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Top tips to help you learn a language from scratch

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Planning to go abroad this summer but worried about a language barrier? 

We all want to get away and see what the world has to offer, but travelling isn't all fun and games.  

One of the biggest issues which can make or break a holiday is your ability to communicate with the locals, so learning the language of a place before you visit is extremely helpful. Whether you're planning a long trip or a weekend vacation, even just knowing a few simple words can make a big difference! 

That being said, it's not easy to learn a language and it can often seem quite daunting, especially to those who can't already speak a second language. Even just trying to figure out where to start can be confusing. That's why the in-house Didactics Team at language learning app Babbel have shared their best tricks with us.

Find their insider tips for learning a new language from scratch below: 

1) Have a goal

Attempting to speak a new language requires dedication. If you know exactly why you are learning a language, you’ll be sufficiently motivated to persevere with each new lesson. That’s why it’s vital that you set out a concrete reason for learning your new language, and that you imagine how you will apply your new-found language in the real world. 

Do you want to become a confident traveller who can find the hidden gems that a clueless tourist would never know about? Do you want to jump ahead in your career using your new language skills? Or do you just want to better communicate with a friend or loved one? Whatever your reason, keep focusing on the endgame and you’ll get there in no time. 

2) Get planning

It’s far more effective to practice for 15 minutes a day, every day, than it is to practice for five hours once a week. It’s also worth your while to consider how you time your review sessions. ‘Spaced repetition’ is a learning technique that’s been in favour for decades. This study method encourages learners to use flash cards with key words and phrases written on them, and gradually increase the intervals with which they are reviewed. Starting, for example, with writing the notes, then reviewing these notes 30 minutes later, and then again 24 hours later, then a week later, and finally 2-3 weeks later. Studies have shown that it is more efficient than rote repetition (also known as ‘cramming’). ‘Spaced repetition’ works because the brain tends to remember things it encounters frequently. 

3) Practice whenever and wherever you can 

What’s a person to do if they can’t move to Italy for a year, and cut off all contact with the English speakers in their lives in order to learn Italian? The answer is simpler than you may think. You can change the display language on your computer or phone, watch foreign-language movies and shows, or visit websites in your target language (actually, Googling things from another country’s Google page, like google.se, will bring up search results that are relevant to that country, and are often in another language). 

You can also listen to foreign-language podcasts or go old-school and cover your entire house with post-it notes in your new language. However you choose to practice your new language, make sure you use what you learn with an app (like Babbel), in real life conservation and situations.

4) Confidence is key 

One of the most common concerns new language learners share is the fear of not knowing what to say, and freezing up in the moment. These fears are completely normal, but they can be easily alleviated with a healthy dose of confidence. Just like rehearsing a speech before you present it, confidence in a new language comes with practice.

Start slowly, and by yourself so you won’t feel self-conscious about making mistakes. Repeat new words and phrases out loud to get a feel for how the language sounds - you could even talk to yourself in the mirror. It may feel silly but it’s a great way to practice without the pressure of a two-way conversation. The more you practice speaking the language, the more confident you’ll feel.

5) Double up with your exercise 

Exercise your brain, exercise your body? A recent study which was published in PLOS One found that studying a foreign language while exercising can boost your understanding and retention of completely new vocabulary in your second language. This is truly a case of hitting two birds with one stone, so why not head down to the gym, and pick up a new language at the same time?

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