider whether a foreign language will help you. If you live in the US and do sales, for instance, learning Spanish on top of your English is almost always an advantage, since it expands your potential market. Same if you’re in customer service and work in an office where a bilingual position is treated as a substantial career advancement. Is your office opening a branch in Italy? Then talk with your superiors about the positions that open up there and see how you can squeeze in if you build up your Italian skills.

Working Abroad

If you have plans of working abroad, then figure out exact where and learn the language they speak. This is one of those instances where learning a language will be immensely beneficial, so don’t even think twice about it.

A lot of English speakers incorrectly assume that a large chunk of the world will speak English. While they’re right to an extent, there are a lot of countries where this just doesn’t apply. And if you intend to work in one of those countries, all the English in the world won’t help you get by.

Good actions repeated over time become positive habits. If you’re looking to become a better language learner, then taking good actions is a great first step to get there. Make enough of those positive changes and you’ll develop positive habits. That’s why even the smallest adjustments can mean a lot to your learning, especially in the long run.

Looking for suggestions on positive actions and changes you can make as a language learner? Here’s a list of suggestions.

1. Don’t rely on a dictionary. Whether you’re reading in the foreign language, watching a foreign movie or listening to a recorded speech, resist the urge to open a dictionary for every word that you don’t immediately identify. Instead, make an effort to guess the meanings of words from both the context presented in the material and your knowledge of the language thus far. Doing this will allow you to gain a better grasp of the language as you make mental connections between the different elements of the language.

2. Make mistakes. A lot of language learners (and people, in general) are afraid to make mistakes. Instead of practicing when an opportunity presents itself, they clam up and tell themselves “I’lldo it next time.” Problem is, being afraid easily becomes a repeating pattern the more you give it room. The solution is simple: just use the language and make mistakes early. Will you be embarrassed? Probably. Will people laugh at you? Sometimes. Will you feel horrible? I wouldn’t say never. Go through those a couple of times, though, and you’ll realize they don’t even matter. Embrace mistakes — they’re one of a language learner’s best allies.

3. Be more assertive. Recognize and seize opportunities to use the target language. There are plenty of them, especially if you are in a country where the language is widely spoken. In some cases, people will talk to you in English if they notice you’re struggling with their language. Stick to the target vernacular, though — you need your practice and they’ll let you get it.

4. Track your progress. Figure out a way of tracking your development in the language. Some language programs will have facilities integrated for this, using predesigned tests to give you a score on your current skill level. Make sure to use that. Having a way to track and measure your progress will allow you to keep tabs on how you’re actually doing. That way, you’ll know exactly when to keep doing the same things or when to go a different direction in your training.

5. Set weekly targets. Every Monday, make a short list of things you want to accomplish by the end of the week. These weekly goals have made the most difference for me because:

  • They are immediate (just 7 days and time’s up), so you have to work towards them now
  • They are easy to plan for (by Monday, you usually have a good idea of where you can go by Sunday, so most goals you set are very reasonable — unlike what you might set for two or three months down the line)

Just make sure to limit your expectations with the goals you set. Aim too high and you can be setting yourself up for failure.

6. Start journaling. Keeping a journal of your language learning progress may sound like such a corny thing to do. If you haven’t done them before, it kind of feels like you’re jotting down diary entries, but there are fewer things that can really help you observe your development in the area than a language learning journal. Seriously, though, give it a try — it could literally change the way you train.

A journal won’t just serve as a record of all the material you’ve studied in your language learning efforts, you can also use them to record your experiences in the language. That way, you can compare the different things you do and the results you gain from them, allowing you to evaluate the program and study all the changes you can make.

7. Say “Yes” more. When your language training material (software, book, etc.) makes a suggestion about activities to do, don’t just ignore or shrug them off. Try saying “Yes” more and actually doing them. Sure, some of them will sound lame. Most of those activities, though, are suggested for good reason — they really will help round out whatever new items you picked up from the lessons.

