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My Tips for Learning a Foreign Language

As a bilingual person with more than 20 years’ language learning experience, in this post, I am going to share some of my tips and lessons with a second language learner.

1, Strong motivation.

You have to know why you want to learn this specific language.

When I taught American undergraduate Mandarin, the first question for my students in the first class was: Tell me why you want to learn Mandarin.

I want to make sure my students have strong motivation to be committed to learning.

If you are committed to working hard, you will have a big chance to be successful.

We Chinese has a saying that says: 有志者 (you3 zhi4 zhe3),事竟成 (shi4 jing4 cheng2). It means: If you are determined to do a job, you will get that job done.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, is well known for his ability of speaking Mandarin. He mentioned one of reasons why he learned Mandarin is because he wants to communicate with his wife’s family.

It is a very strong motivation, but I believe there is another untold reason.

China might have the biggest population that access to Internet in the world. With such a huge market, any smart Internet company leaders should think seriously about learning Mandarin.

Ask yourself why you want to learn this specific foreign language. Once you know why, you will be more willing to enjoy the learning process.

2, Study smart.

You have to know what is your goal for learning a new language. Do you want to speak fluently? Or you just wish to read some books in that foreign language?

Once you know what you want, you can develop a strategic learning plan.

For example, if you just want to speak in that foreign language, then focus on your speaking and listening ability, practice your speaking as much as you can.

Watching movies and TV programs will be a good way too. Also, make sure you know well of that culture too.

I learned this lesson in a hard way.

When I applied for a PHD program many years ago, I got a phone interview because of my thesis proposal.

When the professor asked me how about my English. I was shy to say my English was good because we Chinese think being modest is a merit, so I said so so.

You can imagine the result.

However, in English culture, you have to give yourself credits of your ability. So spend your time learning the culture as well. It will benefit you a lot.

3, Practice, practice and practice. Read, read and read.

Practice makes better. Find every opportunity you could find to practice your newly gained skill.

Don’t be shy. Don’t worry about your accent. Actually, most of people will appreciate your courage and efforts.

If some people laugh at you, take it as a joke. Soon you will approve yourself with your getting better language ability.

I also believe in the power of reading.

By reading a lot of books in that foreign language, you are able to pick up right words to express yourself exactly. Thus, people will understand you better.

4, Don’t expect to be perfect.

Don’t expect to speak the foreign language perfectly.

I saw so many people wasted so much time on perfect pronunciation or they were so nervous to write down a single sentence worrying about they can’t write it right.

I had this problem too. For a long time, I worried about my accent. I thought my English writing must look funny.

Later I realized, the main function of a language is communication.

If people understand what you try to express and you understand others without big difficulty, you are on the right track with your language learning.

I hope what I said above is helpful for you. In my next post, I will tell you why Mandarin Chinese is easy to learn, so you will know the myth of “Mandarin Chinese is the most difficult language to learn” is not true.

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