Ways to learn a new language

Successful language learning requires both a coherent method that builds increasing levels of skill, and the element of novelty that keeps the learner eager to acquire more. These two aspects must be kept in mind when choosing a language course and/or a self-study programme.

One of the most commonly used methods for learning Dutch quickly - the Delft Method - combines self-study with formal instruction. This has a system of CDs for intensive listening, interactive dictation and fill-in exercises, and supplementary vocabulary and exercise books with relevant question-and-answer activities, all of which the student performs at home. In class, the instructor sets up paired interactive practices and group conversations, which allow the students to apply their skills and to be corrected by a native speaker, and also provides additional instruction in simple Dutch on grammar and vocabulary.

Classroom experiences are supplemented by simple films found on the internet, the study of short poems, everyday texts such as menus, advertisements, public instructions and greeting cards. These practical and aesthetic resources stimulate language learning and cultural assimilation. They inject an added value that shapes the experience and evolves the second language identity of the learner. As the learner progresses, the method provides more material at a slightly increased level of difficulty.

How to improve vocabulary

It has been estimated that the average language learner adds eleven new words to their working vocabulary each day, when immersed in the language or under conditions of intensive instruction. Seeking out accessible exposure to this vocabulary is not difficult in today’s media market. Some chief sources are:

Radio/ television programmes

The BBC world service broadcasts in 27 languages, which can be accessed either with a short wave radio or streaming audio - and also uploaded clips that can be played repeatedly. Most major radio stations broadcast on the internet, including many of the world’s minority languages.

Children’s books

Audio books are readily available in stores and are ideal for language learning. Children’s stories, as well as simple science books, can be useful to an adult learner. Folk tales communicate local culture and wisdom. Comic books provide a triple advantage of simple language, graphics and humour.

Podcasts and e-books

Free foreign language e-books can be downloaded at www.greylib.net. Mac users can use the podcast options in their iTunes store homepage, scrolling to the bottom where it says ‘My Store’ and changing one’s country name and flag to that of the target language. Others can be found by searching for ‘foreign language podcasts’ on the internet.

Online course material

Some of the best materials available were developed by the US government Foreign Service Institute to train diplomats. Courses in more than forty languages are freely available for download. These courses employ audio-lingual methods with dialogues, question-answer exercises, construction and substitution drills and come in full-length, as well as abbreviated FAST courses.

Personal dictionary

With all this exposure to new words, it is a good idea to build up a personal dictionary:

  • Purchase a letter-indexed book such as an address book, or a diary, labelling every four pages for letters of the target language alphabet.
  • Create simple dictionary entries with definitions and illustrative sentences.
  • Highlighting the word and its location in context is very helpful, especially if you colour-code parts of speech. For example: Nouns = blue; Prepositions = orange; Verbs = red; Pronouns = purple; Adverbs = green; Interjections = brown; Adjectives = yellow; etc.
  • Review your personal dictionary every day in your spare time.

The combination of a consistent method and exposure to the resources discussed here should give any learner a good start and a solid foundation in the new adventure of acquiring another language.