8. Think in the target language. Until you think in the target language, you’re merely translating from one language to another every time you use it. This is one of those big changes that you’ll have to do one small step at a time. Every instance you use the language, make a conscious effort to think in it. The more you do it, the more it will become second nature. This won’t happen overnight, so best start as early as you can.

9. When you communicate, don’t restrict yourself to the target language. If you’re struggling to be understood when using the language, then use gestures and other aids to get yourself understood. Heck, use words in English is that’s what you need to do. Compensating for your lack of current ability will only help your confidence to use the language.

10. Use mnemonics for memorizing vocabulary. Making use of mnemonic techniques can greatly enhance the amount of vocabulary you are able to memorize within the same timeframe as conventional memory methods. There are plenty of them available. We suggest using ones that have been successfully adapted by language learners before, such as the Town Mnemonic and similar techniques. You can even use free software for these, as well as free web-based services like Memrise.

Last Word

This list is not exhaustive or definitive by any means, so don’t limit the changes you make in your language acquisition efforts within them. Instead, use them as a guide to point you in the right direction. If you come up with your own ideas, try them and see how they work out.

Learning Dutch? If you go by the percentages, you should have an easy time . After all, it’s part of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, making it closely related to English.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, so don’t underestimate the learning curve. While Dutch shares similarities with English, it’s not quite as close to it as Spanish is. As such, be vigilant about putting in the time and effort necessary if you want to reap the rewards.

Travel To Dutch-Speaking Countries

Dutch is primarily spoken in the Netherlands, with somewhat wide usage in parts of Belgium and the former Dutch colonies. If you’re traveling to the Netherlands, you can actually get away with zero Dutch, as locals tend to be active at learning other languages. English, in particular, is a compulsory subject on all levels of the secondary education system, with courses also taught at higher grade levels in some elementary schools. An estimated 85% of native Dutch speakers also know English as a second language. Still, if you want to speak on the level as the local folks or if you want to do serious business in the Netherlands, learning the native language can only help.

Speaking Dutch

As a people, the Dutch don’t usually expect foreigners to speak their language, especially in the big cities. If you strike up a conversation with someone, they’ll usually answer you in English if they detect you have even moderate difficulty with their language. When you want to practice your Dutch with locals, you have to be very explicit — tell them beforehand you want them to speak to you in Dutch. Otherwise, they’ll just switch to English to ease up the conversational struggle.

In less “international” Dutch cities like Rotterdam, you’ll have a lot more opportunities for practice, since many locals will talk to you in Dutch if you open a conversation in their native language. If you’re looking for a full-proof way to practice your Dutch, talk to the older people you come across, instead. A lot of the older individuals either don’t care much for practicing their English or don’t know much English, so they’ll likely respond to you in Dutch.

Similarities with English

Dutch shares many similarities with English, which should help make learning the language easier. For instance, it uses the same Latin alphabet as English, so there’s no need to memorize a new alphabet from the ground up.

Sound systems are similar, too, making it easy to understand and utter Dutch syllables. In fact, Dutch is one of the few languages that native English speakers can adopt the accents of a first-language speaker, since even the stress and intonation patterns are the same. Do note that this won’t happen overnight — the pronunciations will take a lot of getting used to. Over time, though, you’ll notice how much easier it will be to assume a regular Dutch accent.

Dutch grammar also follows the same subject-verb-object structure in English, although the positioning of adverbials are different. As such, your biggest problems on this end will be awkward phrasings that result from the wrong order of phrases. Don’t take this lightly — a lot of Dutch learners cite this as their biggest hurdle.

The verb system in Dutch also mirrors the English language closely. It has similar verb tenses and is also uninflected. Do note that there’s a lack of correspondence between the tenses in the two languages, so don’t expect to apply the same rules of verb use you’ve learned in English.

A large amount of cognates exist between Dutch and English, apart from Dutch owning plenty of common Germanic and Romance vocabulary. As such, you might actually be able to make out some Dutch phrases even without studying the language — something that will, undoubtedly, help speed up your progress, as far as memorizing vocabulary is concerned.

Potential Sticking Points

The biggest challenge you will face at the beginning is pronunciation. Dutch pronunciation is so different from English, even if their stress, intonation and sound systems are quite similar. Chances are, you’ll have an ugly accent when you first start, especially when using those back-of-the-throat sounds so common in the language.

Sounds like “sch,” “g” and “ui” are notable sources of challenge, especially when piled together in a single long word. Some of the vowel sounds (both short vowels like “oe” and long vowels like “ee”), diphthongs (“eeuw,” “au,” “ou,” “ieuw” and more) and consonant sounds (like “sj” and “ch”) can also present a challenge.

Once you get the pronunciation to a serviceable level, the next big challenge will come with word order. While Dutch grammar shares many things in common with English, word order, especially with adverbials, follows different rules. Messing up on word order can still get you understood, but it will be very awkward and might even cause some miscommunication. When you don’t know how to form a sentence, dig into your memory for the actual guidelines in the target language, rather than defaulting to the format you’re familiar with in English — it won’t translate well.

Dutch grammar is also notorious for being lax on the rules. There are just way too many exceptions to the standard rules of the language. Don’t get frustrated, too — you’ll pick them all up over time.

Spelling in Dutch is, generally, simple and consistent with its rules, considerably more so than English. That is, if you already know all the vowels, diphthongs and consonants. Otherwise, sentences will look particularly strange, which can be daunting to newbies.

A Few Last Words

When learning Dutch, it usually helps to start out getting over the hurdles presented by the unusual pronunciations. If your Dutch learning software has a basic pronunciation module, try playing around with that. You can also find Dutch videos on YouTube and try parroting the things people on the videos say. No need to figure out what they’re saying — just get comfortable with the way things are pronounced in the target language.

Once you’re at ease with Dutch pronunciations, you’ve gotten over one of the most frustrating hurdles. From there, you should be able to do your lessons without serious stumbles.

If you are wondering about how to learn a language online, then the good news is that there are a number of options available to you no matter the language you wish to learn or the level you are currently at. Some of the main ones that you may be interested in using are listed below, but even though they are basic reviews it is still better if you spend time personally checking out each one in order to see if their style of teaching is something that is suitable for you. It should also be noted that they are not mentioned in any form of preference.

The BBC Free Online Lessons

If you just want to try and get started or see how a language works, then it can be worthwhile looking at the free lessons available through the BBC. They show you various phrases that are used everyday in that language and they also have audio links so you can hear how each word or phrase is actually pronounced. The BBC offers you the chance to learn basic phrases in 40 languages from around the world and it has to be said that they do break it up into easy to follow segments so you will be able to greet people, indulge in some small chat, and of course ask for various things as you explore a foreign country. If you are unsure about what language you may want to learn this is undoubtedly a fantastic way to find out if you can take to the language before spending any money on further lessons.

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Babbel.com

Babbel.com allows you to learn 11 languages with the most popular being covered as well as the rather more unusual Swedish and Indonesian. They do offer you a free trial, which lets you get a feel for the way they will teach you, but it does then switch to a monthly subscription if you wish to continue. One important point to add here is that there is a money back guarantee if you are not happy with how you are progressing after twenty days so that may indeed tempt you into taking out a subscription for at least a month.

So how do they structure it all? The main emphasis here is to have fun with learning and their method is to use very clear tutorials that you can do quickly and then take part in various exercises to help you progress. They do offer complete beginner courses and look to give you a good solid foundation from which you can then work on. Overall it does seem that they try and move it away from feeling like a classroom so if you want a relaxed way of learning, then this could be the option for you.

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Lingq.com

Lingq.com focuses on not only teaching you, but also linking you to other people who can either speak the language or are also learning. This community aspect is a different approach, but for some people it will help them learn quicker as they can use their newly learnt vocabulary in situations that are not restricted by lessons that have been set out by the website. Finally, they do offer you help from a personal tutor who can look at what you are doing online and correct your mistakes so you then know the areas that you have to work on a bit more. They only deal with a few languages; however, they are the main ones in use around the world with a bit of Esperanto thrown in as well.

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Livemocha.com

Livemocha.com looks to bring both students and teachers together via their website and they do this whilst covering 38 different languages. They do offer you the chance to learn things such as Icelandic or Farsi along with the normal Italian, French, German and Spanish. Initially it does feel a bit more like a classroom approach and is, therefore, best for people who do prefer a more structured approach to learning languages rather than being all about fun.

Studying through this website will allow you to get a personal tutor should you wish to do so, but there are also a number of lessons online including video sessions where you listen to a situation and then answer questions along with working on grammar and building your vocabulary. As with every other website they have various levels depending upon the stage you are at with the language and each level is broken up into reasonable sized segments so you should not feel bogged down whilst learning.

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Rocket Languages

Rocket Languages cover 11 different ones from around the world and they make good use of the community aspect along with a series of language games that will help you to learn. One thing they are very big about is the ability to rate your own work as you go along and a useful section is how you can record your voice when saying something and compare your pronunciation to that of a tutor. Interactive audio plays a huge role throughout this website so it does come across more as an internet version of earlier language tapes and these were of course extremely popular at one point.

The progress charts are extremely useful in telling you how well you are doing and even if you are ready to move on to the next stage so whilst you can progress quite quickly it will still be done at a pace where you are absorbing all of the information and not just glossing over it. They do get good reviews online from people who have previously used them and it is certainly worth trying it for free to see what you think about it yourself.

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Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone is perhaps the most well known language course due to them spending a lot of money on advertising both online as well as offline. They offer you the chance to pick from 30 languages with them covering those spoken by the vast majority of the population of the world and some of these native speakers are responsible for teaching you their language.

They focus on really immersing you in the culture of the language as they feel that doing so will give you the best chance of taking in all of the information. One part that is extremely helpful is their speech recognition software as this gives you feedback on your pronunciation immediately so you can work on it and improve straight away. Millions of people have used their methods over the years and they do use normal relaxed situations when teaching you various phrases and then guide you on how to use the basics of one phrase to create others in order to become more fluent. It has to be said that the Rosetta Stone approach is one that does involve up to the minute technology so if you like this kind of thing, then it could be ideal for you.

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So for people wondering about how to learn a language online those are just six potential options that are certainly worth considering. The reviews above are intended to just cover the basics of what each website can offer you and how well structured the online lessons are, but as was stated at the outset do look at each one independently before deciding which one appeals to you the most. All that is then left to do is to sit down and start learning because in a short period of time you should be able to say all kinds of things in your brand new language.

Italian is a close relative of the English language. Hence, it’s not that difficult for English speakers to get a good grasp of it. Like any new language, though, you’ll encounter some struggle in parts, even if you use the best Italian language software you can find. Here are some of the common mistakes beginners make when learning Italian.

1. Word gender

Remembering word gender just doesn’t come naturally to most English speakers. They’re not trained to look for it all the damn time, after all. While not quite as strict as French on word genders, Italian does integrate its share of gender usage, so make sure you memorize the rules and understand them. Getting word genders wrong can make statements confusing.

2. Plurals

Unlike in English and Spanish, you can’t just append an “s” at the end of an Italian noun to make it plural. That makes Italian plurals a particularly tough challenge for many native English speakers and, we’re guessing, Spanish speakers, too. In Italian, singular nouns that end in “-o” change to “-i” in plural form; those that end in “-a” change to “-e”; those that end in “-ca” change to “-che”; and those that end in “-e” change to “-i.” Singular nouns that end in accents and consonants, on the other hand, don’t change form when they become plural. Memorize those rules and practice applying them so you can recall them quickly the next time you use plurals in Italian.

3. Verb conjugation

Conjugation in English is limited to a very few instances. As such, English speakers are often taken by surprise with the amount of conjugation in the Italian language. More likely than not, you’ll start your first few months of Italian messing up conjugations very often. The only way to remedy that is to practice forming conjugations a lot. The more you practice conjugating a verb depending on usage, the easier it will be to recall the rules when they come up during interactions.

4. Subject pronouns

The use of subject pronouns (io, tu, lui, noi, voi, loro) with the conjugated verb forms is considered redundant in Italian. It’s not necessary, since the conjugated form of the verb will identify all the qualities any of those pronouns will convey. You won’t cause confusion in your listener, but it’s still a bad habit to develop down the line, so it’s best to avoid it before the mistake is ingrained.

5. Double consonants

Double consonants occur frequently in Italian words. They always occur somewhere in the middle of a word — never in the beginning or end.

When speaking Italian, double consonants need to be stressed; if you don’t, then you’re uttering an entirely different word altogether. Because of the frequency of double consonants in Italian, mispronouncing them can result in a lot of confusion during conversations. In some cases, it can even be embarrassing, like when you mispronounce “anni” (year) as “ani” (anuses) — not exactly the most flattering thing to say when you ask someone their age, for instance.

As a rule, shorten the sound of the vowel preceding the double consonant to help improve your pronunciatin. That will cause you to stress the repeated consonants as if they were from two different words strung together, rather than just a single utterance.

6. False cognates

A lot of Italian words sound like English words and some of them do mean the same thing. That doesn’t automatically mean every instance of parallel spelling and pronunciation refer to the same thing, though. Camera, for instance, means “bedroom” in Italian, not those boxes of gadgetry you take photographs with. Same with pepperoni, which refers to pepper, rather than that round piece of meat you top a pizza with.

There’s really no rule to recognizing false cognates. For the most part, you’ll have to learn what the actual words mean, so you can differentiate them during use. If you’re not sure, though, listen to the context in which the word is used and make your best guess from there.

7. Italian articles

Learn how and when to use Italian articles. While native speakers will probably understand you even when you skip them, it sounds especially awkward. Think of how second-language English speakers will remove or add English articles (“a,” “an,” “the”) — you sound just as ridiculous (and possibly hilarious) to native Italian speakers.

8. Letter sounds

Learn how each letter sounds in Italian in detail. Too often, language learners assume that letters sound the same in Italian as they do in English. That’s not actually true. While some will sound similar, it’s not always the case. To ensure you don’t fossilize mistakes, learn the correct sounds for every letter early on in your language training.

9. Word sounds

Make sure to enunciate the actual sound of every letter in every word. In English, we tend to allow multiple letters to represent the same vocalization and it’s ingrained in most of us. When speaking Italian, that habit will bite you in the ass. Each letter in a word has an individual sound in Italian almost all of the time, so it’s best to always enunciate everything to stay on the safe side.

10. Connotations

Just like in English, certain words and phrases in Italian that mean the same thing can have totally different connotations. As such, using a word out of context can offend or insult. Chances are, you won’t be able to get a good grasp of this early on in your language learning, so learn how to make apologies, in case you actually end up raising someone’s ire. As you go along, though, try to learn the different connotations of phrases that have similar dictionary meanings — they can be vastly different.

11. Idioms

Idiomatic languages are particularly difficult for second-language speakers. It’s true for English and it’s just as true for Italian. As a rule, avoid using idioms early on in your language training. You’ll pick them up as you go along, so don’t rush in. If you learn one, make sure you know what it means and in what context it can be used before even including it into your conversational stock.

12. Open your mouth

Italians are animated speakers. That is, they rely heavily on body language and hand gestures to punctuate when they speak. If you’re not the same way, you don’t need to force yourself. However, learn to really open your mouth when you speak to enunciate in a livelier manner. It also opens up your face during interactions.